Today In History: Reagan’s Berlin Wall Speech
Today in 1987, president Ronald Reagan delivered the most famous speech of his administration. He addressed Mikhail Gorbachev, entreating him to “tear down this wall,” in reference to the Berlin Wall.
After WWII, Berlin was divvied up into four sections. The Allied powers controlled the western sections and the Soviets controlled the east. The three western sections were unified into the Federal Republic of Germany, or “West Germany.” The German Democratic Republic, or “East Germany,” was formed in October of 1949. The Berlin Wall was erected in August of 1961 to staunch the flow of cross-border traffic.
By 1987, the Wall had become an icon of the ideological divide between the Soviet Union and Western democracies. Ronald Reagan, addressing a crowd in front of the Wall in 1987, said, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.”
“Secretary General 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.”
At the time, Reagan’s speech was read as an attempt to pressure Gorbachev to renew nuclear arms reduction negotiations. Gorbachev had also made gestures of reconciliation towards the West.
Two years after Reagan’s speech, on November 9, 1989, the Wall was destroyed. Western and Eastern Germany were formally reunited as a single country on October 3, 1990.
Gorbachev stepped down as president of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991. Later that day, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was replaced with the modern Russian flag at the Kremlin. The USSR was officially dissolved, leaving Boris Yeltsin as president as the new Russian state.
Reagan served two terms as president, and died in 2004 at age 93. Gorbachev is still alive, and has released a few folk music recordings.