Listen: Berlin Wall, Soviet Union, President Reagan discussed on Apollo 11: What We Saw
"The second in nineteen seventy nine. This is the year that Margaret Thatcher is elected in the year before Ronald Reagan elected. He's named Pope and his first visit is to Poland and essentially the whole population of the country. Turns out to see him during his several day I think he spent seven or eight days in Poland. It becomes the motto all of his Papacy. If anybody remembers a phrase from John Paul the second this is the phrase be not afraid. Well of course that spiritual advice we Christians Catholics like me were. We need not be afraid because we place our confidence in Christ east but it's also a political message all they have over you is your fear be not afraid. The entire Communist system rests on fear and spoken to an of Poles and Russians that they saw in John. Paul the second and Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They saw leaders in the West. Who understood who saw that? The system was simply simply a it was in some basic way a terrorist organization in that the Soviet Union relied on fear all right now l.. When Reagan gave the speech that I was associated with that I drafted the tear down this wall speech that was at at which was opposed by the State Department National Security Council? All the experts speak fight over that speech and the president overruled Mendez. And said I'm going to give this speech. And when he says Mister Gorbachev Tear down this wall what effect does that have a day or two. After the speech I went went to the White House a mess and sat down for lunch. I was the first person there and the next prisoner came in with a good guy. Peter Rodman was his name. He was a disciple of Henry. Kissinger a singer on the National Security Council staff. But I- tensed because Peter Rodman had been one of those who fought very hard to suppress that speech. The speech had this strange effect that the moment President Reagan delivered it. Everybody recognize the fit fitness of it. That it was that he had in some sense to okay so the first thing Peter Rodman who fought this speech for three weeks he sat down and turned means. Said Well Peter. It looks as though our speech was a big success. Okay it's our speech each now but then he then he said then he said That our intelligence services had picked up cable traffic between Moscow and East Berlin in which Moscow was instructing the East Berlin regime to increase points or increased crossings of the Berlin Wall and that the president's residents speech had made the Soviet Union understand the way Peter Rodman put it was what a public relations catastrophe. The Wall is all right. I heard that about forty eight hours after the president solidified the speech and nothing for years. I've always wondered are always wondered what affected that speech have what what effect a words ever have is is one question but over the years. I've met a number of people who were in East Germany when the President delivered that speech and the all say something similar what they say is that when they heard those words at first. It didn't even make sense since the idea of saying get rid of the Berlin Wall is like saying down. His up and up is down. Just didn't even compute. That wall was such a fixed ext permanent feature of communist life but it happened. The president of the United States said tear down the wall and what that means means is that the day before he delivered that speech. Those people couldn't imagine life without that wall and the day after he delivered that speech they found themselves wondering is that well permanent. What might life be like without it and so I have come to the conclusion? Uson that with Margaret Thatcher and the pope and like Vincent in Poland and vets Love Hall of Hovel in Czechoslovakia by telling the truth and challenging the Soviet Union Ronald Reagan helped to make new thoughts. Thinkable he enlarged the space for for moral imagination and bear in mind. What happens of course when the Berlin Wall comes down thirty years ago? It's not Gorbachev who tears it down. There are protests the begin in East German churches. They begin in Leipzig and then they spread very rapidly across cross East Germany and culminate in a demonstration of over one hundred thousand people right in the capital of East Berlin right within sight of the wall itself and the East German regime goes into a panic. Emergency meetings of the police bureau and it's in the middle of the night they are passing one decree. After after another trying to mollify. People settled situation down. It's in the middle of the night that they passed the decree that has something to do with border crossings and the member of Police Bureau whose job it is to brief the press. It's something like one in the morning and he's groggy and he reads this thing and he gets a question. Does that mean the border controls are lifted immediately and he looks at this piece of paper and he said well yes. They are lifted immediately and this was broadcast and within in seconds east Berliners starts streaming toward the checkpoints. Go on foot. They go by bicycle. The few who are able to afford cars drive I have to the checkpoints the guards at the checkpoints have received absolutely no instructions. This takes everyone by surprise. And of course there's a tense moment because those guards could shoot these people and instead one guard decides to act like a human being and he opens the the the the gate at all. The other guards do the same in at that that moment the Berlin Wall ceases to function and I like to think that the speech the President delivered not quite two years earlier helped to make that possible helped to make possible in effect for ordinary German people to get rid of the wall themselves. I just finished misreading. Evan Thomas's book called Ice Gamble and he's writing it from a left wing point of view or he's basically saying that Eisenhower dithered his way into world peace and so on. It's a very positive look at Eisenhower. But it's a very negative look at the CIA at the military industrial complex. That Eisenhower spoke of on the way out. And here's here's the thing. Peter Evan Thomas makes the case that I've heard many many times from people on the left and the case goes something like the Cold War was a giant misunderstanding. Understanding the Soviets were always far weaker than we were always and it's only our military industrial complex in their in their love of money. Money and these cowboy arrogant idiots at the CIA who are who are launching these adventures that the whole thing was a giant misunderstanding. Mostly caused by by our paranoia and fear and if we'd only listen to Sources about how weak the Russians. Actually were then they would have come to the Cape table as soon as Stalin. Stalin died and fifty three and the whole thing would have been over in a couple of years. I fundamentally disagree with that position. But I'd like to get your take on it because it's a common one and it goes back to what I opened this conversation. Conversation with the idea that these two teams are like. We're like a coke and Pepsi. There's no fundamental difference between the two of them they're just too big armies and The whole thing is fundamentally tally up. Misunderstanding that few is wrong from beginning to end and top to bottom and insight out it begins with the notion that after the Second World War the Soviet Union was so badly destroyed factory. Production Agriculture ripped up wanted. Six is dead. All that is true that all at wanted was a buffer zone behind which to rebuild and peace which we had given them but which yeah well the Red Army. They did not need. That could have held free elections in Eastern Europe and there could have been ways of choosing to make Poland very the giving Poland no new military the Soviet Union there are two two explanations for why the Soviet Union did what it did but first let's be clear about what it did. It's subjected East Europe to four decades of communist control and poverty pretty impoverishing those those people making economic development impossible. It continued as an expansionist power from the beginning from the end of the Second World War. You're right through until the Soviet Union finally collapsed itself. It has its navy. At the beginning of the period is just a coastal navy it develops by the one thousand nine hundred seventy s a deepwater fleet capable of projecting Soviet power. All over the world they developed client states in Africa and Asia. They develop a client state in Cuba. This is an aggressive expansionist power. They were Communist. My friend Stephen Kotkin who is the brilliant historian Dorian Princeton historian. He's written two volumes the definitive biography of Stalin. He's now working on the third and final volume. Stephen Kotkin has spent all all his professional life in archives studying the inner workings of the Soviet Union and I said to him what Stephen. What's if you could boil it down to one finding what what's the most impressive important? Finding from all those years of studying documents in the Soviet Union itself and Stephen replied immediately they were communists they really believed it behind closed doors when the leaders had nothing to prove to anybody and and you would expect them to be at their most candid with each other. They were still talking about the worldwide revolution and the workers revolt and speaking and categories stories of Communist ideology. That's one explanation that they were communist and they were the second. Complementary explanation is social needs since explanation. Asian he told us this when he's his famous address at Harvard University. It was at the beginning of the Reagan period and soldier needs and said the internal dynamic. NAMIC here is this. The Soviet Union is a week and bankrupt. Country Internally. Don't make any mistake. They have a very powerful military military including nuclear weapons. They have to the regime has to be expansionary because that is the way it looks it justifies itself itself to the Russian people themselves. Look at us. We're standing up to the United States. Look at us. We're projecting Russian power Soviet power to Africa and Asia and this was the only legitimacy to the extensive they had any legitimacy at all that they had with their own people. The Berlin Wall fell on November ninth nineteen eighty nine nineteen eighty nine November ninth. And I often. I mentioned talked to college students students I ask. When do you suppose the last person was killed? Trying to escape over the Berlin Wall. And they'll say oh I don't know maybe sometime in the late nineteen sixties they have. There's this feeling that somehow or other the whole that the the city the East German regime the whole Soviet enterprise the communist enterprise was getting softer her and actually they were becoming nicer toward the end and the answer is that the last person was killed. Shot down in cold blood trying to escape over the Berlin Wall in February of nineteen eighty. Nine I've spoken to several people who had been in East Berlin during the the entire time and they said that when when you went through checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin it was like the beginning of the wizard of Oz run in reverse. Dorothy comes out of black and white world opens the door and there's this burst brilliant color and they said that if you went from West Berlin and East Berlin was like stepping through a door and all of the color just disappeared. Everything was was gray. The people were gray. The clothes were the building was gray. It was so devoid of any kind of sense of of humanity. Even forget happiness happiness and yet I understand that that people in in Berlin were a very big part of you being able to write that speech. That's right I spring of Nineteen eighty-seven I received the assignment.."