Once upon a time, there was an evil empire in the world called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. One of the reasons they were evil was that they were Communist and not a real republic at all. They ruled their people with an iron fist and kept them trapped in their own countries and if anybody tried to leave, they would kill them. There was one city, called Berlin, that, in 1961, built a twelve-foot high wall, not around it for protection as in ancient times, but right down the middle of it. Even though they were friends and neighbors and even family members, this evil empire wanted to keep their people as slaves, so people from the East side were not ever allowed to visit their friends and relatives and former neighbors. If they tried to climb over the wall, they were shot. They were denied the basic right of worship, as Communism rejects religion, and could be imprisoned or sentenced to death for preaching anything the State’s church didn’t tell them.
There was a man who saw that Communism was evil and worked hard at every chance to fight against it. He fought it in his early acting career and as president of the Screen Actors Guild and as governor of California and when the People elected him president by a landslide, Ronald Reagan continued his fight.
I voted for him and was proud to have done it. He made Americans feel like they were number one again and showed plainly that the Evil Empire was the enemy of freedom and democracy. He made it very plain, early on, that the United States of America was NOT afraid of the U.S.S.R. and would not back down from any threat. He matched them nuke for nuke and missile for missile. And then he used the one weapon he had that Andropov, Breshnev, Chernenko, or Gorbachev did not have. He used his personality.
He was strong and frank and open, true to the nature of the cowboys he often portrayed. He didn’t want to fight but if you wanted to start it, you better be ready to finish it. He was likable, too. I thought it was great and laughed out loud when he was giving a speech on the radio and said, “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” It gave me chills, too, because I didn’t know if the Soviets would be able to figure out that it was a joke. A joke that made the point that we really didn’t care what the Russians believed or thought. Not everyone in the world thought it was funny, but most average Americans thought it was a hoot. Most average Americans were glad that there was finally someone who would stand up and fight if we had to.
All of this suddenly put the Soviets in a bad light around the world and their leader began making overtures of freedom and democracy and letting up on some of the strictness of previous regimes. President Reagan took advantage of this to tell them publicly that, “The advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.”
Like many of the presidents before and after him, he had speechwriters. And on this particular speech, he disagreed with the State Department, his advisors and especially his speechwriters. He was told specifically not to issue the challenge he wanted to. They rewrote the speech several times and he would pencil in this phrase over and over. Ten minutes before he was to speak, they handed him the final, rewritten speech. Which he modified. It gave me chills when I heard him saying it to the cheering crowd of Berliners and it still gives me chills to hear it. “Mr. Gorbachev, put up or shut up!”
And two years later, on this very date thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall came crashing down and two years after that, in 1991, the Soviet Union came crashing down.