President Ronald Reagan: 750th Anniversary of Berlin Speech
Ronald Reagan delivered a speech commemorating the 750th anniversary of the city of Berlin on June 12th 1987 in what was then West Germany. The speech was during a period of heightened tensions between Western nations and the Soviet Union and was given next to the Brandenburg Gate at the Berlin Wall.
The speech covers United States policies and initiatives that were being pushed into action as well as the opportunity to put pressure on the Soviet Union and portray them as the bad guy. The President uses many examples of historical significance, such as a speech by former President John F. Kennedy twenty four years earlier, the Marshall Plan and other such references throughout the speech to solidify his knowledge and position that the United States has on furthering the ideals of freedom and the threat of Communism. This most certainly gave the President the appearance of being very knowledgeable and credible.
The President often looked down and referred to his notes, but even so, his words never faltered or missed a beat and he looked up as much as he consulted his notes, so it was actually never a distractor. What was probably most noticeable was the areas where the President stopped speaking, expecting applause and received none, or very little. These periods felt a little awkward. He also used the native German language on occasion, which again, helped with solidifying his intellectual ability, but never followed up with an English translation or explanation, leaving the non-German speaker left wondering what the reference alluded to.
However, the President earned his title as the “Great Communicator” by many of his comments that touched the emotional level of those listening to the speech, both those who were for him and those opposed to him. The now classic quote “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was timed perfectly amid the rest of the political and military agendas the President presented. Also, his comment that, “East and West do no mistrust each other because we're armed. We're armed because we mistrust each other” played into his whole “we’re good, they’re evil” agenda.
The speech ends with the President doing what he does best – using no notes, shooting straight from the hip, using facial expressions that speak volumes, and speaking boldly, plainly and without reservation, when he says, “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.”
In short, the Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Soviet President Gorbachev remains ingrained in the minds of Germans and American’s alike almost 25 years later. The historic relevance of the speech now makes it one for all time, however, when reviewing it closely, had he changed a couple of the things that were distracting, such as the anticipation for applause and the use of German language and phrases without explanation, one would have to wonder if they really mattered at all in the final analysis.