Updated:
Original:
Year
1987
Month Day
June 12

President Reagan challenges Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall"

On this day in 1987, in one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the repressive Communist era in a divided Germany.

In 1945, following Germany’s defeat in World War II, the nation’s capital, Berlin, was divided into four sections, with the Americans, British and French controlling the western region and the Soviets gaining power in the eastern region. In May 1949, the three western sections came together as the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), with the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) being established in October of that same year. In 1952, the border between the two countries was closed and by the following year East Germans were prosecuted if they left their country without permission. In August 1961, the Berlin Wall was erected by the East German government to prevent its citizens from escaping to the West. Between 1949 and the wall’s inception, it’s estimated that over 2.5 million East Germans fled to the West in search of a less repressive life.

With the wall as a backdrop, President Reagan declared to a West Berlin crowd in 1987, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Secretary General 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. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan then went on to ask Gorbachev to undertake serious arms reduction talks with the United States.

Most listeners at the time viewed Reagan’s speech as a dramatic appeal to Gorbachev to renew negotiations on nuclear arms reductions. It was also a reminder that despite the Soviet leader’s public statements about a new relationship with the West, the U.S. wanted to see action taken to lessen Cold War tensions. Happily for Berliners, though, the speech also foreshadowed events to come: Two years later, on November 9, 1989, joyful East and West Germans did break down the infamous barrier between East and West Berlin. Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990.

Gorbachev, who had been in office since 1985, stepped down from his post as Soviet leader in 1991. Reagan, who served two terms as president, from 1981 to 1989, died on June 5, 2004, at age 93.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Philippine independence declared

During the Spanish-American War, Filipino rebels led by Emilio Aguinaldo proclaim the independence of the Philippines after 300 years of Spanish rule. By mid-August, Filipino rebels and U.S. troops had ousted the Spanish, but Aguinaldo’s hopes for independence were dashed when ...read more

Indira Gandhi convicted of election fraud

Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, is found guilty of electoral corruption in her successful 1971 campaign. Despite calls for her resignation, Gandhi refused to give up India’s top office and later declared martial law in the country when public demonstrations threatened ...read more

Big Red sets record at Belmont Stakes

On this day in 1920, Man O’ War wins the 52nd Belmont Stakes, and sets the record for the fastest mile ever run by a horse to that time. Man O’ War was the biggest star yet in a country obsessed with horse racing, and the most successful thoroughbred of his generation. Man O’ War ...read more

John F. Kennedy receives medals

Lieutenant John F. Kennedy receives one of the Navy’s highest honor for gallantry for his heroic actions as a gunboat pilot during World War II on this day in 1944. The future president also received a Purple Heart for wounds received during battle. As a young man, Kennedy had ...read more

George Herbert Walker Bush is born

The first Bush president, George Herbert Walker Bush, is born in Milton, Massachusetts. Bush served in the Navy during World War II and survived a harrowing ordeal when his torpedo bomber was shot down over the Pacific. Bush drifted in the water for several hours until a U.S. ...read more

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman murdered

Nicole Brown Simpson, famous football player O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, and her friend Ron Goldman are brutally stabbed to death outside Nicole’s home in Brentwood, California, in what quickly becomes one of the most highly publicized trials of the century. With overwhelming ...read more