Friday Classic Clip: Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" (1987)

Twenty-five years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan stood at base of the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall and delivered arguably the six most famous words of his presidency.

Standing before tens of thousands of people in democratic West Germany, Mr. Reagan uttered a line aimed squarely at the leader of the Soviet Union: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

In hindsight, it’s almost unthinkable to think of Reagan delivering his speech without that line. But according to CBS News, even the writer tasked with writing the speech, Peter Robinson, didn’t know just how powerful it would be:

“Robinson said he didn’t realize the full import of the words he had written until that moment arrived. At the time, he was out of the White House and in business school, watching coverage of the event on television. Amid the footage of celebrations, networks started running some clips from the Reagan speech…‘I’d written the thing but I thought, wow, that’s more powerful than I realized,’ he said.”

 

It’s easy to see why the line was so much more powerful spoken aloud than printed on a page. Mr. Reagan brought the full power of delivery to those words, making them stand out and earn the attention they deserved.

Watch the clip above carefully, and you’ll see that Mr. Reagan had a false start. As people were still cheering, he began saying the words, “Mr. Gorbachev.” He appeared to realize that not everybody would hear him, so he stopped and waited for the cheers to die down before proceeding. Only then did he say the full line, delivered cleanly for television cameras and audiences around the world. 

If you liked this post, click here to see more Friday classic clips and here to see five memorable Reagan moments.