For many months, East Germany's beleaguered rulership tried desperately to quiet an increasingly oppositional movement and stem the tide of the people that were leaving the country (Ratnesar web). There were, by 1989, literal and metaphorical cracks in the communist bloc and the Berlin Wall; however, many thought that the wall would still remain. However, then president Ronald Reagan is quoted as saying, "I didn't know when it would come, but I have to tell you, I'm an eternal optimist" (Ratnesar web). Some two years prior, Reagan had addressed the crowd near Brandenburg Gate and is said to have challenged Soviet leader Miklah Gorbachev to tear down the wall. At the time of the speech, even Reagan's strongest supporters thought it would never happen, and his appeal would not yield a positive gain. Nevertheless, when the wall did actually come down, the world was shocked and Reagan's speech went down in history.
The Cold War
The Cold War was in place from approximately 1946 to 1991 earmarked by military tension, political conflict, economic competition between the Communists and the Western World, primarily America. Although the two superpowers of Russia and the United States never actually engaged in physical war, the Cold War was marked by conflictual positions manifested in military coalitions, extensive aid to states that were vulnerable, proxy wars, propaganda, espionage, strategic force deployments, nuclear arms races, and appeals to nations purportedly neutral. Many trace the beginning of the Cold War to the period following World War II, however, there is no universal agreement with regard to when the tensions started ( Kort 3). However, during the final stages of World War II, the Soviet Union is said to have laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc when they directly annexed several countries that were initially ceded to it by the Nazis.
The Eastern European territories that were liberated from the Nazis and later occupied by armed forces from the Soviet Union were made a part of the Eastern Bloc when they were converted into satellite states (Geiger 7). Great oppression reminiscent of the Stalin era was reportedly instituted in these areas with secret police set out to suppress any opposition to those in authority. If the people began to become active and voice ideas of independence, violence would ensue to squelch the opposers (Menon 11). By the early 1980's the U.S.S.R. had surmised a strong military army and arsenal that significantly outweighed that of the United States. After the Soviet's invaded Afghanistan, then President Carter began to build up U.S. military forces. Reagan accelerated this action upon his presidency and increased military spending to accommodate it. This was considered the most significant peacetime defense enlargement in United States History (Feeney web).
Tensions continued to build subsequent to Reagan's revival of the B-1 Lancer program that installed cruise missiles in Europe and served as the announcement of the experimental Strategic Defense Initiative referred to as Star Wars (Carliner 6). The U.S.S.R. did not respond to Reagans' buildup of the military in kind, due to the fact that the enormity of military expenses, along with agricultural issues and planned manufacturing placed too heavy a burden on the Soviet economy (Carliner 8). With an increase of oil prices in Saudi Arabia at the urging of President Reagan, the Soviet economy hit a wall. By 1989, the Soviet Alliance was purported to be on the verge of collapse and without Soviet military support. There were other efforts that served to weaken the bonds that had previously held the Soviet Union together.
As a result of the weakened economy and the pressures from behind Berlin's wall, the country was poised for change. Many argue as to just how much impact Reagan's speech had on the wall coming down but what resulted is without question.
Tear Down This Wall
20 years after this historic speech, Reagan's role in 'helping' to end the Cold War and bring the wall down is considered by many to be exaggerated and misunderstood. He is often seen by conservatives as refusing to compromise on core principles; however, for many others, Reagan's willingness to negotiate and use diplomacy was seen as the quality that made his speech great and he and even greater president. Although some viewed the fight between the superpowers as immutable, Reagan saw the possibilities for change. Reagan purportedly had a great deal of disdain for the wall, and is quoted as saying, "It's a wall that never should have been built" (Ratnesar web). When he was still the governor of California, Reagan is said to have commented that the United States should have knocked down the barbed wire that separated the East from West Berlin the moment the wall was erected.
However, Reagan understood what the wall represented and what the totalitarian system in the country meant. Even moreso, Reagan was said to be knowledgeable and mindful of what would happen if there were military confrontation with the Soviets. When Reagan travelled to Berlin in 1987, it is said that he and Gorbachev had developed a trusting relationship that laid the foundation for such a speech to take place. There were those in his administration who wanted Reagan to eliminate the line about the wall coming down as they thought it may incite an adverse response. Reagan is said to have seen the line as not only a challenge but also as an invitation to not to embarrass Gorbachev, but to encourage him to take strong action literally and figuratively.
The moment Reagan spoke the words to Gorbachev are considered archetypal, and considered inspirational rhetoric, yet unmatched at the time Reagan made the speech. It isn't said to happen often (Walsh web; Fund web), however, historians, advisers, political scientists, and public communication experts tend to agree on the characteristics and factors that facilitated the child executive to speak at such a critical and now historic time. Many maintain that a moment such as the one encapsulated in Reagan's speech is said to emerge from some kind of crisis state, when it is necessary for the president to rise above the circumstances and unify and inspire the people.
What made Reagan's speech so poignant is the fact that there were heightened tensions between the East and the West due in part to the debate over the stationing of short-range American missiles in Europe and the United States 'record peacetime defense buildup (Mann web). Moreover, it is said that the Bradenburg gate site was selected as the backdrop for the speech as a visual marker to highlight the Presidents ideas and convictions that westernized democracy would offer the best options of opening the Berlin wall (Boyd web; Douglas, web). In his speech, in addition to the powerful one liner, President Reagan is said to have articulated a series of political initiatives designed to achieve that outcome.
"Yes across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom" (Keyser web). Those words also apart of Reagan's famous speech summarize the intent of his visit and mark his true intentions in giving the speech. Reagan was deeply troubled by the transgressions occurring in Berlin and what that meant not only to the East and West Berlin citizens but also what it meant for international relations between two super powers capable of nuclear warfare.
Some 29 months after Reagan's speech, subsequent to tense protests from the East Germans, East Germany opened the wall. By year's end, there were official operations in place to take the wall down. This represented not only the physical removal of the Berlin wall but also an end to communist government within the Eastern European bloc, and eventually the Soviet Union as it had been known. The wall coming down epitomized…