Reagan, R. (1987). Tear Down this Wall. Retrieved from The History Place: Great Speeches Collection.
Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech is an iconic address delivered by the former President of the United States at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987. This speech is widely recognized for its historical significance in calling for the reunification of East and West Germany and the removal of the Berlin Wall, which at the time served as a physical and symbolic barrier between democracy and communism.
In this address, Reagan employed a rhetorical strategy that combined strong moral conviction with political pragmatism. He sought to appeal not only to the people of Germany but also to the international community, particularly the Soviet Union, which was responsible for the construction and maintenance of the Berlin Wall.
Reagan began his speech by acknowledging the presence of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and referring to Berlin as “the city of freedom.” This choice of words immediately set the tone for the rest of his address, framing the issue as one of freedom versus oppression. By emphasizing the city’s historical association with liberty, Reagan aimed to convey a sense of shared values and common purpose among the audience members.
The speech gained momentum when Reagan delivered the memorable line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” By directly addressing the leader of the Soviet Union, Reagan sought to galvanize support for his call to action. This statement encapsulated the core message of the speech: the Berlin Wall was not only a physical obstacle but also a symbol of division and oppression. By calling on Mikhail Gorbachev to take down the wall, Reagan aimed to pressure the Soviet leader into reconsidering the policies that led to its construction in the first place.
Reagan’s speech also included elements of diplomatic pragmatism. He acknowledged that change would not happen overnight and that the process of reunification would require time and effort. He spoke of practical measures such as expanded trade relations and people-to-people exchanges between East and West Germany as steps towards a brighter future. This approach aimed to address concerns about the potential economic and political ramifications of reunification while still holding firm to the overarching goal of tearing down the wall.
Furthermore, Reagan’s speech used historical references to underscore the importance of reunification. He spoke of the resilience of the German people in the face of adversity and evoked memories of previous struggles for freedom, such as the American Revolution and the fight against Nazism. By drawing parallels between these historical events and the current situation in Berlin, Reagan appealed to a sense of national identity and the shared values of liberty and democracy.
The impact of Reagan’s speech cannot be overstated. While it did not immediately lead to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, it played a significant role in shaping public opinion and raising awareness of the issue. It provided a moral framework for the subsequent events that led to the wall’s eventual fall in 1989.
In conclusion, Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down this Wall” speech was a pivotal moment in the history of the Cold War. Through a combination of moral conviction, political pragmatism, and historical references, Reagan successfully rallied support for the reunification of Germany and the removal of the Berlin Wall. His words continue to resonate as a reminder of the power of diplomacy and the pursuit of freedom.