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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reagan Defied His Staff With “Tear down this Wall” Command to Gorbachev

A little more than two years after Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, the Berlin wall did fall unexpectedly on November 9, 1989.

Image Credit: Flickr-The U.S. National Archives | CC BY 2.0 (

Perhaps President’s Ronald Reagan’s most famous and influential speeches was his “Berlin Wall” speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, 32 years ago today on June 12, 1987. It was in this speech (at about 12:00 in the video above) that Reagan made his famous and history-changing demand “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

A Controversial Decision

That statement and speech helped changed the course of history, and there’s even an entire Wikipedia entry for “Tear down this wall” (in addition to an extensive page for Berlin Wall). According to the Wikipedia entry,

The speech was also a source of considerable controversy within the Reagan administration itself, with several senior staffers and aides advising against the phrase, saying anything that might cause further East-West tensions or potential embarrassment to Gorbachev, with whom President Reagan had built a good relationship, should be omitted. American officials in West Germany and presidential speechwriters, including Peter Robinson, thought otherwise.

Here’s the full passage of what preceded Reagan’s famous line:

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!

A little more than two years after Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech, the Berlin wall did fall unexpectedly on November 9, 1989, in what Peter Jennings in the news report below (to view click “Watch on YouTube”) describes as “perhaps the most important announcement made in Central Europe since the end of World War II, certainly since the wall went up in 1961.”

This article is republished with permission from the American Enterprise Institute. 

  • Mark J. Perry is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus.