On June 12, 1987, Reagan stood before Berlin's Brandenburg Gate and uttered four words (just as President John F. Kennedy did 24 years before with "Ich bin ein Berliner") that have resonated across the decades:
"There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary [Mikhail] Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
And two years later, the wall would come tumbling down.
In a revealing essay for "The Wall Street Journal," former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson recalls that the State Department, the National Security Council, and the ranking U.S. diplomat in Berlin all objected to Reagan delivering the speech:
Robinson quotes Reagan as telling his deputy chief of staff, Kenneth Duberstein, "The boys at State are going to kill me for this, but it's the right thing to do."
The right thing to do, perhaps, but in his essay, Robinson wonders whether the speech had any impact, whether it really mattered.
Gorbachev himself told an American audience earlier this year: "We were not impressed. We knew that Mr. Reagan's original profession was actor."
But Robinson says he has been convinced otherwise. First, by a former German World Bank employee, Dieter Elz, who credited Reagan with changing Germany's consciousness that day:
And then by Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a former Soviet physicist and dissident who's now a consultant in New York:
"The Berlin Wall address," Robinson writes, "represented a call to awaken."
Two years later, the people of Berlin did just that.