On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, boldly issuing a challenge to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev:
“General Secretary Gorbachev, 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 were the most memorable lines from Reagan’s speech – an impassioned plea for the leader of a totalitarian state to obliterate one of the most hated symbols of communist oppression. But the resonance of these words has eclipsed what was perhaps an even more stirring declaration by Reagan earlier in the address:
“Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same–still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.”
The Berlin wall was a symbol of slavery, of the confining of the human spirit within a prison of heartless stone, and Reagan’s words perfectly captured the despotic nature of it and other features of the Soviets’ Iron Curtain. A little over two years after Reagan’s speech, free people all over the world celebrated as the hated barrier was torn down, reuniting East and West Berlin for the first time in decades.
Today, just as Germany tore down the wall that chained its people in shackles of cement, America needs to tear down the sacrilegious shrines that glorify the binding of humans in manacles of iron. Across the South, monuments and flags defile the landscape, blasphemously reveling in the “accomplishments” of Confederate soldiers who fought to subject an entire race to eternal serfdom. These celebrations of the “Lost Cause” are not just acknowledgements of Southern heritage or dispassionate descriptions of history – they are as freedom-crushing as the hated wall of Berlin. They sneeringly mock the solemn proclamation of the Founders that “all men are created equal” and replace it with a bigoted assertion that one race should rule over all others. These dark offerings to the Unholy God of Racism should be targeted with the same denunciations that Reagan leveled against the hated barrier of Berlin. If a politician wanted to launch such an attack on these sentinels of slavery, perhaps she could repurpose Reagan’s words:
“Behind me stands a monument that encircles the hearts and minds of this nation, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire American people against each other. From Virginia to Florida, those barriers cut across the United States in a gash of sinister stone and fiendish flags. Standing before a Confederate monument, every man is an American, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a patriot, forced to look upon a scar.”
Some may argue that there is no need to topple our nation’s monuments to the Confederacy. But the acts of radical white terrorism in Charlottesville today illustrate that these misguided memorials will only continue to be rallying points for those who seek to spread their racist views. The Confederacy fell over 150 years ago. Now, it is time for the last vestiges of that hateful, treacherous enterprise to crumble.