Study Guide

Ich bin ein Berliner Speech Themes

By John F. Kennedy

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  • Contrasting Regions

    Communism? Capitalism? Who can keep them straight? Is there really even any difference between them at all? They both start with a C; they both end in "ism." They can't be total opposites, can they?

    If only there were some place in the world where people were living in a communist system and in a capitalist system side-by-side. Like a city divided down the middle with communists on one side of a wall and capitalists on the other. Then everyone could see the differences clearly.

    Wait—that's what Berlin was during the Cold War? How about that. And JFK's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech addresses this, bigtime.

    Questions About Contrasting Regions

    1. If you were assigned to make a diorama of Berlin in the 1960s, what would you put on the Western side of the wall to symbolize capitalism? What would you put on the Eastern side to symbolize communism? Why?
    2. Were there any other regions of the world that could have served to illustrate the differences between capitalism and communism? Where?
    3. Should Kennedy have done more in his speech to describe the stark differences on each side of the wall? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    JFK's speech could, frankly, have taken a harsher stance against communism.

    JFK was foolhardy to have gone off-script. He should have been more diplomatic and attempted to pacify the communists.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    The problem with tyranny is that people never admit to it while they're doing it. No leader ever gets up and says, "Hey guys, today I'm going to kick off my oppressive, dictatorial reign of cruelty." That would be so handy.

    Instead we need others to point out tyranny when they see it. People who stand up and say, "Hey guys, I don't know if y'all noticed, but that over there, that is tyranny and I'm not cool with it."

    That's exactly what Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech is doing. He is announcing to the world that everyone should get really offended by the tyranny happening right under their noses.

    Questions About Freedom and Tyranny

    1. Compare and contrast political tyranny with ordinary bullying.
    2. Did Kennedy do enough by pointing out the tyranny of communism, or should he have done more to stop it? Why or why not?
    3. Is it fair to for a country with a history of slavery and a lack of civil rights for minorities to discuss freedom and tyranny around the world?
    4. How might communist leaders react to being called tyrants?

    Chew on This

    If communism were correctly enacted according to Marxist theory it wouldn't have resulted in tyranny, but would have brought far more freedom than that enjoyed in the U.S. today.

    People who speak out against evil are the world's true heroes, making Kennedy an especially important historical figure.

  • Perseverance

    It's nice to be noticed. Especially when you've spent nearly two decades being fought over by world superpowers that can't agree on what to do with you. You just want to hear someone admit that this situation isn't ideal, but will probably get better someday. That's all.

    Sometimes you just need some acknowledgement of all you've gone through. Kennedy is finally giving Berlin a fatherly pat on the shoulder with his "Ich bin ein Berlin" speech. He's saying, essentially, "Atta boy. Nice perseverance out there."

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. If you lived in Berlin during the Cold War, would you stick it out, or more away?
    2. Does telling people "it will get better" really help at all? Why or why not?
    3. What other cities or regions of the world have also had to persevere through more than their fair share of hard times?
    4. What qualities does a city need to persevere through difficult situations like the one in Berlin?

    Chew on This

    The people of Berlin had to persevere through many difficulties, but their problems pale in comparison to the difficulties of today.

    The history of the 20th century can be best studied by looking at Berlin, a city that saw two world wars and the Cold War and yet thrives today.

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