Reagan Speech on Brandenburg - REVIEWS "Tear Down...

Reagan Speech on Brandenburg
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REVIEWS "Tear Down This Wall" 1987 Branden- burg Concerto JOHN C. KORNBLUM T 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 Mikhail Gorbachev. 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 as 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
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