‘Tear down this wall’: How Reagan’s forgotten line became a defining moment

‘Tear down this wall’: How Reagan’s forgotten line became a defining moment, by Marc Fisher.

Today when all the German and European media are boiling over with hate for Trump and whipping up a general anti-American agenda, it is worth recalling Reagan´s controversial speech at the Berlin Wall.

When Reagan made his famous speech at the Berlin Brandenburg Gate in the summer of 1987, it was scarcely reported by German media. The few comments in the media were that Reagan was an amateur, a silly cowboy, and a threat to world peace. What got the media’s attention were 30,000 peace activists who rioted in Berlin’s Kreuzberg — smashing windows, burning cars, waste bins and tires as a protest. Helmut Kohl, when writing his memoirs in 2005, called it a low point in German-US relations.

At the same time, during the period from 1985 to 1991, the German media was celebrating Gorbachev and Perestroika. The media thought Gorbachev was a democrat and liberator, a promoter of liberal values. But the Soviet CC CPSU archives (stolen by Bukovsky and Stroilov) give a quite different context. The aim of Gorbachev´s perestroika was to copy Lenin´s policy from 1920 with the NEP — to get access to Western capital and technology, to make the Soviet Union and communism stronger.

The very idea of Ronald Reagan standing before the most powerful symbol of the Cold War and demanding that the leader of the Soviet empire “tear down this wall” threw two governments into conniptions. At home, the State Department fretted that Reagan’s harsh rhetoric would bollix efforts to negotiate with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The West German government worried such a challenge to the status quo could spark a nuclear confrontation.

But in Moscow, the target of Reagan’s fiery rhetoric, Gorbachev was unperturbed and his top aides made clear to their American counterparts that they were fine with Reagan’s demand. Standard Cold War stuff, they said. Bring it on.

Thirty years after the Reagan speech, video of that zinger — “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” — has become shorthand for a version of history in which the U.S. vanquishes what Reagan called the “evil empire,” with the Great Communicator himself setting the collapse of Soviet communism into motion.

As time edits the end of Cold War into the two-sentence version that shows up in high school textbooks and pop history videos, the juxtaposition is just too enticing: Reagan issues his demand in Berlin on June 12, 1987, and two years later, the Wall opens and half a century of East-West animus dissolves.

But at the time, the speech was hardly seen as the beginning of any end. To the contrary, what is today often referred to as perhaps Reagan’s most powerful one-liner was almost completely ignored.
The speech didn’t make many front pages back home … The network newscasts barely noted it. Germany’s main news magazine, Der Spiegel, reported nothing about the speech until six months later, when it called Reagan’s address “the work of amateurs.” …

Reagan remained deeply unpopular in Germany, viewed more as a warmongering cowboy than as a world-changing peacemaker. “The Germans had gotten it in their heads that Gorbachev was the only thing that was going to save Europe from nuclear war,” [Reagan’s speech-writer John] Kornblum said.

China today is successfully executing the policy of Lenin, the one  that backfired so spectacularly on Gorbachev.

Today the European media all celebrate comrades Xi and Merkel as leaders for free trade, sharing values of global internationalism. At the same time there is a massive transfer of knowledge and capital from the West to China. Comrade Xi and the Chinese Communist Party are taking control of many strategic resources, and important Western industries. Note well that European companies cannot invest in Chinese strategic industries, except for joint ventures with Chinese — it is always a transfer of technology from the West to China.

China controls 95% of the world manufacture of LED lamps and almost 80% of the production of silicon wafers, used for PV panels and computer chips. They are the dominant player in steel, aluminum, cement, rare earths metals, and pure silicon, thanks to low electricity prices from base load power, far below production cost in other countries.

China control 96% of the market for pure rare earth metals. Elements like neodym, cerium, ytterium, europium, thorium etc. The reason is that the separation process to make >99% pure elements is extremely electricity consuming. Scandium, indium, cobalt, tungsten, hafnium, and copper are also strategic metals where Chinese companies try to corner the market. Li-ion batteries are an example of  a product that relies on cobalt. Neodym as an alloy for permanent magnets in electric motors and generators, essential for cars and wind turbines, and modern smart weapons.

Now the Germans are mainly doing just tax funded technical development work for the Chinese. The Europeans pay tribute to China, and in doing so kill their own industry. Europe cannot compete in manufacturing and processing of elements because of their high, self-inflicted electricity prices. Not even Norway, with its low cost hydro-power, can compete with China.

Eurosolar exhibition, 2016

All German manufacturers of photo-voltaic panels are bankrupt and gone now. This trend from the photo-voltaic industry will probably soon hit the wind power manufacturers — Vestas and Siemens — as they are dependent on Chinese essential components. Carmakers will be next, if they switch to electric cars.

The European bureaucratic and political class seems to have no clue of geopolitics. The Chinese think on quite a different timescale.