Does Ronald Reagan really deserve credit for taking down the Berlin Wall?

I recall that there were plenty of mentions in the press that the Germans planned to remove the wall, and like any border protocol change, it would take a couple of months, and then a couple weeks later RR sounded off to claim the credt.
Any one else remember that?
Is there a way to check, do any newspapers have on-line archives that far back?
(I suppose there are real newspapers in some major library reference rooms, but I’m not near a big city to check.)

If RR gets the credit – and there are arguments both ways – it’s because he set in motion social, economic and political pressure on the Soviet Union and its satellites that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the re-alignment of many Soviet satellites with western Europe, and the reunification of Germany. Bringing down the Berlin Wall was just one part of this larger process.

To me, this is strictly GD material. I think Reagan’s credit for all of the above is vastly overstated.


Then let’s take it there and let The Gipper sink or swim on his own merits.



Ok, why?

America was on the decline following the loss of the Vietnam “Police Action” War, Water Gate and Carter’s very ineffective Presidency. The Soviets had a scary large military force, and communism appeared to be slowly advancing in their goals of world dominion.

Reagan & NATO (especially Madam Thatcher) began a military building campaign never seen in peacetime before. Reagan called for new weapons, more men, better training and equipment, newer jets, the “Star Wars” program, a 600 ship Navy and anything else he could think of. Russia had a huge tank advantage; he and his advisers wanted a large helicopter force that could take it out. He wanted a missile defense system or at least to convince the Soviet Union we were close to having one. He even ratcheted up the information campaign against the Eastern Block.

Many of his choices were not sound, and it would not have worked so well, if Russia was not already crumbling from within, but in 1980 very few knew Russia had internal problems as bad as the US. Reagan crumbled the facade and along the way revitalized our economy for a stretch.

He did much wrong, he drove the deficit up to a frightening level and had the idiot James Watt wrecking our National Park system, but he did win the cold war.


No you are quite wrong. There was no GDR plan to remove the Wall. Nope. None. Never happened. The RR speech was attacked by the Soviets, the East Germans, the US State Department and everyone else.

Does RR deserve the credit? Well, we blame for things that are not his fault so why not?

Still I would recommend a good history book.

Why did you do this to my fact based question?
Because Giles and Sal Ammoniac wanted to talk about Reagan in general?
Let them start their own opinion thread.

Now I’m stuck with these debate types instead of fact checkers.
If you don’t move it back, can I at least start a new thread on my original topic? Or is that not allowed?

[P.s. to Paul in Saudi: No need to be snide. This is not a political rant, but a fact based question. I was there at the time, which apparently you weren’t, and recall thinking when I heard the speach live that it was odd because the wall was already scheduled for demolition. ]

You seem to be in possession of the facts, then. Why the question?

For the record, I don’t believe that it is a yes/no question, as you apparently are asserting.

Your question *“Does Ronald Reagan really deserve credit for taking down the Berlin Wall?” * is only partially fact based and partially opinion.

Can I suggest that if you try the question again, why don’t you try, “Was the Berlin Wall already scheduled for destruction before Reagan made his speech?”

That removes the debate portion I think.

Sorry to help hijack your question, but as it was already in GD, I felt Sal should support his post better.


Given that Reagan’s ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall’ speech was given in 1987 and the wall came down in 1989, either: (1) the East Germans had a lot of unexpected delays in their demolition plans; or (2) you’re misremembering things; or (3) I’m misunderstanding just what example of ‘RR sounding off to claim the credit’ you’re refering to.

To find out “why the question” you have to read the whole question, not the title.
Perhaps this is what you missed “Any one else remember that?
Is there a way to check, do any newspapers have on-line archives that far back?”

And, the answers to both of those are factual. No gray areas.

As to facts:

(1) RR did not personally demolish any part of the Berlin Wall. If he did have any effect on it, it’s only through a fairly long (and debatable) chain of events.

(2) I doubt if the DDR government had any plans to demolish the wall, and it was in fact demolished by others after the DDR had lost control of the wall (and pretty well everything else in East Germany).

(3) Yes, several newspapers have online archives going back that far. However, I suspect that you’ll find it easier to research the question by looking at histories of the era. What the DDR government had planned on the subject probably was secret, and therefore not covered by western newspapers. Any plans will have come out after German reunification, and should have been covered by historians since then (since that era is already well covered in history books).

Presidents get blamed for things that ain’t their fault, & get credit for things they didn’t achieve, & it is often difficult to decide which is which.

It all comes out in the wash.

There may be a factual answer out there but I don’t think it is possible to get it. The only people who knew if or when the DDR planned to demolish the wall didn’t make their intentions known and certainly didn’t post any such document on the internet. Having heard no evidence to the contrary, I believe that there were no longstanding plans for the DDR to demolish the wall.

Reagan made a speech, years later the wall comes down. No cause and effect here, no more than if he asked the tide to go out at noon and the tide actually goes out at 2:00.

From Armed Madhouse, by Greg Palast, Chapter 2, “The Flow,” discussing the neocons’ plan to break the back of OPEC by privatizing Iraq’s state-owned oil industry and opening it to free competition:

You’re new here. Trust me, a GD thread is a great way to find facts, or at least cites.

Yes, there is an answer and it is that I was mistaken.
Looking up partial news clips on the NYTimes site, I realize that Reagan and many other politicians, in and out of Germany, had speeches calling for the wall to come down every year on its anniversary. It’s just a historical fluke that those vaunted History Books only mention the one where Gorby is named, since they were annual events before and after that.
So, I was simply recalling a different speech, one after it was scheduled, or perhaps even a soundbite recap of an old speech.

To any Moderator:
This thread may be closed, as far as the OP goes, it’s answered.
I think that would make sense so I don’t have to answer anyone who missed this post. If others want to argue Reagan, let them start a separate thread.

The Soviet economy had become moribound by the mid-'Sixties, a fact that was readily apparent, if for no other reason, when the Soviets had to continuously import wheat and other staples from the West. After Khrushchev was deposed and the attempt to continue his economic reforms by ally and successional nominal head of state Alexey Kosygin were crushed by Brezhev, the steady slide into economic inviability was guaranteed. By 1980, many pundits and observers were predicting the end of the Soviet state within two or three decades (and some were fearful that the Soviets would mass one big push topped by a nuclear exchange rather than go down quietly); the big surprise isn’t that the Soviet Union collapsed, but how quickly it, and the whole Eastern Bloc went down. Within the span of two or three years the Soviet Union went from being a major power player to effectively a Third World nation. It was fortuitous for Reagan that it happened when it did, but Reagan’s influence in the fundamental causes of the collapse were minimal.

As for the Reagan-era military build up, it had many lasting effects, both good and bad, but the thing most people seem to miss is that the Soviet Union never really cut down their military spending, hence why the United States had to “catch up”. The Soviets increased military spending incrementally to compete with the U.S., but they had been in continual development of both conventional weapons, strategic and theater ballistic missile systems, and missile interceptors. The M-X (later the operational Peacekeeper) and the D5 Trident II were phenomenal systems, but they were the only stratgetic systems that became reality during or soon after Reagan’s tenure, and were in response to the Soviet SS-18 ‘Satan’, SS-19 ‘Stiletto’, and SS-24 ‘Scalpel’ are all MIRV-capable ICBM systems comperable to the capabilities of the Minuteman III and Peacekeeper (albeit with a lower reported CEP, but when you’re talking about 500kT warheads a couple hundred meters less precision doesn’t really matter much). The SS-N-18 ‘Stingray’, SS-N-20 ‘Sturgeon’, and the SS-N-23 ‘Skif’ MIRV-capable SLBMs all predated the deployment of C4 (for the Stingray) and D5 (others) Trident systems with comperable or superior range and throw-weight. While the quality control and reliability of these systems can be brought into question, it’s clear that the U.S., far from pressuring the Soviet Union to develop matching systems, was playing catch up. In general, the Soviet Union has lead strategic missile system development ever since the vaunted (but illusionary) missile gap in the early 'Sixties.

It’s true that in terms of naval power the U.S.S.R. was never a match head to head with the U.S. and Royal Navy forces, but that reflected a different philosophy and strategic goal rather than an inability to keep up. The one single line item that really put a dent in the Soviet pocketbook and was a direct response to U.S. work was the Russian Space Shuttle program, which was essentially a copy (in capabilities, and at least superficially, in form) of the U.S. program but on which the Soviets spent 3-4 times as much. Since the U.S. Space Transportation System (Shuttle program) was approved during the Nixon era, I don’t think Reagan gets any credit for that.

I’m taking the demoltion of the Berlin Wall to be a metaphor for Soviet Communism and the East Bloc. On that basis, neither Reagan nor Thatcher were particularly influential on that count, the foundation of Soviet Communism already under collapse by the time each took their respective offices, although both do deserve credit for opening the window and fostering international approval for Soviet liberalization under the Gorbechev regime. It’s a shame that their successors did not continue to offer aid during Russia’s difficult transition.

There are a number of key players in the collapse of the Soviet Union and East Bloc, and while unintentional, the economic reforms and political liberalization of Nikita Khrushchev was instrumental in both granting economic freedoms and allowing dissidents some voice (although brutality and the GULAG system continued under is aegis and beyond). Author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was critical in convincing European Communists and sympathizers of the utter criminalilty of the Soviet regime; his well-documented and impeccable evidence shattered Western support of the East Bloc. The Prague Spring and the work of Alexander Dubcek was the final kiss off, and the crushing, Brehznev mandated Soviet response eliminated counterargument. The person most closely responsible for the final collapse of the East Bloc, though, is Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. These were the guys literally putting their lives on the line, serving prison sentances, standing up in the trenches, while Reagan stood back and made mostly absurd speeches about being “Born in the U.S.A.” and boasted of a technically absurd “invulnerable umbrella” against nuclear attack. Gorbechev, at least, should get top billing of world leaders for responsiblity for the collapse; his economic and social reforms, while again not intending to implode the Soviet Union, allowed for the conditions of a mostly peaceful revolution to occur.

Color me unimpressed with attempts to put the wreath of ending the Cold War around Reagan’s neck. But he sure do talk purty, did’n 'e?


Naomi KLein has a lot of interesting stuff to say about the neocons, Iraq, Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and general economics in her last book The Shock Doctrine.

I concur with Stranger On A Train, Poland’s Lech Walesa was more or less the man responsible for the whole eastern bloc collapsing, or rather, the fact that his party won the elections. Didn’t save them from being royally screwed by the IMF when they got into gevernment, though

Like Conservatives are ever going to give credit to a union organizer. As far as they’re concerned, unions are part of the liberal/communist/democrat/socialist/nazi/foreigner/homosexual monolith aka “Them”.