In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining 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 conclusion: 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 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!
You can listen to the whole speech here - it's a little over 26 minutes long, but well worth it.
A little over two years later, the East German government gave up trying to stop people fleeing to the West through Czechosolvakia, and the Minister of Propaganda accidentally "brought down the Wall" on November 9 by announcing unrestricted direct travel to the West. People flooded the crossing points, and nobody in the GDR regime was willing to use deadly force to stop them. Over the following days and weeks, Mauerspechte ("Wall woodpeckers") brought sledgehammers and began to chip away at the Wall, demolishing long sections of it, and the East German military began demolition of the Wall in June 1990. They eventually finished the job as members of the Bundeswehr in November 1991, thirteen months after the formal reunification of Germany.
It's hard to explain to people, that surge of emotion on hearing that speech again and the flood of memories that it sparks in me. Maybe that's part of getting old.