"Tear down this wall!" was the challenge from United States President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall.
In a speech at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin, Reagan challenged Gorbachev (who was then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), to tear it down as a symbol of Gorbachev's desire for increasing freedom in the Eastern Bloc.
Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall became known as a symbol of communism. In the 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, U.S. President John F. Kennedy stated the support of the United States for democratic West Germany shortly after the Soviet-supported Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement from East to West.
President Reagan's 1987 visit was his second within five years. It came at a time of heightened East-West tensions, caused in particular by the debate over the stationing of short range American missiles in Europe and the United States' record peacetime defense buildup. Reagan was scheduled to attend the 1987 G-7 summit meeting in Venice, Italy, and later made a brief stop in Berlin.
The Brandenburg Gate site was chosen to highlight the President's conviction that Western democracy offered the best hope to open the Berlin Wall. His speech focused on a series of political initiatives to achieve this end. The famous "tear down this wall" phrase was intended as the logical conclusion of the President's proposals. As the speech was being drafted, inclusion of the words became a source of considerable controversy within the Reagan administration. Several senior staffers and aides advised against the phrase, saying anything which might cause further East-West tensions or potential embarrassment to Gorbachev, with whom President Reagan had built a good relationship, should be omitted. American officials in West Germany and presidential speechwriters, including Peter Robinson, thought otherwise. Robinson traveled to West Germany to inspect potential speech venues, and gained an overall sense that the majority of West Berliners opposed the wall. Despite getting little support for suggesting Reagan demand the wall's removal, Robinson kept the phrase in the speech text. On May 18, 1987, President Reagan met with his speechwriters and responded to the speech by saying, "I thought it was a good, solid draft." Chief of Staff Howard Baker objected, saying it sounded "extreme" and "unpresidential," and Deputy National Security Advisor Colin Powell agreed. Nevertheless, Reagan liked the passage, saying, "I think we'll leave it in."