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June 12 marks the anniversary of perhaps the most memorable moment of the presidency of Ronald Reagan — his famed “tear down this wall” speech, which he delivered in West Berlin 35 years ago today. Few speeches have been as critical to the perseverance of freedom and democracy across the globe as was this one. With the utterance of one simple global rallying cry — “tear down this wall!” — Reagan ignited a flame that would destroy the Berlin Wall, dissolve the Soviet Union, and kindle free elections that ousted communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe just a few years later.
As moving as Reagan’s words were, their real strength arose from seven years of bold but prudent actions and policies toward the Soviet Union. Reagan spoke those words from an American position of strength, a position that Reagan was always careful to cultivate and maintain in his decisions on how to act toward Soviet aggression and expansionism. Reagan’s approach to dealing with the Soviet Union combined a careful balance between drawing a hard line and knowing when to compromise – when to push hard and when to take a softer, more diplomatic approach.