Reagan Tears Down the Wall


On June 12th 1987, in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin, President Ronald Reagan challenged Gorbachev, then the General Secretary of theCommunist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear down the Berlin Wall.

As the speech was being written, inclusion of the words “Mr. Gorbechev, Tear Down This Wall,” became a source of considerable controversy within the administration. Several senior staffers and aides advised against the phrase might cause further East-West tensions or potential embarrassment to Gorbachev, with whom President Reagan had built a good relationship. American officials in West Germany and presidential speechwriters thought otherwise. Reagan himself agreed, saying “I thought it was a good, solid draft,” later adding “I think we’ll leave it in.”

So it was. At the time, the speech received little coverage from the media, but the Soviet press agency TASS accused Reagan as giving an “openly provocative, war-mongering speech.” However, when 29 months later, Gorbachev allowed Berliners to destroy the wall, the speech gain iconic status. On 12th September 1990, now-former President Reagan returned to Berlin, where he personally took a few symbolic hammer swings at a remnant of the Berlin Wall. On the same day in Moscow, two Germanies and the Four Powers sign the Treaty on the Final Settlement With Respect to Germany, paving the way for the Re-unification.

The photo was taken by Michael Probst. Twenty years later, the debate over the speech still rages on.

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