Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Tear down this Wall"

Twenty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan ran a rhetorical bulldozer into the Berlin Wall. On June 12, 1987, in a proclamation decrying Soviet totalitarianism and exalting freedom, he stood in front of the Wall, in Berlin, and issued this challenge to the Soviet premier:

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Mark Steyn's obituary of Reagan, who died just over three years ago, is a classic. As usual for links to Steyn's website, the story is available for a limited time only (Steyn does not keep his archives online). Unlike the media and the political elites, Steyn understood the value of Reagan. Here's the opening of his obituary:

All weekend long, across the networks, media grandees who’d voted for Carter and Mondale, just like all their friends did, tried to explain the appeal of Ronald Reagan. He was “the Great Communicator”, he had a wonderful sense of humour, he had a charming smile… self-deprecating… the tilt of his head…

All true, but not what matters. Even politics attracts its share of optimistic, likeable men, and most of them leave no trace – like Britain’s “Sunny Jim” Callaghan, a perfect example of the defeatism of western leadership in the 1970s. It was the era of “détente”, a word barely remembered now, which is just as well, as it reflects poorly on us: the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the free world had decided that the unfree world was not a prison ruled by a murderous ideology that had to be defeated but merely an alternative lifestyle that had to be accommodated. Under cover of “détente”, the Soviets gobbled up more and more real estate across the planet, from Ethiopia to Grenada. Nonetheless, it wasn’t just the usual suspects who subscribed to this feeble evasion – Helmut Schmidt, Pierre Trudeau, François Mitterand – but most of the so-called “conservatives”, too – Ted Heath, Giscard d’Estaing, Gerald Ford.

Unlike these men, unlike most other senior Republicans, Ronald Reagan saw Soviet Communism for what it was: a great evil. Millions of Europeans across half a continent from Poland to Bulgaria, Slovenia to Latvia live in freedom today because he acknowledged that simple truth when the rest of the political class was tying itself in knots trying to pretend otherwise. That’s what counts. He brought down the “evil empire”, and all the rest is details.

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