Reagan and the Brandenburg Gate



June 5th marked the 14th anniversary of the death of America’s greatest President of all time, Ronald Reagan – who died in 2004, at the age of 93. Without doubt, President Reagan changed the course of our world for the better. He led the charge against Communism, Socialism, and the Soviet Union. Without his strong leadership, the Cold War may have dragged on for decades longer. Last Friday, June 12th, marked another significant anniversary: 33 years since the Great Communicator delivered possibly his most remembered, most quoted, and arguably his most important speech. 

It was 33 years ago that President Reagan stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on the West side. There, straight from the heart, he spoke of liberty and freedom, he spoke against the oppressive Soviet regime – and he gave hope to millions behind the Iron Curtain. But the most famous line of that speech, etched into every Conservative’s heart, came just under ten minutes in, when he addressed Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev directly.

“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalisation: come here to this gate… Mr Gorbachev, open this gate… Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” 

Just two years after the President had dared Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”, the Cold War was declared over. Another two years after that, the wall did finally fall – and so did the Soviet Union. 

Reagan had a unique way of relating to the public and, throughout his eight years in the White House, he acted on his morals and principles rather than out of ego or the thin pursuit of ephemeral popularity. Not only did he convince the American people to support his programme twice, in the 1980 and ’84 general elections, he managed to persuade Gorbachev to slowly decrease the amount of arms held by both sides and proceed with a plan of perestroika. Perhaps one of the greatest sadnesses of modern politics is the recent resurgence of Communist ideas, resurrected by young, left-wing activists in the West who have never experienced Communism’s horrors – and don’t recall the immense ideological battle to defeat it.

Ronald Reagan made the case for freedom, liberty and peace better than any world leader, not just of his day, but possibly of all time. His message of hope gave hope to so many living under oppressive regimes around the globe and, although the Soviet Union didn’t fall until his successor (and Vice President) George H.W. Bush was in the Oval Office, it was undoubtedly the Gipper himself who precipitated its decline. 

He was also a great wit – peppering his speeches with jokes (or as he called them, “stories”). Here’s one of my favourites, told to Reynolds Metal Employees in a speech shortly before he left Office in 1988: 

“You know there’s a ten year delay in the Soviet Union for the delivery of an automobile, only one out of seven families own one, you go through quite a process when you’re ready to buy, then you put up the money in advance. This man laid down the money and then the fella in charge said ‘Ok, come back in ten years to collect your car.’ And he said back to him, ‘Morning or afternoon?’ And the fella behind the counter said, “It’s ten years from now, what difference does it make?” And the guy said, ‘Well, the plumber’s coming in the morning.’”

So let us not forget Reagan – or his speech on June 12th 1987. And let us continue his work, standing up for freedom and responsibility, ensuring the totalitarian ideals of Socialism and Communism are rejected not just at home, but all around the world.

Ethan Thoburn is Deputy Chairman of South Tyneside Conservatives and an Area Officer in the North East of England. He is a regular writer for The Bruges Group. Follow him on twitter: @ethan_thoburn