"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall"

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"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall"

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June 12, 1987, turned out to be a warm spring afternoon in the then divided city of Berlin. The ugly Berlin Wall stood in the background as the articulate speaker delivered his stark public message to the Soviet leader. Armed East German border guards watched from military installations embedded in the wall itself. Crowds on the Eastern side, hoping to hear the president's speech by loudspeaker, were cruelly forced to back away from the Berlin Wall.

In the first part of his speech, Ronald Reagan reviewed previous visits by American presidents, particularly the memorable words of John F. Kennedy, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner), uttered only a few months before his tragic assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. President Kennedy meant that "as a free man," he stood together with West Berliners in their struggle to secure their freedom against Communist aggression. During that speech he predicted that the Berlin Wall would come down.

Some 25 years later, President Reagan delivered his stark demand to the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, "Tear down this wall." The detailed history behind these fateful four words is well worth recounting.

Doing battle over four words

The West German government invited President Reagan to come to Berlin to help celebrate the historic city's 750th anniversary. White House speechwriter Peter Robinson was asked to write a speech for the president about foreign policy. His final draft, including the phrase "tear down this wall," was reviewed by the National Security Council and the State Department. Both of these government bodies strongly disapproved of the four-word phrase.

Evaluations like "needlessly provocative" quickly emerged. One diplomat suggested an alternative phrase: "One day this ugly wall will disappear." Speechwriter Robinson reacted privately with, "One day, perhaps pigs will fly."

This momentous speech, defining President Reagan's general approach to foreign affairs, survived seven different drafts. In fact, the heated battle over these four words continued all the way to Berlin. Kenneth Duberstein, the president's deputy chief of staff, accompanied him in the limousine on the way to the Berlin Wall. During this journey, Ronald Reagan finally said: "So, Ken, I am the president." "Yes, sir," came the reply. "Well, Ken," chuckled Mr. Reagan, "Let's just leave that line in."

The president told an assistant, also on the scene, "The boys at State [the Department] are going to kill me [figuratively], but it's the right thing to do."

Witnesses to history

Several authors and journalists who were witnesses to the historic fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 have recounted their own personal experiences in books, magazine articles and newspaper stories. I was dispatched to the scene by my bureau chief in England, accompanied by my daughter Stephanie acting as translator.

Twenty years later veteran writer Gerhard Marx persuaded me to accompany him to Berlin to cover the anniversary celebrations together. He spent his early youth in Germany during World War II, later immigrating to the United States and becoming an American citizen.

My colleague chose a hotel only a short walk from Checkpoint Charlie, the name given by the Western Allies to the most well-known Berlin crossing point between West and East during the Cold War. The site has become a tourist attraction, complete with a museum.

The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 to prevent East German citizens and some from other Warsaw Pact states from escaping to the West. The gates had already reopened slightly when Hungary opened its own border to fleeing Germans beginning in August 1989.

However, perhaps the defining movement that finally culminated in the wall's collapse in November began in the East German city of Leipzig, southwest of Berlin, with weekly prayer meetings in the Nikolai Church—followed by a peaceful march. In mid-October some 70,000 people in Leipzig marched peaceably through the city, unsure of whether the government would suppress these demonstrations. This public demonstration for individual freedoms helped precipitate the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

A celebration of freedom

Some 30 heads of state (mainly from Europe) met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Bellevue Palace on Nov. 9 for a celebration of freedom and then joined the public celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate.

American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also attended. (My colleague and I joined the exuberant crowds making their way to the Brandenburg Gate, where some 1,000 colorful domino stones were lined up to replicate the falling Berlin Wall two decades ago. Earlier young children were assigned to paint these stones in a variety of patterns and symbols.) This convergence of leaders was more European in nature than strictly German.

Somewhat in contrast, next year's 20-year festivities on Oct. 3, 2010, will concentrate on the reunification of West and East into one German state. Although this revolution for liberty really began earlier in the Polish shipyards under the leadership of Lech Walesea of Solidarnosc (Solidarity), the collapse of the Berlin Wall has captured the public imagination, becoming the more lasting symbol of freedom.

The Velvet Revolution, the deliverance of Czechoslovakia (since divided into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic), came later in that November of 1989, clearly an autumn of epochal change in Eastern Europe.

World interest will once again refocus on Germany with the coming reunification anniversary celebrations in October of 2010. Although it is wise to periodically remind ourselves of any major, significant event that has resulted in much improved liberty—and a better economic and political life for many millions—human unity itself does not always result in genuine freedom, lasting prosperity and happiness. History shows that unbridled, lawless "freedom" eventually brings tears and monumental suffering.

Always remember that God is the unseen witness to human events. Even if He decides not to directly intervene before or during any specific occurrence, the Bible shows that His will is the ultimate deciding factor in the outcome of these major geopolitical events. This is one of the most important themes of the book of Daniel.

I didn't hear anyone giving God any credit during these celebrations, though undoubtedly He was accorded thanksgiving in some German churches. Still, it seems few really considered His role in these momentous events. At the very least, He allowed the Berlin Wall to fall. We should never think that He lacks the power to intervene in human affairs.

The Tower of Babel

This ancient tower depicted in the book of Genesis remains an important reminder. The Genesis account simply describes what humanity was up to some 4,000 years ago after rejecting God's guidance. "Come,...let us make a name for ourselves [a dubious motive], lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4 Genesis 11:4And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach to heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad on the face of the whole earth.
American King James Version×
). God's previous instructions to Noah and the human family had been to populate the whole earth—not remain in one location (Genesis 9:1 Genesis 9:1And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.
American King James Version×

But humankind has generally chosen to rebel against the Creator's wishes beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Although the Almighty seems to generally refrain from intervening in human affairs, on this particular occasion He clearly did. He decided to nip this rebellion in the bud by taking an extreme measure—suddenly introducing many languages into the human configuration—thereby ensuring that humanity would carry out His will and scatter over the whole globe (Genesis 11:5-8 Genesis 11:5-8 [5] And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. [6] And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. [7] Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. [8] So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
American King James Version×

God sees our future well in advance, and He knew that human ingenuity would move matters along faster than He wanted. "This is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose [imagine, King James Version] to do will be withheld from them" (verse 6, emphasis added throughout). Having made men and women in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27 Genesis 1:26-27 [26] And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. [27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
American King James Version×
), our Creator has always understood the enormous ability and capacity of our human potential—both for good and for bad. Our first parents chose to imbibe of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The sovereignty of God

We hear a lot today about the sovereignty of various states. For instance, some farsighted political leaders in Britain fear any further loss of the nation's sovereignty to the European Union. But it is our Creator whom we should really fear. He remains in ultimate control of the destiny of nations and individuals (see Deuteronomy 32:7-8 Deuteronomy 32:7-8 [7] Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you. [8] When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
American King James Version×
; Acts 17:26 Acts 17:26And has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
American King James Version×

Presidents of major countries sometimes use forceful words with remarkable effect—simple words like "tear down this wall." God can also speak to humanity in forceful words about events that He has the divine power to bring to pass. Those words have been preserved in the Bible, sometimes in the first person.

The Hebrew prophet Isaiah quotes God Himself as saying: "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please... What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do" (Isaiah 46:9-11 Isaiah 46:9-11 [9] Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, [10] Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: [11] Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executes my counsel from a far country: yes, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).

A future European Union of 10 nations

We rightly applaud the freedoms now experienced by the peoples of former East Germany, Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics and other former Warsaw Pact nations in the East. Communist enslavement only brought poverty, atheism and a crushing of the human spirit.

But we should carefully look into God's prophetic Word, which tells us where Europe is ultimately headed. He has forecast a future union of 10 kings (or political entities) that will devastate the world and persecute Christians severely. For additional information, you may wish to request our free booklets The Book of Revelation Unveiled and Are We Living in the Time of the End? WNP