Study Guide

Tear Down This Wall Quotes

By Ronald Reagan

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan… The sign read simply: "The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world." (28-31)

    Heeeeere we come to save the daaaaaay…

    But theme music aside, Reagan is basically reminding Berliners that not only are the U.S. and West Germany allies, they're allies in freedom. And that makes them super-duper allies.

    From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks among the greatest on earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. (42-43)

    So to paraphrase: the freedom-haters didn't want you guys to rebuild your city. They wanted you to live in bombed-out buildings, scavenging for food and money. But that's sure not what happened, is it? Ha ha ha, take that, Soviets.

    In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind—too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great an inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor. (45-51)

    This is maybe the most elegant burn on the Soviet Union that ever there was. Reagan takes former leader Khrushchev's words and basically says, "I don't think so, buddy. You guys can't even feed yourselves." Freedom is the winner.

    I believe there's something deeper, something that involved Berlin's whole look and feel and way of life—not mere sentiment…. Something that speaks with a powerful voice of affirmation, that says yes to this city, yes to the future, yes to freedom. In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love—love both profound and abiding. (113-17)

    Reagan makes it sound like freedom is all tied up with the future, with love (both profound and abiding), and with the city of Berlin itself. Ergo, anyone who doesn't agree with the Western definition of freedom must also hate the future, Berlin, and love. Who hates love? Tyrants, that's who.

    Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. (126-28)

    Actually, unless faith, truth and freedom suddenly turned into rocks, chisels, and heavy machinery, the wall probably could withstand them. But it (and its tyrant builders) couldn't withstand the people driven by faith, truth, and freedom, and we're pretty sure that's the message Reagan was going for here.

  • Contrasting Regions: The East and the West

    A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium—virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded. (32-34)

    This is what Japan and the West are up to these days: getting their democratic capitalism on. Isn't it wonderful, West Germany? (Paying attention, East Germany?)

    In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind—too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great an inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor. (45-51)

    Oh, snap! Even today, after forty years of this "communist bloc" stuff, the Soviet Union can't even feed its people. Meanwhile over here in the West, land of the rich, victorious peace-lovers, it's party time.

    And now the Soviets may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom… Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, designed to raise false hopes in the West..? (52-58)

    Now the U.S. takes on the role of the wronged partner in a relationship on the rocks: are you messing with us, East? You've said you're going to change, and we want to believe you…are you just telling us what we want to hear?

    In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a technological revolution is taking place—a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications. In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: it must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. (86-90)

    One of these things is not like the other…and it's the East. Look around, East, and get it together. Everyone's having a grand time making money and being free…everyone, that is, except the Soviet Union and its posse of communists. It's time to make some changes, East. It's time to be more like the West. Everybody's doing it.

    Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. (118-20)

    Yup, you read that right: totalitarianism sucks the humanness out of living. Clearly no one wants to hang out with someone who sucks the humanness out of everything. Looks like the West wins this round too.

  • Identity

    In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. (24-25)

    Because we're buds, and that's what buds do. We help each other get freshened up after one of us goes on an extermination frenzy and the other drops a bunch of bombs on our cities to make us stop.

    I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the Western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: "The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world." (29-31)

    Because that's what we are: the free world. The United States, West Germany, and the rest of the West. That's why our former Secretary of State's name is on signs all over this city, guys.

    In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty—the just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. (35-36)

    And that right there, that liberty thing? Freedom of speech and economic freedom for farmers and businesses and whatnot? That's all Western, baby.

    East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. (81-84)

    The differences between the East and West are all about liberty…and Berlin is a city that has fought for and is now standing secure in its liberty. Therefore, Berlin is a Western city.

    In a word, I would submit that what keeps you in Berlin is love—love both profound and abiding. (117)

    Since we later learn that the Soviets and the Eastern world consider even symbols of love offensive, we definitely know we're not in an Eastern city if Berlin is all about the love.

  • Warfare

    I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent—and I pledge to you my country's efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides. (64-67)

    In other words, says Reagan, we'll work with you on this whole arms reduction thing, but don't think for one sweet second that we're going to allow you to continue spreading your communist ooze all over the globe.

    As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating these weapons. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons. And the Western allies have likewise made far-reaching proposals to reduce the danger of conventional war and to place a total ban on chemical weapons. (75-77)

    See? We're committed to making war safer for everyone.

    While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the capacity to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. (78)

    This little zinger of a sentence is buried between some jargon-heavy weapons discussions, but don't be deceived: this is the crucial sentiment behind everything Reagan is saying here. Basically, we'll play along, Soviet Union, because nuclear war is bad for everyone, but let there be no mistaking this: no matter how many weapons we take off the table, we'll still be able to stop you if you step out of line.

    And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative—research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. (79-80)

    The whole purpose of SDI was to set up an anti-ballistic missile system that would keep missiles launched by our enemies from reaching us and killing our peeps. The theory was that if a country knew their missiles wouldn't reach the intended target, they wouldn't fire them in the first place.

    East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. (81-82)

    Okay, but weapons are still kind of a big deal. Last we checked, dropping bombs made of liberty was still far less effective than dropping bombs made of, you know, bomb stuff.

  • Perseverance

    We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it's out duty to speak, in this place, of freedom. But I must confess, we're drawn here by other things as well: by the feeling of history in this city, more than 500 years older than out own nation; by the beauty of the Grunewald and the Tiergarten; most of all, by your courage and determination. (4-5)

    Even Berlin's inanimate objects persevere. There are things in this city that were here before the U.S. was even a twinkle in Britain's eye, and even with all the war and whatnot that's gone on lately, Berlin's landmarks and monuments still stand. That's perseverance.

    From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks among the greatest on Earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But, my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn't count on: Berliner herz, Berliner humor, ja, und Berliner schnauze. (42-44)

    Those wacky Soviets didn't get what we get about you, Berlin: you persevere. Your heart, your sense of humor, your Berlin attitude—they've all helped you stay strong, and the Soviets didn't see that coming. But we in the West did, because we get you, Berlin. We get you.

    After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor. (49-51)

    Four decades? Now that's perseverance.

    Because we remained strong, the Soviets came back to the table. And because we remained strong, today we have within reach the possibility, not merely of limiting the growth of arms, but eliminating, for the first time, an entire class of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth. (73-74)

    We stuck to our convictions. We persevered, even when it was hard, because we knew that we were doing the right thing, and that we were doing a good thing for the rest of the world.

    In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and innovation, the Soviet Union faces a choice: it must make fundamental changes, or it will become obsolete. (89-90)

    Now here's a fun twist on the perseverance theme: Reagan says that the U.S.S.R. needs to quit persevering, because they're persevering about the wrong stuff. In fact, their confused perseverance is actually going to cause them to become obsolete. So the lesson here is that it only pays to persevere when you're persevering for the right reasons. And the U.S.S.R.'s reasons are all wrong.

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