“Tear Down This Wall”—the making of

On June 12 it was 25 years since President Reagan told President Gorbachev what to do with his wall, and rhetoric historian Ted Widmer had a smart analysis of the situation in The New York Times.

The speech was made historical when Reagan ignored the handwringing of his aides, who worried about the politics of publicly haranguing Gorbachev:

One of Reagan’s gifts, however, was not to care about the wisps of history, or the contrary advice of his advisers. He insisted that the line be included, and so, midway through the speech, the president said, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The lines were delivered crisply. It is unusual for a president to use the second-person imperative — it’s one of the reasons we remember J.F.K.’s invocation to “ask not.” Near the end, Reagan spotted a bit of graffiti spray-painted on the wall, and read it aloud: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.”

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