When the News Isn't Fit to Print ... Blog

The Hero of Brandenburg

In Reaganology on 10/11/2009 at 20:39

This week we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hillary Clinton kicked it off with a speech at the Wall, and Barack Obama spoke via satellite, having already seen Berlin. I doubt anyone will remember what they said, I’ve already forgotten. George H.W. Bush – president in 1989 when the Wall came down – did an interview with Greta Van Susteren Fox News.

One thing stood out during those speeches and the interview that I won’t forget, however. Not one of these leaders mentioned Ronald Reagan. I think Greta did. Former ABC correspondent and current Harvard Professor Marvin Kalb was on Fox News yesterday, and he explained why.

Professor Kalb explained that the real hero in bringing down the greatest symbol of oppression in modern history was Mikhail Gorbachev. You remember Gorbachev, the little guy with the map of downtown Moscow on his forehead?

Well, the truth is, Reagan’s now legendary “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall” speech wasn’t all that popular on the Beltway with the media elite or the politicians who spend their time spending our money. To most of them, Reagan’s words were flag-waiving rhetoric, seen as largely symbolic, and, worse, damaging to U.S. – Soviet relations.

In a post on National Review Online Jim J. Pitney, Jr. quotes John Barry from his book “The Ambition and the Power” on the reaction that then House Speaker Jim Wright had to the speech: “Wright fumed, ‘It just makes me have utter contempt for Reagan. He spoiled the chance for a dramatic breakthrough in relations between our two countries. It bespeaks his pettiness and self-centeredness. He just couldn’t bear Gorbachev doing it of his own volition.’”

Uh-huh. I’ll cut the Speaker a little slack here (very little) because Reagan’s senior advisors warned the President against including the defining statement. In an article in U.S. News Kenneth T. Walsh gets the story behind the speech directly from Reagan’s speechwriter Peter Robinson. Chief of Staff Howard Baker and Deputy National Security Advisor Colin Powell thought it was “unpresidential and extreme.” “I knew it was a big speech,” said Robinson. He went on to say that he sensed it. But almost no one agreed with the President and Robinson.

Media reaction when he delivered the speech in June 1987 was lukewarm. Gorbachev marked it off as the histrionics of a bad actor. Those, of course, were the famous last words of a soon to be unemployed, unemployable world leader.

Ronald Reagan was a man of deep conviction and vision who correctly assessed his moment in history and seized it. He recognized the Soviet Union, the “Evil Empire,” as a bastion of oppression, eroding by its subterfuge, crumbling under the weight of its subjugation of the people.

That summer day at the Brandenburg Gate, Ronald Reagan struck a blow for freedom with his own hammer that resonated 10 feet behind him and ignited a revolution that shook the world. His words made it possible for East Europeans to believe that the Wall could come down, and the momentum those words grew for two years, until the eastern bloc indeed crumbled.

In the end, I don’t believe Mikhail Gorbachev had a choice when the people in East Berlin were ready to put their sledgehammers to the Wall. No one could have stopped them.

The Hero of Brandenburg had delivered the first and mightiest blow two years before.

  1. I kept looking for someone to mention Reagan. I didn’t even hear Bush mention him….I was offended, how dare they ignore this awesome man that stood up for freedom and got it…..History re-written and ignored once more…..

  2. Thanks for pointing this out…our young people probably don’t even know what happened.

  3. Thank you,
    very interesting article

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