On 7 November, former presidential speechwriter Peter M. Robinson quietly commanded the attention of the audience at America’s National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. At the site where Churchill famously said, “an iron curtain has descended across the continent” in 1946, Robinson detailed the behind-the-scenes struggles he encountered in writing President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech in 1987.
Robinson, who is a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, explained he was provided only four details regarding what to include in the address: where the president would stand, to expect 10,000 to 40,000 onlookers, that the president would speak for 30 minutes, and that Reagan should “talk about foreign policy.”
Prior to the President’s appearance at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on 12 June 1987, Robinson received startling advice from an American ambassador. “Don’t make a big deal about the Wall.” The diplomat said. “They’ve gotten used to it.”
Robinson’s talk—part of a series of ceremonies the museum hosted commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—proceeded to summarize how the hammer-blow words “tear down this wall” became part of Reagan’s speech.
Nearly everyone in a position of authority wanted the “tear down this wall” words removed. After seven alternative speeches without the controversial words were drafted, Robinson said Reagan, with a twinkle in his eye, told White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein that the words would stay.
“I am the president, aren’t I?” Reagan asked.
The rest is history.
The final issue of Finest Hour for 2019 publishes this month with the theme “Churchill’s Cold War.”