WASHINGTON — On June 12, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall which had effectively divided East and West Germany since 1961.
It was one of the defining moments of Reagan’s presidency which, surprisingly, did not receive much American coverage until the wall actually fell in 1989.
The most iconic line of Reagan’s speech was reportedly inspired by a conversation White House speechwriter Peter Robinson had with two native Berliners. In their conversation, Robinson recalled one of them saying, “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk of glasnost and perestroika, he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall.”
Robinson was so inspired by that line he wanted it to be the centerpiece of Reagan’s speech, but he struggled with how that powerful message should be best conveyed. And so, it took one week to produce the first draft, which according to Robinson, was met with a simple “it’s no good.”
By the end of the following week, after working in other topics such as arms reduction and proliferation, Robinson came up with an acceptable draft that was presented to Reagan. Upon reviewing it, the President responded with, “I like it.”
Prior to leaving for Berlin, Robinson mentioned to the President that his speech would not only be heard by people in West Berlin, but also those in East Berlin.
He asked Reagan if there was anything he wanted the citizens of East Berlin to hear. Looking back at Robinson, he said, “Well, there’s that passage about tearing down the wall. That wall has to come down. That’s what I’d like to say to them.”