If you’re a tadpole of the TV age you’ll have some excellent images lodged in your mind as I do. One of the most vivid is Ronald Reagan’s dramatic call, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” In my mind’s eye I can see the Brandenburg Gate behind him, and from that image begin to flow amazing scenes from just two years later of ordinary people – East and West Germans alike – hacking away at the monolithic Berlin Wall with anything to hand.
President Reagan’s speech was made on 12 June 1987 and has since come to be known as the “Tear Down This Wall” speech. One of the downsides to watching speeches on television rather than listening to them on bakelite radiograms is that we tend only to remember those ‘soundbites’ that are accompanied by images. Thus, almost nobody remembers the far more important part of that speech; the undergirding question of why the wall would eventually have to be brought down by somebody at some time. It was the issue of freedom:
Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere–that sphere that towers over all Berlin–the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.
As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: “This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.” Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.
Making speeches is largely out of favour in our modern world. Politicians are only interested in getting a ‘talking point’ to air for the nightly news cycle and virtually nobody has the inclination to sit quietly for an hour to absorb, consider, and later ruminate over such profound issues as these. I wonder if this is why so many people in the West barrak for a side (Coalition vs Labor, Republicans vs Democrats etc) to gain and hold power, comforted as they are by illusory statements of intention rather than the hard consequences of enacted policies in real peoples’ daily lives.
The Berlin Wall may now be down, but in its place is the stupefying banality of the modern media. Where once families sat about the dinner table and examined deep issues of faith and character in the context of current affairs, now the only things being grappled with are the remote and the dinner tray. Since President Reagan made his speech two generations have been intentionally divorced from the Judeo-Christian values of personal liberty and objective truth. Theirs is now a world of the secular, the relativist and the self-serving manipulator. Their young minds, once filled with unbounded potential, now drearily serve out their time on earth in the gulag of gossip magazines and TMZ. They are enslaved and they neither know it nor care.
I don’t like secularism, atheism, socialism or any other form of totalitarianism. I like freedom of thought and action, artistic expression that lifts the soul, acceptance of personal responsibility for one’s own life and the pursuit of intelectual growth … just as our Creator intended. Concrete or idealogical, I guess I just don’t like prison walls of any type.
President Reagan’s speech–and many others–may be found here.