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  • The Speech that Brought Down an Empire

    6/13/2014 10:00:00 AM Posted by Ashley Pratte

    BrandenburgAlthough few may know, yesterday was the anniversary of a momentous historical occasion.  On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan arrived in Berlin, West Germany to challenge the Soviet Union's Iron Curtain.  Standing directly in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the symbolic heart of the city of Berlin, President Reagan began his speech, saying, "We come to Berlin, we American Presidents, because it's our duty to speak, in this place of freedom."  From the outset of his speech, Reagan proved to the world that he understood what it meant to be an American.  He understood that we, as a Nation, have a responsibility to seek out injustice and tyranny, no matter where it may be, and challenge it openly. 

    Furthering this goal, he went on to stress the global importance of ending the injustice of the Berlin Wall saying, "Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow man" and "As long as this 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."  President Reagan understood that whenever freedom was threatened somewhere in the world, it was threatened everywhere.  He knew that the responsibility to tear down the wall was just as much the responsibility of the American people as it was that of the German people. 

    Today, Reagan's speech would be ridiculed as war-mongering and meddling in the internal affairs of another country.  Liberals would deride him for daring to challenge another global power or suggesting that America truly was exceptional because of our economic freedom.  Still others would say that he was endangering the delicately balanced 'peace' of the world.  Yet, these voices would be nothing new.  Liberals have been saying the same things for decades.  During the 1984 election, Walter Mondale, President Reagan's liberal challenger described him as a man "who for four years has engineered an arms race."  But Reagan did not care, and neither should we.  He understood "that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace."  He knew that his actions were having the intended effect, even if the fruits of his labor took a longer time to ripen.  And so, he did the unthinkable. 

    He directly and openly challenged the Soviet Union, something no previous American president would risk doing.  Speaking to the Soviet leader, Reagan said, "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!" 

    Reagan was unafraid to do what was right.  Although he knew there would be backlash, he challenged the Soviet Union anyway, because he knew that "Across Europe this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth.  The wall cannot withstand freedom."  He did not listen to the voices that said we must be timid in the face of evil.  He confronted it head on and he won. 

    Reagan's speech, now 27 years old, should not be forgotten.  It provides ample advice for today's foreign policy.  In the age of Obama, a time when the United States has lead from behind and cowered in the face of evil, President Reagan's speech at the Brandenburg Gate shines forth as a towering example of what we must do to be great again.  So do not follow the cowardly path of our current president, follow that of Reagan.  Confront evil and tear down the walls that impede freedom. 

    Written by Frank Pray, a Sarah T. Hermann intern scholar for Young America's Foundation

    Photo Credit: TIME (Wally McNamee/Corbis)

    • Readers' Comments

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