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Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War.

Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War. By Romesh Ratnesar. (New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 2009. Pp. 229. $17.82.)

On 12 June 1987, amidst the shadows of the Brandenberg Gate, President Ronald Reagan appeared to be issuing more of a taunt than an invitation. "General Secretary Gorbachev," he said, "if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" These now-famous words seemed prophetic two years later, on 9 November 1989, when jubilant Germans began dismantling the Berlin Wall. For Romesh Ratnesar, however, the significance of Reagan's speech "lies less in the outcomes it directly led to than in the ideas it represented" (190).

Ratnesar argues convincingly that Reagan's words were "as much an invitation as ... a challenge" to Gorbachev, representing Reagan's "core belief" that "the world need not remain divided, that people could overcome the barriers between them, that change was possible" (7, 190). Reagan envisioned the Cold War not as a permanent backdrop on the international stage but instead as an act ending with the ideological conversion of top Soviet leaders. Gorbachev, according to Ratnesar, shared this view and emerged as a leader who had the moral and political courage to recognize, acknowledge, and seek to change the flaws inherent in the Soviet system. Ratnesar shows that, although Reagan was a key actor in the drama that led up to the end of the Cold War, in the actual finale, he played only a supporting role to Gorbachev, the leading man (189).

Although Ratnesar is not the first to draw such conclusions about the roles of these two leaders, his book is important to the literature dealing with the end of the Cold War in two ways. First, his work is rare in its contextualization of the speech as a diplomatic overture rather than a challenge (7). He explains that the relationship Reagan had forged with Gorbachev prior to the speech allowed him to believe optimistically that personally calling on Gorbachev to tear down the Wall "might actually inspire him" to do so (8). Second, Ratnesar's work joins James Mann's The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War as a work that reconstructs the intricate details of the development and delivery of Reagan's iconic address. Ratnesar interviewed over thirty-five former Reagan administration officials and American and German eyewitnesses to the speech and conducted primary document research in archives in both America and the former East Germany.

Readers who like to know what goes on behind the scenes and are interested in political infighting will find the details intriguing. Though there are no footnotes for scholars to leverage for their future research, this detracts minimally from the authoritative nature of Ratnesar's account. Tear Down This Wall is a work that teachers and students of the Cold War will find useful and engaging.

Gail Yoshitani

United States Military Academy

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Author:Yoshitani, Gail
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2011
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