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In honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Marque’s Letters brings you President Ronald Reagan’s speech on June 12, 1987.  While it did not bring down the Wall, it reiterated the West’s commitment to the freedom of the people of Eastern Europe, a principle that Reagan made the centerpiece of his foreign policy.  The throngs of Berliners pouring over the Wall were the apotheosis of Reagan’s vision, and the fulfillment of the hopes and prayers by free and unfree men and women around the world.  Take a minute to appreciate your freedom, pray for those who are unfree, and remember that it can all change – for good or evil – in a blink of an eye, without eternal vigilance.


Chancellor Kohl, Governing Mayor Diepgen, ladies and gentlemen: Twenty-four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the City Hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it’s our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we’re drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than our own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. Perhaps the composer Paul Lincke understood something about American presidents. You see, like so many presidents before me, I come here today because wherever I go, whatever I do: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin. [I still have a suitcase in Berlin.]

Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said, “The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.” Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State–as you’ve been told–George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: “Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos.”

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: “The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world.” A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium–virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany–busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of parkland. Where a city’s culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there’s abundance–food, clothing, automobiles–the wonderful goods of the Ku’damm. From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn’t count on–Berliner Herz, Berliner Humor, ja, und Berliner Schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner Schnauze.]

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: “We will bury you.” But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind–too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Beginning 10 years ago, the Soviets challenged the Western alliance with a grave new threat, hundreds of new and more deadly SS-20 nuclear missiles, capable of striking every capital in Europe. The Western alliance responded by committing itself to a counter-deployment unless the Soviets agreed to negotiate a better solution; namely, the elimination of such weapons on both sides. For many months, the Soviets refused to bargain in earnestness. As the alliance, in turn, prepared to go forward with its counter-deployment, there were difficult days–days of protests like those during my 1982 visit to this city–and the Soviets later walked away from the table.

But through it all, the alliance held firm. And I invite those who protested then– I invite those who protest today–to mark this fact: Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but of eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons.

While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative–research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is transforming the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place–a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete.

Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world. And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future. Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.

And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the benefits that come with life in one of the great cities of the world.

To open Berlin still further to all Europe, East and West, let us expand the vital air access to this city, finding ways of making commercial air service to Berlin more convenient, more comfortable, and more economical. We look to the day when West Berlin can become one of the chief aviation hubs in all central Europe.

With our French and British partners, the United States is prepared to help bring international meetings to Berlin. It would be only fitting for Berlin to serve as the site of United Nations meetings, or world conferences on human rights and arms control or other issues that call for international cooperation.

There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds, and we would be honored to sponsor summer youth exchanges, cultural events, and other programs for young Berliners from the East. Our French and British friends, I’m certain, will do the same. And it’s my hope that an authority can be found in East Berlin to sponsor visits from young people of the Western sectors.

One final proposal, one close to my heart: Sport represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you may have noted that the Republic of Korea–South Korea–has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North. International sports competitions of all kinds could take place in both parts of this city. And what better way to demonstrate to the world the openness of this city than to offer in some future year to hold the Olympic games here in Berlin, East and West? In these four decades, as I have said, you Berliners have built a great city. You’ve done so in spite of threats–the Soviet attempts to impose the East-mark, the blockade. Today the city thrives in spite of the challenges implicit in the very presence of this wall. What keeps you here? Certainly there’s a great deal to be said for your fortitude, for your defiant courage. But I believe there’s something deeper, something that involves Berlin’s whole look and feel and way of life–not mere sentiment. No one could live long in Berlin without being completely disabused of illusions. Something instead, that has seen the difficulties of life in Berlin but chose to accept them, that continues to build this good and proud city in contrast to a surrounding totalitarian presence that refuses to release human energies or aspirations. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love–love both profound and abiding.

Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I’ve been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they’re doing again.

Thank you and God bless you all.

Ronald Reagan – June 12, 1987


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Perhaps the most amazing thing to me about President Obama’s popularity tailspin is how easy it would be for him to get out of it.  People still like the guy (although that may be changing, as well) — they just don’t like his policies, and they don’t think he’s listening to them.  Any one of the following five things would improve his political standing, at virtually no political cost to him:

  • Say he won’t be closing Guantanamo – yet. This is obvious to all involved, but his team’s continued insistence that he’s working toward his one-year deadline runs against the grain of most Americans (55% oppose the move, 33% support it) and makes him look silly.  Conservatives would hail this as a win, and liberals would frown that their man has gone soft.  But this isn’t a change of mind, it’s just a change of timeline — and a recognition of reality.  Behind the scenes, his team could still try to find a way out of the mess, without giving opponents the talking point.  Far better to take this “loss” now than in January when his promise comes due – and he can still close the prison at any time.  Isn’t this just the pragmatic, non-ideological perspective for which Americans elected him last November?
  • End the intelligence inquisition. Most observers believe that the Administration’s continued assault on the CIA was much more about Eric Holder than Barack Obama.  It was a wildcat move by an Attorney General whose allegiances lie with the left wing.  The President has laid the groundwork for this — he’s already said we need to look forward, not backward, and he has never explicitly endorsed Holder’s escapade.  This would come a little late, but it would show the public that he’s not beholden to his base and can openly disagree with his team — something Bush never could seem to do.  Would the Left be furious?  Maybe, but this fight is so 2008, and it’s not the kind of thing you want hanging over Democrats’ heads going into a tough 2010 midterm election.  Make that double for any actual prosecutions of CIA employees, so there’s really no upside to pursuing this.  There’s plenty of upside for ending it.
  • Go to Berlin on November 12th. Make a speech (he’s good at that).  Say only good things about America.  Say nice things about Ronald Reagan and Jack Kennedy.  Walk through the Brandenburg Gate.  Speak out against tyranny and oppression.  Speak harshly about Communism.  Take credit (on behalf of his country) for helping to end it.  Recommit to the defense of Europe, and call on them to help us defend the free peoples of the rest of the world.  Americans love this stuff.  No one will criticize it (except the Russians, and they don’t vote).  Everyone will say it’s a change of tone.  It will distract people from the drudgery of health care, et. al. Not doing this will get noticed, to his detriment, I believe.
  • Set a deadline and keep it against Iran. Ahmadenijad is America’s boogeyman of the moment – and he’s earned it.  There is absolutely nothing redeeming about the guy, and there is no constituency in this country for coddling him and his regime.  Obama has spoken much about the need to use diplomacy to solve the situation in Iran.  To date, his understanding of diplomacy has meant ignoring a rigged election and brutal oppression; setting deadlines and watching them float by without consequence; and revealing knowledge of duplicity but showing no interest in punishing it.  He’s earned his nice guy bona fides.  No one doubts he wants to solve this thing without firing a shot.  But that sets him up perfectly to deliver a stemwinder against the most hated man on the globe.  Obama’s stern speech can set one last deadline, leaving the door open for progress on our timetable — but if Iran blows it, he’s got Congress to back him up.  Obama looks strong; his buddies in Europe can’t help but fall in line.  In short, the trap is set — the only question is, is Obama building a trap or a dollhouse?
  • Publicly retrench on some element of health care reform. It’s no secret that the American public is both fatalistic and incredibly concerned about the President’s health care agenda.  He’s overpromised, overspent, and underdelivered.  But the Democrats are convinced that if they do not pass their behemoth of a public health care regime now, they will never get another chance.  I disagree – a well-designed, publicly-supported program that will pass is likely to entrench the Democrats as the “health care party” for a long time to come, giving them other opportunities to improve upon their program (assuming it works, of course).  Within the health care polling, there is an emerging path for success that scares me to death, but would save the day for the Administration.  Let’s build it from the ground up, using the great polling data from Rasmussen Reports.  The public wants more private sector competition, and they are OK with a public option that improves such competition.  They aren’t OK with a Trojan Horse public option aimed at overtaking the private sector.  People also hate the idea of forcing people to buy health care, but everyone agrees that without getting the “young invincibles” into the health insurance market, costs will go up.  Americans are more concerned with cost control than they are universal coverage.  Taking these issues together, Obama presents a new way forward.  He publicly takes a government-run public option off the table.  He then says he will only support a bill with a non-profit or member-run plan that subsidizes care on a sliding scale basis — essentially an expansion of Medicaid up to an income limit where someone could easily participate in the insurance market.  He then says that participation in the non-profit plan or some other employer-provided plan will be mandatory for all individuals who receive federal aid (in the form of student loans, grants, housing assistance, etc.).  Obama also states that anyone who is uninsured who receives care at a public hospital will automatically be enrolled in the plan, and the government will pay for her first instance of care.  That takes the sting out of the mandate — suddenly, the only people who are forced to participate are the ones who take taxpayer funds.  Now, you’ve got a public option that appears to be out of the government’s hands.  And Obama’s mandate shift will have placed the onus of the mandate on those who are already government’s “takers,” not “givers.”  And perhaps most importantly, the President would show that he’s willing to take charge and make changes in response to public concerns.  The rest of the plan — the guaranteed issue, the taxes, the Medicare cuts, the rationing – would remain.  Nothing could be more positive for the Obama Administration.  And nothing would be more harmful for the future of the country.

To quote our President’s favorite phrase, let me be clear: I have no desire for this President to recover his popularity.  While some of these changes are things I would favor in isolation, together they would give great momentum to an agenda that would threaten our future.  But I also have no expectation that this White House could bring itself to make these minor course corrections in service of their larger goals.  And thus, this nation’s fragile promise lives on.

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Western cultures have long subscribed to the tradition that anniversaries ending in 0 or 5 deserve special mention, if not celebration.  That premise goes double for the media, which has found the anniversary to be a great way to spice up a slow news day. This habit of ours seems stranger the longer you think about it, but no matter – it is what it is.

At least it is so long as your anniversary is something that the culture (or its spokespersons) consider worthy of celebration or remembrance.  But Mark Steyn reminded me that 1989 was one of the most consequential years in our history, or at least my history, and we’ve heard remarkably little in its second decennial anniversary.  Below is a list of some of the dates that have passed this year without much mention.

  • February 15, 1989: The Soviet Union announces it has pulled out of Afghanistan.
  • April 21 – June 4, 1989: The Tiananmen Square protests captivate the world, until they are capped by the massacre by the Chinese military.
  • June 4, 1989: Solidarity wins elections in Poland, serving as the first spark to the flame of freedom that will spread across Eastern Europe.
  • August 23, 1989: Two million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians form the Baltic Way, a 600 km human chain that was the first major freedom demonstration within the Soviet Union.
  • August 23, 1989: Hungary opens its border with Austria, creating the first chink in the Iron Curtain.
  • September 10, 1989: Hungary opens its border and begins to receive East German refugees fleeing their Communist government.
  • October 9, 1989: Demonstrations in Leipzig demand democratic reforms in East Germany.
  • October 18, 1989: East German Chancellor Erick Honecker is forced to step down under pressure from the Soviets after failing to suppress anti-government protests.
  • October 23, 1989: The Hungarian Republic is declared, ending the Communist Hungarian People’s Republic.
  • November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall falls, as East German officials end all travel restrictions to West Germany and ecstatic Germans dance in the streets together.
  • November 10, 1989: The Bulgarian Communist leader is replaced by the foreign minister, who renames the party the Bulgarian Socialist Party.  Communist rule in Bulgaria ends after 40 years.
  • November 17, 1989: A peaceful student demonstration in Prague is attacked by riot police, sparking the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.  Within 3 days, over half a million peaceful demonstrators will fill Prague, demanding democracy.
  • November 28, 1989: The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia lifts restrictions on opposition parties and agrees to hold elections.  
  • December 1, 1989: The East German parliament abolishes one-party rule in the country; the East German Politburo and Chancellor Egon Krenz resign 2 days later.
  • December 17-25, 1989: The Romanian Revolution drenches the country in blood for a week until Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu is arrested and executed by the military.  Communist rule ends in Romania, albeit more violently than elsewhere in the East.
  • December 28, 1989: Vaclav Havel, a leader of the Velvet Revolution, is elected president in Czechoslovakia, ending Communist rule.

Consider the courage of those who stood against tyranny and brought down a Communist scourge that had dominated half of Europe for over 40 years.  Consider that you, dear reader, live in the nation whose steadfast defense of the West and demands for freedom for those behind the Iron Curtain gave hope to millions.  In a year when we are beset with troubles and our troops are again defending freedom against tyranny, why are we Americans not being reminded of the defeat of Communism around the world?  Do you remember how dizzying those days were — when all of our assumptions about the world were obliterated by people desperate to be free?

Take a moment to remember the heroes of 1989.  Remind a friend to do the same. The world deserves to celebrate.

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