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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Reagan at the Brandenberg Gate: The 25th Anniversary of the Most Important Speech In My Lifetime

Growing up during the height of the Cold War, it was inconceivable to me that anything east of the Iron Curtain would ever be anything other than dark and opporessed. Berlin was a divided city, as Germany was a divided country, as Europe was a divided continent.
Out of college I worked in an engineering department with an engineer who escaped from Czechoslovakia to Austria in the back of a milk truck. He left behind his wife and children, not knowing if they had been punished after his escape or if they were in fact even alive. I don't remember the details of why he was forced to escape after all of these years, but his story was, unfortunately, not uncommon.

As the 80s progressed, the Cold War deepened and we were all as scared of nuclear annihilation then as the generation before us was in the 50s and 60s. Not to minimize the War on Terror, but a few thousand nuclear missiles were daunting to live in the shadow of. On more than one occasion I took part in conversations about where the first Soviet missiles would hit. In the central New Jersey area we always felt we would go first because of New York and all the military installations around us. As naive as we were, were hoped we were right. We grew up knowing it was better to die first in a nuclear war.

There is no way to relate to someone who didn't live through those times just how inconceivable a world without the Soviet Union was.

The Wall went up practically overnight in 1961 and it seemed the world would never change.

Communist governments run by power mad narcissists used fear and brutality to prop up a system that history has shown only leads to ruin and death. Those governments seemed invincible to us then. Men who considered themselves free were powerless to save the people trapped behind the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain.

Then Ronald Reagan did the unthinkable. Simply put, he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the symbol of Soviet power. Two years and five months later, the Berlin wall was no more and the Soviet Union's days were numbered as well. It happened just that quickly and simply. Reagan's words were the match that lit the fuse of freedom in the hearts of the oppressed people of Europe.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the single most significant political event in my lifetime. On June 12, 1987, Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet premier to let the people of the Eastern Bloc live in freedom. This anniversary should stand as a powerful reminder that governments do not give freedom and prosperity, they only limit them. It is people living freely and pursuing their own self interests who can guarantee freedom for the generations still to come.

Listening to this speech twenty-five years later makes you realize just how much America and the American government's view of freedom has changed.

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