30 Years Ago, Reagan Called on Gorbachev to ‘Tear Down This Wall’

Two years later in 1989, the wall was opened. In 1990, it finally came down.

By Liberty McArtor Published on June 12, 2017

Thirty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan called on the leader of the Soviet Union to demolish the wall dividing East and West Berlin. East Berlin had been siphoned off from the rest of Germany by the Soviet regime since 1961. As the United States led the fight against communism during the Cold War, the Iron Curtain remained a point of contention. Its barbed wire, guards and gravel physically blocked movement between the east and west. 

Two years later in 1989, the wall was opened. In 1990, it finally, dramatically, came down. 

Historians still debate the true effect Reagan’s admonition to “tear down this wall” had on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Author James Mann noted in The New York Times in 2007 that Reagan had been working hard to develop a good diplomatic relationship with Gorbachev, something that drew criticism back home. As The Washington Post reported Monday quoting author Romesh Ratnesar, “a groundswell of dissent was already building in East Germany and Eastern Europe. Would the collapse have happened without Reagan and the speech? Probably.”

Reagan’s speech was even largely ignored by Western media at the time, with major outlets taking little notice of his now iconic words. Interestingly, the most famous line today β€” “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” β€” was highly controversial among U.S. government officials. Many thought the line was too aggressive or even too hopeful. But Reagan delivered it with conviction.

Today, freedom lovers watch Reagan’s 1987 speech before the Brandenburg Gate. They recall the joy of the Germans who, two years later, were finally granted the freedom to pass through the gates at will. They recall Reagan’s consistent battle to dismantle communism’s hold, a battle that began long before he became president.

“Those who minimize the speech … ignore the message it sent to the Soviets,” Mann wrote for the Times. “It served notice that the United States was willing to reach accommodations with Mr. Gorbachev, but not at the expense of accepting the permanent division of Berlin (or of Europe).”

Ratnesar told the Post the speech “embodied what Americans most admired about Reagan as an orator and great communicator.” 

Watch Reagan’s full address below.


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