fbpx

Fall Of The Berlin Myths

From Foreign Policy’s recent special about the fall of the Berlin Wall, a neat little 4-point piece debunking some of the interpretations of why it collapsed:

Here’s a reality check on the most persistent myths:

No. 1: It was Ronald Reagan.

In this version of history, U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s resolute hawkishness and emancipatory eloquence saved the day for the free world.

On June 12, 1987, in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, Reagan issued a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to make good on his promises of liberalization. “Come here, to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan’s supporters claim that this speech played a key role in sparking the events of 1989, but there’s little evidence to back this up.

In fact, Reagan’s words left little obvious imprint on the thinking of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. The opposition movements in East Germany and Czechoslovakia were more peacenik than Grand Old Party; in Poland, Solidarity activists already had their own pope as a moral beacon. Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times even ran Reagan’s speech on the front page. Some Reaganites tended to regard the speech as a grand bit of political theater, intended mainly for consumption back home, with limited real-world repercussions. Reagan’s own national security advisor, Frank Carlucci, later recalled thinking, “It’s a great speech line. But it will never happen.”

And in West Berlin itself — where the late-1980s population included adisproportionate number of Greens and counterculture refugees from WestGermany’s draft — the applauders were outnumbered by the rioters, whochose to protest against Reagan’s conservative policies rather thanapplaud his chutzpah. If anything, it was Reagan’s willingness,throughout most of his second term, to meet Gorbachev halfway thathelped the Soviet leader back away from the use of force — anachievement that led British journalist Victor Sebestyen to dub Reagan”America’s Leading Dove.”

Read parts 2,3 and 4 here.