I remember the incident in August, 1962. It was televised all over the world. A 17-year old carpenter’s assistant named Peter Fechter from East Germany was trying to escape across the plowed earth separating the inner and outer structures of what had become known as the Berlin Wall. Communist border guards known as Volkspolizei (People’s Police, or VoPos, for short) shot Peter in the back. He bled. And he cried. And cried. He begged someone to come and help him. He lay there for hours, whimpering like a child. This video clip says it was as if his life was ebbing away. No, it wasn’t as if. His life was ebbing away. I saw it. I hated Communism because of that. I never wavered in my belief it was fundamentally evil.
Those were happy days in America. I remember the carefree days at the beach that summer, going sailing on the Great South Bay, and the almost new Oldsmobile my parents helped me buy. Like Peter Fechter, I was just 17. Happy as I was then, I never forgot witnessing Peter Fechter’s real-life murder on TV.
Ronald Reagan never forgot Peter Fechter, either. He spoke of the Berlin Wall for many years thereafter. He always personalized that grim gray obscene concrete Wall (“die Mauer”) by including the story of Peter Fechter.
While President Richard Nixon went to Moscow in 1972 and gave Soviet Communist Party boss brand new American-made cars as gifts, Reagan continued to speak out against the inhumanity of a system that could build a Berlin Wall and shoot down teenagers who simply sought to escape Communism’s “Workers’ Paradise.”
After Nixon’s disgrace, President Jimmy Carter went to Vienna to meet with Brezhnev in June, 1979. He let Brezhnev kiss him on their first date! Brezhnev took the measure of the man. Six months later, he kissed off Carter when he sent Soviet troops into Afghanistan.
President Carter went on national TV to explain that he had learned more about the USSR in the previous three days than in the previous three years.
I later interviewed Amb. Malcolm Toon, the career diplomat whom Carter had sent to Moscow. Amb. Toon told me that no elected leader in Western Europe could have made such a stunning statement. If he had admitted to such incompetence, that Prime Minister or Chancellor would have been voted out of office the very next day in parliament!
As President, Ronald Reagan remained true to his convictions. In 1987, the American press corps was in its full-gush mode over Soviet Communist Party boss, Mikhail Gorbachev. The chin-pulling opinion writers who pass for serious analysts in our prestige press were all agog over Gorbachev’s new liberalization schemes for the USSR and the Soviet bloc. They repeated Gorbachev’s spin with practiced ease.
President Reagan wasn’t buying it. He went to the Brandenburg Gate, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, on June 12, 1987.. He took with him the speech text he and Peter Robinson had crafted, the one our State Department had rejected three times. Sec. of State George Schulz, White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker, and National Security Advisor Gen. Colin Powell all tried to dissuade the President from saying anything that might upset U.S.-Soviet relations. Reagan was quiet, but firm, with his staff. “I think I was elected,” he mildly told Peter Robinson and that line “Tear Down this Wall” stayed in the speech.
Today, we are celebrating twenty-five years of freedom for the people of Germany and Eastern Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of that Evil Empire began this day in 1989. Reagan never claimed to have been the one who brought about this stunning change. But he was the one Western leader who never lost faith that Soviet Communism could be brought down. He told his aides: We win; they lose.
The Atlantic’s website provides this helpful remembrance of the Berlin Wall. It contains, unfortunately no references to President Kennedy’s great speech there in 1963, or President Reagan’s inspirational address of 1987.
This most interesting monument—is called the “Lichtgrenze” or Light Border. It’s well worth seeing. Thanks to the liberal editors of The Atlantic, the former Soviet dictator, Gorbachev gets a bit part in the photomontage. Thank you, General Secretary Gorbachev for not shooting any more of Peter Fechter’s countrymen!
Today, I will remember the Berlin Wall and the joy of the Germans—and all of us—when we heard young people there exclaim “Die Mauer ist Gefallen!” The Wall is Down!
My friend and colleague, FRC Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg was in Germany when the Wall came down. Then a young liberal, our Peter was honest with himself and his friends. “This is Reagan’s doing,” Peter Sprigg said then. Peter has been a recovering liberal ever since.
Ronald Reagan never claimed credit for the Fall of the Wall. But he did go there and challenge Gorbachev to prove his liberalization schemes by tearing down the Wall. Reagan was the first President since John F. Kennedy to draw a bright line between freedom and tyranny. “Lass'sie nach Berlin kommen” the young President had said—Let them come to Berlin.
President Reagan did something there that even brave young Kennedy did not do. He described a radio tower built by the East German Communists to overshadow all of Berlin’s church steeples. The President noted that the tower had a defect that the atheist rulers of East Germany had desperately tried to etch out with acid, sandblast, or paint over.
Still, Ronald Reagan said, when the sun struck the globe on that tall tower, it reflected the Sign of the Cross.