"Tear Down This Wall"
JOHN C. KORNBLUM
wenty years ago this June, President
Ronald Reagan mounted a podium in
front of the ugly concrete barrier sepa-
rating the Brandenburg Gate from West Berlin
and delivered a speech that included a simple
plea: "Mr. Corbachev, tear down this wall."
It seems hard to believe now that, barely two
years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, such a
self-evident request raised anxiety among West-
em Europe's cognoscenti. But it's true: A mood
had been developing in Europe that caused many
to react with unease to the President's words.
Fifteen years of Ostpolitik and six years of bit-
ter argument over NATO's plans to counter the
new Soviet SS-20 missile with deployments of
intermediate-range nuclear missiles (INF) of its
own had bred in many Europeans an acute aver-
sion to any controntation with the East. Crow-
ing American concern about the consequences
of such drift was the primary reason that the
speech, initially intended as a ceremonial address
on the occasion of Berlin's 750''^ anniversary, be-
came instead a major political statement.
In the West European public mind, during
the spring of 1987, NATO's effort to defend it-
self against a new Soviet weapon had become yet
another chapter in the Reagan Administration's
controntational, militarized stance against the
Soviet Union. The agendas of most European
leaders were increasingly being defined by wor-
ries about the possibility of an imminent nu-
clear war. Skillful Soviet psychological "coach-
ing" had created a widespread impression that
peace could be secured only on the foundation
ofa perpetually divided Europe. In fact, hopes
in Germany and in much of Europe on that
June day lay not with Ronald Reagan, but with
It would be satisfying to claim that Ronald
Reagan's stirring challenge dramatically reversed
this mood. The truth, however, is that Reagan's
June 12,1987 speech had little immediate effect.
In the days and weeks following the event, nei-
ther the American nor the European press treat-
ed the speech as an especially noteworthy event.
Neither, of course, did the Soviets.
It was only after November 1989, when the
Soviet Empire began to crumble, that the world
began to honor President Reagan's challenge
a harbinger of change. President George
H.W. Bush's immediate support for Chancel-
lor Helmut Kohl's dramatic push for reunifica-
tion transformed perceptions of the American
role in Germany. Almost overnight, the 1987
speech was resurrected as proof of the Ameri-
can spirit that had made reunification possible.
Until then. West Europeans had relegated it to
the archives as another example of the poetic
license the former movie star allowed himself
on such ceremonial occasions.
Today, of course. President Reagan's Berlin