- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

History rarely cooperates by offering the opportunity to celebrate two pivotal events within a compacted period of time. But early June provided just such a constellation. In celebrating the anniversaries of the Gipper's historic, freedom-cherishing orations, we note that the Soviet Union's collapse upon the ash heap of history and the destruction of the Berlin Wall certainly would not have happened nearly as quickly without the indispensable role that Ronald Reagan played in history.
Specifically, June 8 was the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's brilliant address before the British Parliament promoting democracy during an extremely dicey period of the Cold War. And June 12 was the 15th anniversary of Mr. Reagan's challenging oration at the Berlin Wall, also delivered at a key moment in history.
With the knowledge of how history has evolved since those speeches were delivered, including some very favorable developments in recent weeks, re-reading them today compels one to look with awe upon the prescience of the Gipper's rhetoric. History has already proven Mr. Reagan's greatness as a president, in no small part because he never lost focus from his single-minded determination to expand liberty and freedom through strength. Share with us the celebration of the triumph of America's ideals and Mr. Reagan's ideas.
At Parliament, Mr. Reagan told his hosts "how much at home [Americans] feel in your house," which he rightly described as "one of democracy's shrines [where] the rights of free people and the processes of representation have been debated and refined." From London, Mr. Reagan noted, he would travel to "Berlin, where there stands a grim symbol of power untamed." Then Mr. Reagan let it rip. "The Berlin Wall, that dreadful gash across the city, is in its third decade," he told his audience, which did not include, by the way, boycotting Labor Party members. Foreshadowing the "Evil Empire" speech of the following year, Mr. Reagan declared the Berlin Wall to be "the fitting signature of the regime that built it."
Despite the rueful acknowledgement that the world was "approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention totalitarianism," Mr. Reagan nonetheless rejected any sense of pessimism. To the contrary. "Optimism is in order," he asserted, "because, day by day, democracy is proving itself to be a not-at-all fragile flower." In an adaptation of Winston Churchill's famous Iron Curtain speech delivered 36 years earlier in Fulton, Mo., the Gipper then laid it on the line. "From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea," the president said, "the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than 30 years to establish their legitimacy. But none not one regime has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets," he presciently stated, "do not take root."
Mr. Reagan recounted the horrors inflicted by the totalitarian Soviet regime. "If history teaches anything," Mr. Reagan said, noting anti-nuclear demonstrations that greeted him wherever he traveled in Europe, "it teaches [this]: Self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly." What, then, Mr. Reagan asked, should the West do? He answered: "This is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see," the prescient president declared, "but I believe we live now at a turning point."
History has completely confirmed what few intellectuals, on the left or the right, understood 20 years ago but what Mr. Reagan knew in his heart to be true. (Keep in mind that Mr. Reagan made the following observation while the United States was enmeshed in its worst postwar recession.) The "turning point" the president observed in this moment of crisis was this: "In an ironic sense," Mr. Reagan said, "Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis a crisis where the demands of the economic order are colliding directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet Union."
Sensing the early stages of a worldwide democratic revolution that would soon engulf much of Asia and Latin America, Mr. Reagan then delivered the coup de grace. "What I am describing now is a plan and a hope," he said, offering a prediction that, for its time, was as confident as it would later be proved to be accurate. "The march of freedom and democracy," Mr. Reagan asserted, "will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."
Five years later, almost to the day, on June 12, 1987, Mr. Reagan found himself in Berlin, once again the target of thousands of protesters. Once again, he refused to budge an inch, as he stood in front of the Berlin Wall. Again echoing Churchill, the president declared, "Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same still a restriction on the right to travel, still the instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state."
Fueled by the American economic resurgence that began shortly after Mr. Reagan's 1982 speech in London, prosperity returned throughout the West. On that June day 15 years ago, standing in front of the Brandenburg Grate, Mr. Reagan recounted postwar history. "In the 1950s, [Soviet leader] Khrushchev predicted: 'We will bury you,'" Mr. Reagan reminded the world. "But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the communist world," the president observed, by way of contrast, "we see failure. Technological backwardness. Declining standards of health. Even the want of the most basic kind, too little food."
While welcoming the "change and openess" that then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had been promising in his programs of Glasnost and Perestroika, Mr. Reagan once again laid it on the line, delivering yet another rhetorical coup de grace. "General Secretary 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." the Gipper thundered. "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
As history records, the June speeches in 1982 and 1987 were both delivered while America and the Soviet Union confronted one another in several arms-control negotiations involving intermediate and long-range (strategic) nuclear weapons. In fact, in the speech at the Berlin Wall, Mr. Reagan noted, "As I speak, NATO ministers are meeting in Iceland to review the progress of our proposals for eliminating [the intermediate-range missiles throughout Europe]. At the talks in Geneva, we have also proposed deep cuts in strategic offensive weapons."
History also records that European anti-nuclear activists (and most stateside Democratic Party leaders) were protesting Mr. Reagan's adamant positions in both negotiations. And, alas, history further records that Mr. Reagan's steadfastness and determination not to buckle in the face of relentless (and sometimes violent) European opposition in the streets proved to be the right course. Six months after the president's speech at the Berlin Wall, Mr. Gorbachev fully accepted Mr. Reagan's original "double-zero" offer on intermediate-range missiles. Since then, moreover, there have been three agreements to slash long-range nuclear weapons, including an agreement President George W. Bush signed recently in Russia.
As he did before the British Parliament, the ever-optimistic Ronald Reagan offered a confident predicton in Berlin. "Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall," Mr. Reagan promised. "For it cannot withstand faith. It cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom."


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