"Tear Down This Wall": How Reagan's forgotten sentence became a defining moment (2023)



The mere thought of Ronald Reagan standing in front of the most powerful symbol of the Cold War and demanding that the leader of the Soviet empire “tear down this wall” brought two governments together. At home, the State Department worried that Reagan's tough rhetoric would hamper efforts to negotiate with Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev. The West German government was concerned that such a challenge to the status quo might trigger a nuclear confrontation.

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But in Moscow, the target of Reagan's fiery rhetoric, Gorbachev was undeterred, and his top advisers made it clear to their American counterparts that they agreed with Reagan's demand. Standard Cold War stuff, they said. Go ahead.

Thirty years after Reagan's speech, the video of this joke: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" – became shorthand for a version of history in which the United States defeats what Reagan called an "evil empire," with the Great Communicator himself setting in motion the collapse of Soviet communism. As time edits the end of the Cold War into the two-sentence version that appears in high school textbooks and pop history videos, the juxtaposition is all too tempting: Reagan makes his demand in Berlin on June 12, 1987, and two years later, the Wall opens and half a century of East-West animosity dissolves.


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But at the time, the speech was barely seen as the beginning of an end. Instead, what is now called perhaps Reagan's most powerful line was almost completely ignored.
The speech didn't make many front pages at home (but the New York Times that day ran a story about renewed clashes between Polish police and workers, the real beginning of the end of the Soviet Eastern Bloc). The network news barely noticed it. Germany's leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, did not report anything about the speech until six months later, when it called Reagan's speech an "amateur's work".

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The main "amateur" in question was John Kornblum, who came up with the idea of ​​getting the president to issue the gauntlet. “It went down in history as a big, important speech, which is funny because it was totally ignored at the time,” said Kornblum, then a senior US official in Berlin and later US ambassador to Germany. "If the Wall hadn't come down, nobody would have thought about the speech again."

But of course the Wall came down and the speech retroactively became a great achievement. When former President Reagan made a triumphant return to Berlin in 1990, he hammered one of the remnants of the Wall, saying he had started "a process in the Soviet Union that has not ended." In the 1987 speech, Reagan envisioned a reunified Berlin with free air traffic, a jointly sponsored Olympics and a bustling conference center. With the exception of the Olympic Games, most of what he dreamed of came true.


(Video) Outro : Tear

Still, Reagan remained deeply unpopular in Germany, seen more as a warmongering cowboy than a peacemaker who changed the world. “The Germans got it into their heads that Gorbachev was the only thing that would save Europe from nuclear war,” Kornblum said.

In West Germany, in the late 1980s, as a historianTimothy Garton's Asheswrote, many people believed that nothing was more important than keeping the peace, not even freedom. "Better red than dead," said Ash's friends in the West German peace movement.

Historians continue to debate whether Reagan's speech paved the way for the Wall's toppling or was "empty rhetoric", irrelevant to the fate of both the Wall and Soviet communism. “This is a debate that will go on forever,” Kornblum said.

"It wasn't a major event," said Romesh Ratnesar, author of a book on Reagan's Berlin speech."Tear down that wall."“A wave of dissent was already brewing in East Germany and Eastern Europe. Would the meltdown have happened without Reagan and the speech? Probably. The speech gained more influence after the fact years later. However, he set the goal and vision from which it was difficult for the United States to back down."

Gorbachev himself has repeatedly pointed out that, far from feeling angry or chastised by Reagan's speech, he considered the US president a friend and realized early on that Reagan's harsh rhetoric was aimed at West Germans, not to him

"The importance of the personal chemistry between Reagan and Gorbachev from the moment they met in Geneva in 1985 cannot be overstated," said Ratnesar. "We don't really see those kinds of relationships between leaders anymore because they were built on three or four days of constant conversations between two leaders in long, serious summits."


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The Reagan-Gorbachev liaison clearly created a level of trust that allowed the Soviet leader to focus on domestic reforms without putting confrontation with the West at the top of his agenda, but at all his summits, the Wall was barely discussed. sometimes and only briefly.

The speech was born in Kornblum's mind as a way of trying to reposition the United States in German public opinion and West German political parties as the moral voice of human rights. “We could see that the Germans were pulling away,” believing that Reagan's military buildup would likely trigger the Cold War, Kornblum said. By stepping up to the Brandenburg Gate, the iconic archway that had been isolated in the no-man's-land the Wall created in the center of the divided city, and establishing a moral high ground, the president could symbolically reach out to the Germans he had yearned for four decades for a return to normalcy.

But the White House and state officials thought such a dramatic gesture would antagonize Gorbachev just as Reagan was developing a relationship with him, and West German leaders, more inclined to accommodate the Soviets than seek change, tried to block the US planners who planned the president's speech. within sight of the Wall.


Reagan made powerful statements about the Soviet Union during his presidency. In 1982, on another visit to Berlin, he asked: "Do Soviet leaders want to be remembered for a prison wall, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, whose guns are pointed at their own civilians?"

In his early drafts of the speech, Kornblum included a direct call for Gorbachev to open the Wall. Back in Washington, White House speechwriter Peter Robinson had a similar bent, and weeks of heated debate followed.

Robinson said that when he showed Reagan the draft, the president immediately took to the harsh language. But White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker said the challenge to Gorbachev was "not presidential"; expectations.
It was only when Air Force One landed in Berlin that a White House official approached Kornblum and told him that Reagan had made up his mind. "Congratulations, you've served your sentence," the officer said.

Reagan nailed it, sounding tough and morally clear. "It was a defining moment of Reagan's presidency," said Ratnesar, "because he embodied what Americans most admired in Reagan as a great orator and communicator."

Over the next two years, dissident movements in East Germany, Poland and other countries behind the Iron Curtain grew and became bolder. In the fall of 1989, when East Germans took to the streets of Leipzig in peaceful, silent marches and thousands of their compatriots fled the Soviet bloc through new holes in the borders of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the collapse began in earnest.


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The Wall finally opened in November 1989. Within weeks, Reagan's 1987 speech was resurrected as a harbinger of change to come.

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What was the significance of Ronald Reagan's tear down this wall speech? ›

Reagan called for the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to open the Berlin Wall, which had separated West and East Berlin since 1961. The name is derived from a key line in the middle of the speech: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

What was the significance of the Berlin Wall being torn down? ›

The fall of the Wall marked the first critical step towards German reunification, which formally concluded a mere 339 days later on 3 October 1990 with the dissolution of East Germany and the official reunification of the German state along the democratic lines of the West German Basic Law.

What is the tone of the president's speech tear down this wall? ›

Peter Robinson, who wrote Reagan's “tear down this wall” line, said his team knew what tone worked for the president: clarity, a sense of vision and a moral purpose. Robinson also knew that sometimes great speechwriting requires breaking rules and following your instincts.

What was the purpose of Ronald Reagan's D Day speech? ›

President Ronald Reagan's speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day is one to remember. He spoke of the bravery and showed the veterans gratitude for their selflessness to fight. The speech takes place in Normandy, France at the D-Day memorial. These veterans fought to give freedom back to those it was taken from.

What was the purpose of the tear down this wall speech quizlet? ›

President Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech was the official declaration of the United States position against communism and helping the Germans reunify their country. Overall the end goal of the speech was to gain peace and prosperity. As Reagan stated this many times throughout the speech.

What did the Berlin Wall symbolize and how did its destruction affect this symbolism? ›

For Western Europeans, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolises a reunification of Germany and an end to communist regimes in the region. In the minds of Central and Eastern Europeans, the year 1989 is more associated with domestic events in individual countries.

Why is the Berlin Wall important? ›

The wall separated East Berlin and West Berlin. It was built in order to prevent people from fleeing East Berlin. In many ways it was the perfect symbol of the "Iron Curtain" that separated the democratic western countries and the communist countries of Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War.

What are three outcomes of the fall of the Berlin Wall? ›

Europe Redraws Its Borders

Its fall on November 9, 1989, paved the way for the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, and the liberation of Central and Eastern European countries previously bound under the Warsaw Pact defense alliance with the Soviet Union.

What did the Berlin Wall signify quizlet? ›

The Berlin Wall was a symbol of the Iron Curtain, and its destruction marked the end of communist power in Germany. Between 1970 and 1990, jobs and economic movements were controlled by .

What are the main purposes of the speech select two options? ›

There are three general purposes that all speeches fall into: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain.

How does Ronald Reagan use figurative language? ›

Reagan applies oratorical devices and figurative language to explain to the nation the passion and bravery the seven astronauts have. He uses parallel structure and listing to imply the passion and bravery the Challenger crew have. “But, we never lost an astronaut in flight, we've never had a tragedy like this” (2).

Which statement best describes the impact of rhetorical techniques in this excerpt? ›

Which statement best describes the impact of rhetorical techniques in this excerpt? The use of inclusive language emphasizes hope for a better relationship in the future.

Why is D-Day called doomsday? ›

Many people think they know the answer: designated day, decision day, doomsday, or even death day. In other words, the D in D-Day merely stands for Day. This coded designation was used for the day of any important invasion or military operation.

What was the target of D-Day? ›

Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30. The target 50-mile (80 km) stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Strong winds blew the landing craft east of their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha.

What was the purpose of this wall? ›

The official purpose of this Berlin Wall was to keep so-called Western “fascists” from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state, but it primarily served the objective of stemming mass defections from East to West.

What is the significance of the Trail of Tears quizlet? ›

In 1838 and 1839, as part of Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy, the Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects.

What did the Berlin Wall represent to the United States? ›

The Berlin Wall would prevent the West from having further influence on the East, stop the flow of migrants out of the communist sector, and ultimately become the most iconic image of the Cold War in Europe. The United States quickly condemned the wall, which divided families and limited freedom of movement.

What are two impacts of the Berlin Wall? ›

The Berlin wall divided families who found themselves unable to visit each other. Many East Berliners were cut off from their jobs. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall and their mayor Willy Brandt led the criticism against the United States who they felt had failed to respond.

What was the purpose of the Berlin Wall when was it built? ›

To halt the exodus to the West, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev recommended to East Germany that it close off access between East and West Berlin. On the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers laid down more than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin.

Why is the Berlin Wall important to Russia? ›

Key Points

After increasing tensions between the Soviets and the Western powers during the first 15 years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union decided to build a physical barrier between East and West Berlin, thereby creating a real counterpoint to the symbolic “Iron Curtain” that had divided East and West since 1945.

Who is responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall? ›

9, 1989, it was not Mr. Gorbachev but the German people who finally tore down the barrier. The story of the Berlin Wall is one of division and repression, but also of the yearning for freedom — and the events that led up to its toppling are no exception.

What was a major outcome of the Berlin crisis? ›

Berlin crisis of 1961, Cold War conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States concerning the status of the divided German city of Berlin. It culminated in the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961.

What is the lesson of the Berlin Wall? ›

The Berlin Wall Is a Reminder That Barriers Last Only As Long as the Political Will to Defend Them. In retrospect, the Wall didn't last especially long.

What is the major significance of the Berlin Conference? ›

One thing is clear—the Berlin Conference established the legal claim by Europeans that all of Africa could be occupied by whomever could take it. It also established a process for Europeans to cooperate rather than fight with each other. This cooperation played a huge role in the division and conquest of Africa.

What is the main message of this speech? ›

Answer: The objective of a good speech is to persuade, inform or entertain an audience. To accomplish this, one must have a specific purpose for the speech. This is the main idea or thesis statement and it must be prevalent throughout the speech.

What is the speaker's purpose? ›

Speakers hope to accomplish general and specific purposes when they communicate. For most speaking in college and beyond, there are two general purposes: to inform or to persuade. The line between informing and persuading is not absolute, and many speeches will do some of both.

What rhetorical devices are used in Ronald Reagan Challenger speech? ›

In this speech, he used rhetorical devices, such as alliteration, allusion, anaphora, and euphemism to relay his feelings of sadness and grief. In his speech in the aftermath of the Challenger explosion, Pres. Reagan used alliteration to convey his feelings of sadness to the families of the seven astronauts lost.

What figurative language is used in 1984? ›

The figurative language used in 1984 are metaphors, similes, symbolism, and personification.

What is the Russian proverb that Reagan quotes? ›

Suzanne Massie, an American scholar, met with Ronald Reagan many times while he was president of the United States between 1984 and 1987. She taught him the Russian proverb Doveryai, no proveryai (Доверяй, но проверяй) meaning 'trust, but verify'.

Which type of appeal does Reagan use in this part of the speech? ›

In this speech, Ronald Reagan uses the appeal to pathos with emotional tones, a common love for one's country and president, and an admiring tone in order to achieve his goal of raising money to create an endowment to found a new museum in honor of John F.

Which type of appeal is used in this part of speech tear down this wall? ›

Pathos is used to help the audience feel more connected to what the speaker is saying, which helps the speaker to persuade the audience. In "Tear Down This Wall": Throughout his speech, Reagan makes several appeals to pathos.

Which type of appeal is used in this part of the speech an emotional appeal? ›

Pathos: Appeal to Emotions.

How many US soldiers died on D-Day? ›

There is no “official” casualty number for D-Day; however, research efforts have come to conclude estimates. From this research, there were about 1,465 American deaths, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, and 26 captured. Of the total U.S. figure, about 2,499 casualties were from the airborne troops.

How many soldiers died on D-Day? ›

It ended with heavy casualties — more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in those first 24 hours — but D-Day is largely considered the successful beginning of the end of Hitler's tyrannical regime.

How many soldiers drowned on D-Day? ›

Long knows that the Foundation's list isn't complete, but says that it's the best figure that we have to date. Of the 4,414 Allied deaths on June 6th, 2,501 were Americans and 1,913 were Allies.

Who suffered the most losses on D-Day? ›

German losses included over 240,000 casualties and 200,000 captured. Between 13,000 and 20,000 French civilians died, and many more were seriously wounded.

What was the secret code for D-Day? ›

What was the code name for the D-day invasion? The code name for the invasion was Operation Overlord.

What was the deadliest part of D-Day? ›

Omaha Beach.

The 1st Infantry assault experienced the worst ordeal of D- Day operations. The Americans suffered 2,400 casualties, but 34,000 Allied troops landed by nightfall.

What was the tone of the challenger speech? ›

The speech has a firmness to it that works to restore confidence to the audience. Words like "daring," "brave," and "faith" are comforting. They are intended to pump up the tired and sad psyche of the country with something solid and nourishing.

What was Kennedy's response to the wall? ›

Kennedy showed that, although he was unhappy with the construction of the Wall, there was nothing he felt able to do about it when he said: It's not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.

When did the Berlin Wall come down and why? ›

It was on 9 November 1989, five days after half a million people gathered in East Berlin in a mass protest, that the Berlin Wall dividing communist East Germany from West Germany crumbled. East German leaders had tried to calm mounting protests by loosening the borders, making travel easier for East Germans.

What is the impact of the loaded language in this paragraph? ›

What is the impact of the loaded language in this paragraph? It calls attention to the urgency of the message. Read the passage from Ronald Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech.

What was the main idea of Reagan's Challenger speech? ›

Though it likely was not channeling a vinyl decal on the back of an 18-wheeler, Reagan's message can be boiled down to "keep on truckin'." Persevere. Keep on keepin' on.

What were the last words of the Challenger crew? ›

“Uh-oh,” Challenger pilot Michael J. Smith said 73 seconds after takeoff. It was the last sound of the crew recorded by the intercom in the shuttle's cabin. The intercom, as well as the air-to-ground communications, shut off at the time of the explosion.

Who was at fault for the Challenger? ›

The cause of the disaster was the failure of the two redundant O-ring seals in a joint in the shuttle's right solid rocket booster (SRB). The record-low temperatures of the launch had stiffened the rubber O-rings, reducing their ability to seal the joints.

What was Kennedy's famous line? ›

"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." "Inaugural Address (1)," January 20, 1961, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961.

Who said better a wall than a war? ›

The title of the book derived from Kennedy's response to the news that the East Germans were building the Wall: to Kennedy it was "a hell of a lot better than a war." Despite the president's belief that the situation in Berlin would not lead to a military confrontation with the Soviets, public pressure forced Kennedy ...

What is Kennedy's main purpose in the speech? ›

His audience reached far beyond those gathered before him to people around the world. In preparing for this moment, he sought both to inspire the nation and to send a message abroad signaling the challenges of the Cold War and his hope for peace in the nuclear age. He also wanted to be brief.

What is the story of the Berlin Wall? ›

The Berlin Wall was built by the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War to prevent its population from escaping Soviet-controlled East Berlin to West Berlin, which was controlled by the major Western Allies. It divided the city of Berlin into two physically and ideologically contrasting zones.

What were the effects of the Berlin Wall? ›

The Berlin wall divided families who found themselves unable to visit each other. Many East Berliners were cut off from their jobs. West Berliners demonstrated against the wall and their mayor Willy Brandt led the criticism against the United States who they felt had failed to respond.

What is the main purpose of a loaded word? ›

Loaded words are words people use to try and persuade, manipulate, and convince a person of something. They might come from an orator, trying to convince an audience of the righteousness of a particular political or social position, or be found on posters spouting propagandist ideologies.

How does the use of language impact the meaning of the text? ›

Language choice is key when creating mood, atmosphere and tone. Writers use different techniques depending on the effect they want to achieve. The sounds of words, the images they create, the literal meaning of words as well as the ideas suggested by or associated with certain words and phrases all count.

How do loaded words affect the reader? ›

Loaded words elicit an emotional response—positive or negative—beyond their literal meaning and can significantly contribute to persuading others to adopt our point of view. For example, the noun plant generates no significant emotional response, but flower inspires a positive feeling and weed a negative feeling.


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