May 22, 2002


Unfortunately I can't find the entire text on-line, but then again it's fitting, because what may have been the best speech of the Reagan presidency was obscured by events when he gave it and is now largely forgotten. I refer to his 1985 address at Bitburg Cemetery in Germany.

The elder among us will recall that this stop on his itinerary provoked controversy because SS troops were among those buried there--Elie Weisel even confronted the president at a White House event and tearfully asked him not to go. But Reagan, ever stubborn, having promised Chancellor Helmut Kohl that he'd go, and always certain of the purity of his own motives, went ahead with the ceremony even in the face of withering criticism and accusations of tacit anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, lost amid all the white noise was the actual speech that he delivered, which contained a rhetorical formulation that I'd like to see George W. Bush adopt and adapt on his current German visit.

Some twenty years earlier, President Kennedy had famously traveled to Berlin and declared : Ich bin ein Berliner. Although I understand that in German this declaration amounted to calling himself a donut of some kind, it has charitably been translated as "I am a Berliner." Reagan went well beyond Kennedy and declared :

Today freedom-loving people around the world must say: I am a Berliner, I am a Jew in a world still threatened by anti-Semitism, I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner of the Gulag, I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off the coast of Vietnam, I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, am a potential victim of totalitarianism.

In effect, he placed the United States squarely on the side of every citizen of the world who was oppressed by communist totalitarianism. And, in fact, the U.S. supported was at that time accepting refugees by the boatload--from Cuba, Vietnam, etc.--and supporting guerilla armies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, etc.

A few years later (June 12, 1987), President Reagan went to the Brandenburg Gate and , where his words could be heard across the Berlin Wall and into East Berlin, and demanded :

General Secretary 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!

Within a couple of years the Wall did indeed come down, thanks in no small part to the relentless pressure--military and rhetorical--that Ronald Reagan subjected the Soviet Bloc too.

Today, George W. Bush should take his cue from these two speeches and seek to do for the Islamic world what Ronald Reagan did for the Communist world--let the people who live under totalitarian regimes in Muslim countries know that our war is not waged against them, but against the governments that oppress them, and let them know that when they dream of freedom and prosperity we share in their dream. And he should demand that the tyrants of the Middle East--from Qaddafi to Assad to Arafat to Hussein to the Sauds--tear down the walls of totalitarianism that keep their people from enjoying freedom and its fruits.

He might say the following :

Forty years ago, President John F. Kennedy came here and declared that he was a Berliner and that the American people shared with the people of West Berlin a dream of peace and freedom. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan came here and declared that we Americans, indeed all of us in the West, shared the dreams of Southeast Asian boat people, of Nicaraguan contras, of Afghan tribesmen, of people everywhere whose lives were being lived under the dark cloud of communism. On a later trip, President Reagan demanded that the Soviet Union tear down the Berlin Wall, which had separated the world into two camps, one free, the other oppressed.

Today, we in America, indeed all of us in the West, declare to the people of the Islamic world--from Pakistan to Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to Iraq to Syria to Palestine to Egypt to Libya--that we share your dream of peace and freedom and prosperity, that our dispute is not with you or with your religion, but with the illegitimate rulers who oppress you and with the vile men who twist Islam to their own destructive purposes.

As you dream of a world where Islamic principles may govern daily life but where politics are free and the economy is private, so we dream of the day when you join the rest of the free world, when you get to choose your own leaders, choose your own livelihoods, choose to live in peace with your neighbors, be they Jew or Hindu or Christian, and when you will be free to practice the true tenets of Islam--a great religion of peace and justice.

We have no illusions here in the West. We know that this dream will be difficult to realize. The dream that Americans shared with our friends in Europe took nearly fifty years to make a reality and still today these formerly captive nations struggle to deal with their newfound freedoms and to transition to modern economies. We in the West spent trillions of dollars to help these peoples to win their struggle and it cost us even more in blood and lost lives, yet we never flagged in this fight, nor did the brave folk who labored in the gulags and the reeducation camps--all of us refused to abandon the dream, refused to heed the naysayers, refused to compromise with evil. So today, we pledge to you that we will be just as steadfast in our determination to help the people of Islamic world win their struggle--no matter if it takes fifty or a hundred years; no matter the cost; no matter the pain.

When America confronted totalitarianism in Europe, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that his generation had a "rendezvous with destiny" and within the lives of that greatest generation, Europe was freed from the twin evils of nazism and communism. Today we say to our Muslim brothers that the struggle for freedom, peace and prosperity in the Islamic world is our generation's jihad.

Today, with you, we demand that the tyrants of the Middle East tear down the walls of oppression and paranoia and anti-Semitism and corruption that have divided too much of the Islamic world from the West and which have divided their own people from their dreams. To Mr. Qaddafi, we say, tear down the walls and let Libya be free. To Mr. Arafat, we say, tear down the walls and let Palestine be free. To Mr. Assad, we say, tear down the walls and let Syria be free. To Saddam Hussein, we say, tear down the walls, and let Iraq be free.

To people everywhere who dream of peace and freedom but wake each day to terror and oppression, we say, in the words of our Founders, in the words of the American dream : We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. As we share a common Creator so we share this common dream and we shall not rest until you too wake to find this dream a reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2002 9:56 PM
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