Reagan’s Berlin lesson lost on U.S. military, Hollywood’s Emmerich, New York Times.
They are the prototypical Reagan stories.
Everyone of any approved sensibility believes X. Ex-presidents. Cabinet members and ex-Cabinet members. The Staff. The Friends. The Media, Religiondom and all of Academia. All or most of The People Who Count.
Yet…yet.… Ronald Reagan believes something else. He believes, in fact, Not X. Why? He keeps looking at what he is seeing. He reads. He questions what he ses. He has also, not coincidentally, lived an experienced life at almost 70 years of age.
And so… he does precisely what all of the above advise him not to do. He cuts taxes. He pushes hard on missile defense. He refuses to negotiate with Soviet leaders when all of his predecessors have, and he walks out of a summit… something that none of his predecessors would ever think of doing. And he flatly refuses to take four simple words out of his speech in Berlin. The words are now etched in human history: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
For a superb recounting of this episode, here’s a link to a great piece from my former down-the-hall colleague Tony Dolan over at the Wall Street Journal. Tony was President Reagan’s chief speechwriter, and he tells the tale of the behind-the-scenes obstacles to Reagan in simply uttering what he believed heart and soul.
As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is celebrated, the events surrounding the anniversary stand in the shadow of the terrible news out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Those events — the mass murder committed by a U.S. Army soldier who was also a Muslim — beg the question: Where are the independent thinkers in the Army, the Pentagon, the White House and elsewhere in government?
Where are the Reagans? By which is meant not those Reaganites of a conservative bent (although heaven knows we need more of those!). Rather to think like Reagan is also to have the power to understand the correct answer to the question: What am I really seeing here? Or, as George Orwell put it, the ability to understand that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” — and then be willing to act. To do something.
And all the while, most importantly, not being afraid to speak the answer to what you are seeing. To speak that answer out loud. Even — especially — if you are alone in doing so.
There is a colloquialism for this. To wit: “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck — chances are it’s a duck.”
Ronald Reagan was very, very good at understanding this.
This, of course, is the moral in the behind the scenes tale of Reagan and his now famous speech at the Berlin Wall. Excepting speechwriters Dolan and Peter Robinson — and most importantly Ronald Reagan himself — there were others aplenty, all of significant stature, who counseled against putting the “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” line in the speech.
Reagan refused to remove the line. Why? Because he had spent a considerable portion of his career coming to entirely different assessments than others based on his ability to understand what in fact he was looking at. He saw the practical effects of a 90 percent tax rate when he was making movies. He saw what Communism was all about in part because his life was threatened by Communist thugs trying to take over Hollywood when he was the Screen Actors Guild president. He knew the effect of violence on college campuses was damaging the university system when he was governor of California, and determined to do something about it. So too did he understand the ultimate failure that was the Berlin Wall from the moment it was going up — and the importance to human freedom everywhere in the world in getting it destroyed.
Which brings us to Ft. Hood.
The news accounts out there abound, and they should concern. The United States military, like any other organization, is only as good as the capability of those inside the organization to understand what they are seeing. And not be afraid to say what they think they are seeing. To be, like Reagan, the man or woman in the room who doesn’t hesitate to say that the approaching creature that walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck — is in fact a duck. Not something else.
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