Thirty years ago today, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, while giving a speech in West Germany, called for Soviet Union General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!" The Berlin Wall had divided the city since 1961 into East and West and would continue to do so until June of 1990 when demolition began to remove the concrete divide. Below is an excerpt of President Reagan’s Speech.
“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!”
Little was done to stop the construction of the wall, which was built during John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Those in power thought the wall would help to prevent another war in Europe.
The Berlin Wall stood as a physical and symbolic barrier between the capitalist world and the communist world. It was erected to isolate and restrict the massive emigration from East Germany to West Germany due to East Germans desire for independence and economic freedom from the Soviets.
Many crossed the wall successfully, although this became more difficult as each iteration of the wall was constructed to be reinforced better than the last. Many died attempting to cross the wall, either from being shot by guards, jumping from the window of a building, or even by crashing a hot air balloon while attempting to fly over the border.
By June of 1987, when Reagan delivered his speech, the wheels were already in motion for the dismantling of the wall. The Soviet economy was in decline which prompted Gorbachev to push forward an economic restructuring, perestroika, which focused on private ownership of business and foreign investment. He also allowed for openness, glasnost, which promoted transparency and freedom of the press.
|Shelfie of our American Foreign Policy documents |
published by the U.S. Department of State
The Berlin Wall was one of many conflicts from the Cold War. Check out our Cold War Era reading list to learn more about some of the government documents the Worcester Public Library holds on this topic.