Study Guide

Lucius D. Clay in Ich bin ein Berliner Speech

By John F. Kennedy

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Lucius D. Clay

And the Crowd Goes Wild

If you listen to the audio or watch the video of the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, you'll notice that the people of Berlin are in love with General Clay. As soon as his name's mentioned they interrupt President Kennedy to loudly applaud him. In the video they cut to some cheering German grannies that look seconds away from throwing their undies at the stage. He even comes to the podium to awkwardly wave to the crowd with a sheepish grin.

So why were the good people of Berlin head-over-heels for a sixty-five-year-old retired U.S. general?

Remember, these were people who were conquered and occupied by the United States military. They lost the World War (two of 'em, actually) to the U.S. and its allies. It seems odd that only eighteen years after being beaten by the U.S., the German people would get all goo-goo eyed over an American general.

That is, until you consider the Soviets.

Compared to the Soviets the U.S. military looked like a flock of fuzzy Care Bears riding in on rainbows with squishy hugs and candy for everyone.

When Good Guys Go Bad

The Soviet's Red Army arrived in Berlin first and…there's no easy way to say this: they raped and pillaged the place. That isn't just a figure of speech, and it isn't something that only the Vikings did way back in the dark ages.

The Red Army was often woefully undersupplied and forced to live off the lands that they were occupying. "Live off the land" is actually a really condescending term for "pillaging, looting, and just plain stealing food because their commanders weren't giving them any." Oh, and they were taking food that, by the way, others—like the elderly and children—needed.

Which bring us to the other really disgusting thing that the Red Army did. According to the BBC, over 100,000 women were raped in Berlin alone and over 2 million in all of Germany. (Source)

While the U.S. and other armies certainly had soldiers who committed crimes, they didn't occur on anything close to the scale of the Soviets. When the U.S. military finally arrived in Berlin and began to restore order to the city, the people—especially the women—were really happy to see them. Like, run out into the streets crying and losing your mind kind of happy.

West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer called it, "The rare case where the conquered is very satisfied with the conqueror" (source).

General Lucius Clay became the face of this rescue from the Soviet rapists. He succeeded General Eisenhower as the Military Governor of occupied Germany and oversaw the arrest and trials of Nazi war criminals. The guy was like a comic book superhero, saving women from danger and putting evildoers in prison. If only he could fly too.

Oh yeah: he also orchestrated the Berlin Airlift.

Clay Delivers the Knockout

The Soviets, like most comic book villains, don't go away after just one issue. Each allied power had a sector of Berlin to manage and after years of disagreements between the Soviets and the other allies, the communists decide that they had enough and they blockade the U.S., French, and British sectors into an island surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany. They cut all land and water routs into that part of the city, now known as West Berlin.

The people of West Berlin were now isolated from all outside supplies…but what they did have was General Clay and Tempelhof Airport. Clay and the U.S. military organized supplies to be flown into West Berlin almost constantly for nearly a year, until the Soviet abandoned their plan and ended the blockade.

So in addition to everything else, for the people of Berlin, General Clay was now they guy who supplied them with, well, everything.

Clay retired after the airlift was over. Coordinating all the movements in and out of a large European city surrounded by hostile forces where the only means of travel was by air must have been just a little exhausting. But he served as an adviser to President Kennedy and returned to Berlin in 1963 to show him around.

So yeah, it was exciting for a U.S. president to speak to the people of West Berlin, especially after the Soviets replaced the blockade with a wall and weren't showing signs of stopping. But when the Berliners saw that General Clay had come back—well, that was probably the most exciting part of the whole shebang.

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