U.S. Presidents on Berlin

Read (and complete) these selections from speeches by two U.S. presidents on Berlin to practice more academic vocabulary. Notice the similarities in their vision and hopes for West Berlin, for Germany, and for freedom in the world.

old drawing of the Brandenburg Gate in BerlinThe Brandenburg Gate-- a symbol of Berlin

I was struck by Kennedy’s and Reagan’s (and Obama’s, in a later speech here) shared vision of the importance of defending freedom in every part of the world, and their determination to keep American commitments to their allies.

Americans have had many bitter disagreements on foreign policy. However, since the 1940s both major parties and their leaders have expressed the same fundamental sense of involvement with other nations and of cooperation with those who share basic values.

In John F. Kennedy’s State of the Union address in Jan. 1961 (with vocabulary practice closely related to this page—a message very similar to his famous Inaugural address (earlier that month, with an audio link from that page) you can find the same ideals and concerns as in his Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis that July and his famous ‘Ich Bin ein Berliner’ speech (transcript and complete audio-- 6 minutes) in 1963. (There is a very short selection from each speech below.)

The Cold War had changed by 1987, and President Reagan saw hope ahead, but his Berlin speech, with the famous line “Mr. Gorbachek, tear down this wall!” echoed many of Kennedy’s thoughts. (The wall came down, suddenly, in 1989. President Barak Obama refers to that time and what led up to it in his speech in Poland in 2014.)

Although Kennedy and Obama were Democrats and Reagan was a Republican—with some strong disagreements about how the American government should serve its people—their views on America’s place in the world, over 50 years, have a great deal in common. 

President Kennedy on Berlin

A selection from his Report on the Berlin Crisis:

"We cannot and will not permit the Communists to drive us out of Berlin, either gradually or by force. For the fulfillment of our pledge to that city is essential to the morale and security of Western Germany, to the unity of Western Europe, and to the faith of the entire Free World... The strength of the alliance on which our security depends is dependent in turn on our willingness to meet our commitments to them.

So long as the Communists insist that they are preparing to end by themselves unilaterally our rights in West Berlin and our commitments to its people, we must be prepared to defend those rights and those commitments. We will at all times be ready to talk, if talk will help. But we must also be ready to resist with force, if force is used upon us. Either alone would fail. Together, they can serve the cause of freedom and peace."

This is from Kennedy's 1963 speech in Berlin:

"Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us... 

What is true of this city is true of Germany--real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free... 

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."

President Reagan at the Berlin Wall

In these selections from Reagan’s speech, fill in the gap with the words below.  (They’re all from the Academic Word List. Several are different forms of the words practiced on the first Practice Academic Vocabulary page on Kennedy’s State of the Union address.) That page also give some hints at how to fill th gaps, by first looking at the part of speech needed, and then seeing what meaning best fits. Note that words ending in -ed or -ing may be verbs or adjectives, words that end in -al are adjectives, and words ending in -ion are nouns.)

The words to use (also in the drop-down menu by each gap): 

achieved, benefits, capacity, conclusion, cooperate, crucial, declining, fundamental, innovation, maintain, policy, predicted, seek, technological, transforming, unprecedented.

"...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.

President von Weizsacker has said, "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed." Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State--as you've been told--George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: "Our is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos."

...In the 1950s, Khrushchev : "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has a level of prosperity and well-being in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable : Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you 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!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent-- and I pledge to you my country's efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

... While we pursue these arms reductions, I pledge to you that we will maintain the to deter Soviet aggression at any level at which it might occur. And in cooperation with many of our allies, the United States is pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative--research to base deterrence not on the threat of offensive retaliation, but on defenses that truly defend; on systems, in short, that will not target populations, but shield them. By these means we seek to increase the safety of Europe and all the world. But we must remember a fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty. When President Kennedy spoke at the City Hall those 24 years ago, freedom was encircled, Berlin was under siege. And today, despite all the pressures upon this city, Berlin stands secure in its liberty. And freedom itself is the globe.

In the Philippines, in South and Central America, democracy has been given a rebirth. Throughout the Pacific, free markets are working miracle after miracle of economic growth. In the industrialized nations, a revolution is taking place--a revolution marked by rapid, dramatic advances in computers and telecommunications.

In Europe, only one nation and those it controls refuse to join the community of freedom. Yet in this age of redoubled economic growth, of information and , the Soviet Union faces a choice: It must make changes, or it will become obsolete
Today thus represents a moment of hope. We in the West stand ready to with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world. And surely there is no better place than Berlin, the meeting place of East and West, to make a start. Free people of Berlin: Today, as in the past, the United States stands for the strict observance and full implementation of all parts of the Four Power Agreement of 1971. Let us use this occasion, the 750th anniversary of this city, to usher in a new era, to seek a still fuller, richer life for the Berlin of the future.

Together, let us maintain and develop the ties between the Federal Republic and the Western sectors of Berlin, which is permitted by the 1971 agreement.
And I invite Mr. Gorbachev: Let us work to bring the Eastern and Western parts of the city closer together, so that all the inhabitants of all Berlin can enjoy the that come with life in one of the great cities of the world."

For more practice with related vocabulary, see the gap-fill exercise using part of Obama’s Polish Freedom Day speech.

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