“Words really do matter,” said Romesh Ratnesar, author of Tear Down This Wall: A City, A President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War, in a talk he gave about the speech by President Ronald Reagan where the president demanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
An audio recording of the event is available here (32:22)
When the wall fell, it was a “genuine moment of hope,” said Ratnesar. For the wall to come down, Ratnesar explained in his remarks, there were events leading up to it. In 1986, Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Reagan met for a summit in Reykjavik where they discussed nuclear disarmament; although criticized for failing to reach an agreement, each recognized at the time that the meeting was a turning point in their countries’ relations. The next year, Reagan followed the summit meeting with the Berlin Wall speech because he wanted to continue to reach out to the Soviet Union and its leadership, said Ratnesar.
Ratnesar said that Reagan’s rhetoric of a united Germany kept the dream alive, but noted that Gorbachev in his role as the leader of the Soviet Union allowed it to happen. In addition, Ratnesar pointed out that there are things to be learned from the fall of the wall. One lesson is that soft power works as well as military force, another is that patience is needed to succeed, and, finally, the importance of words.
Ratnesar, deputy managing editor of Time magazine, is a Hoover media fellow. Ratnesar gave his presentation on November 12 at the Hoover Institution.