In April 1987, when I was assigned to write the Brandenburg Gate address, I spent a day in Berlin with the White House advance team, the logistical experts, Secret Service agents, and press officials who went to the site of every presidential visit to make arrangements. In the evening, I broke away from the advance team to join a dozen Berliners for dinner. Our hosts were Dieter and Ingeborg Elz, who, after Dieter completed his career at the World Bank in Washington, had retired to Berlin. Although we had never met, we had friends in common, and the Elzes had offered to put on this dinner party to give me a feel for their city. They had invited Berliners of different walks of life and political outlooks–businessmen, academics, students, homemakers.
We chatted for awhile. Then I explained that, earlier in the day, the ranking American diplomat in West Berlin had told me that over the years Berliners had made a kind of accommodation with the wall. “Is it true?” I asked. “Have you gotten used to it?”
The Elzes and their guests glanced at each other uneasily. Then one man raised an arm and pointed. “My sister lives twenty miles in that direction,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?” Another man spoke. As he walked to work each morning, he explained, a soldier in a guard tower peered down at him through binoculars. “That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which.”
Our hostess broke in. A gracious woman, Ingeborg Elz had suddenly grown angry. Her face was red. She made a fist with one hand and pounded it into the palm of the other. “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of glasnost and perestroika,” she said, “he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall.”
A few things I've read recently about WWII and the fall of the USSR has made mention that it's worth remembering that the outcomes of both events was in doubt for a long time. It wasn't clear for a long time that the Allied forces would defeat Hitler, and for many years it was not clear that the USSR would ever go away.
Reagan was one of the few people who recognized the challenge that the Soviet Union presented for the US, and probably the only one who actually believed that if the US took them head on, they would not last.
When you read about what it was like for the people of East and West Germany from the excerpt above, how can you not appreciate the Reagan's boldness in making that statement. He didn't write it, but he said those words against the opinions of all of his most trusted advisors who attempted many times to soften the message that he felt he needed to deliver.
And to think that Gorbachev was given the Nobel Peace Prize, as if he had any choice in the outcome of the Cold War, what a joke.
Thank heavens for President Reagan.