In 1961, following years of East German population loss to West Germany equaling perhaps 20% of its population, a wall was erected through Berlin, Germany, sealing the East from the West. Two years later, US President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous speech in Berlin, saying, "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin," concluding, "And therefor, as a free man, I take pride in the words, "Ich bin ein Berliner." Twenty-four years later, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan traveled to Berlin and addressed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in his "Tear down this wall!" speech, which received and enthusiastic news coverage. Reagan knew that what he said would be well received in the West, and the similarity in his delivery style to Kennedy's is remarkable. In their reporting, pundits used this opportunity to re-introduce and discuss President Kennedy's earlier speech to an earlier generation.
Today, November 9, 2009, is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, much of which was torn down, brick by brick by average citizens. The representatives of old enemies have gathered in friendship in Berlin, now the restored capital of a unified Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany; Gordon Brown, of England; Nicholas Sarkozy of France, who as a young legislator travelled to Berlin and helped the citizens take down the wall; Mikhail Gorbachev, himself; and Lech Walesa, whose Solidarity movement gave courage and strength to East Germans in the days before the wall fell, have been joined by the leaders of all 27 European Union countries as well as Vladimir Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in attendance, US President Barack Obama--seeking to separate himself from America's past-- has stayed in Washington, finding himself "too busy" to attend the most important celebration of freedom in this century. While as Americans we may be ashamed of what is transpiring in Washington, America's role in encouraging and supporting a free Europe cannot be underestimated. Today, all Americans can can be proud that in our hearts we, too, are also Berliners.
Today Chancellor Merkel delivered remarks which well may prove as famous and enduring as those by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. Addressing Michael Gorbachev, and underscoring his importance to history, she simply said, "You made this possible — you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect."
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