June 12

This Day in History

Cold War

Jun 12, 1987:

Reagan challenges Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall

In one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Two years later, deliriously happy East and West Germans did break down the infamous barrier between East and West Berlin.

Reagan's challenge came during a visit to West Berlin. With the Berlin Wall as a backdrop, Reagan declared, "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." Addressing the West Berlin crowd, Reagan observed, "Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar." 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 United States wanted to see action taken to improve the Cold War tensions. Just eight months before, a summit between Reagan and Gorbachev had ended unsatisfactorily, with both sides charging the other with bad faith in talks aimed at reducing nuclear arsenals. Reagan, who had formed a personal closeness to Gorbachev during their previous meetings, obviously wanted to move those negotiations forward. In December 1987, the two met once again and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear missiles from Europe.

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