Study Guide

Tear Down This Wall Compare and Contrast

By Ronald Reagan

  • Nikita Khrushchev, Address to the UN General Assembly (September 23, 1960)

    Khrushchev delivered this speech almost thirty years before Reagan urged Gorbachev to tear down the wall. In fact, when this speech was made, the Berlin Wall wasn't even up yet. But if we really want to get a feel for how the Soviets felt about the U.S. and that whole capitalism thing, this is a great speech to read.

    Just like Reagan, Khrushchev uses a lot of freedom talk, even though the freedom he's describing is a little different from the standard Western definition. But Khrushchev points the big foam finger of Eastern "freedom" straight at the Western allies, accusing them of all sorts of horribly unfree things like slavery and colonialism.

  • John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Rudolph Wilde Platz ("Ich bin ein Berliner"), Berlin (June 26, 1963)

    JFK made this awesome little gem of a speech in 1963. Reagan's Berlin Wall speech was given in 1987. Two POTUSes visited the city of Berlin between 1963 and 1987.

    So why is this speech important?

    Because these speeches are companion pieces. They're like bookends, or salt and pepper shakers. Is it crucial to pair them up? No, but it sure does make seasoning food easier. And holding up books.

    Okay, we're walking away from both of those analogies…

    …and walking right back to JFK.

    Did he really say he was a jelly doughnut during this speech? No he did not, but he did say he was a Berliner because it was a totally clever play on an old (like crazy old) Roman phrase: "civis Romanus sum" ("I am a Roman citizen").

    Anyway, Reagan directly references JFK's Berlin trip twice, and he carries on that whole "Berliner" theme by throwing in his own German phrases and telling the world that we're all citizens of Berlin.

  • Richard von Weizsacker, Speech during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of the War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny (May 8, 1985)

    How did West Germany feel about everything that was going on? As former German Prez von Weizsacker's twelve-page speech (seriously, it's a long one; pull up a comfy chair) tells us, it's complicated.

    Paul Lincke may have told us there's something in the air in Berlin, but it's von Weizsacker who describes what's actually floating around out there: it's a heady mix of shame, pride, defeat, embarrassment, gratitude, fear, and hope. That's a lot of feels to have all at the same time.

    But pretend to be a German for a minute. This speech was given in 1985, forty years after the end of World War II and four years before the Berlin Wall was dismantled. So in the past seventy years, Germany had instigated—and lost—both World Wars. They'd been responsible for attempting to systematically exterminate entire categories of people. Other nations had stepped in and divided the country up like pie, and there was a big freaking death wall running right through the capital city.

    Bad stuff.

    But there'd also been positive progress. West Germany had literally rebuilt itself from ashes (with help from some new friends). West Berlin was becoming beautiful again, and Western capitalism was flattering its svelte economic figure big-time.

    Yeah, maybe we can see how emotions could get a little complicated.

  • Mikhail Gorbachev, Resignation Speech (December 25, 1991)

    A wall collapses in Germany and, bim, bam, boom, the leader of the Soviet Union is out of a job—and a Soviet Union.

    Okay, maybe that's a wee bit of an oversimplification.

    Gorbachev never wanted the Soviet Union to dissolve—he just wanted it to be a little more chill. There were two camps among the Soviets: those who were horrified by Gorby's liberal reforms, and those who thought he couldn't keep 'em coming fast enough. There weren't really any people in between those two positions, though, so everything Gorbachev did was criticized by both sides.

    When it became clear that he'd pretty much lost control of everything ever—he was kidnapped, for crying out loud—and the whole Soviet Union was coming down around his ears with people taking its remnants in directions he didn't want to go, he went ahead and stepped down.

    You can check out his speech here.

  • Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Joint Houses of Congress (February 20, 1985)

    The Iron Lady made her Congressional debut in 1985 with this soul-stirrer of a speech. Britain's Prime Minister was already known around the world as a staunch anti-communist kind of girl; in this speech, she underlines that twice and maybe even draws a little bubble around it.

    Because it's that important to her.

    This speech also double-underlines the super-strong bond between the U.S. and Britain, and how committed they both were to saving the world from the evil clutches of communism. That bond was crucial during the Cold War and it's crucial today. If the U.S. ever bought one of those "Best Friends Forever" lockets, there's a good chance they'd give the other half to the Brits.

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