Nov. 9, 2010
Retired Gen. Colin Powell came to the Naval Academy a few years ago. He bounded onto the stage, looking fit and trim, and very energetic. He launched into a prepared addresshis Forrestal Lecturewithout notes, without the slightest hesitation, and without a teleprompter. The 4,000 Midshipmen who are required to attend and some of whom, frankly, doze off during these Bore-us-all lectures, were sitting on the edge of their seats. Gen. Powell is a polished orator and a most engaging speaker. His use of self-deprecating wit is most effective.
He related his great careerfrom Army Second Lieutenant all the way to four-star General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He didnt have to mention that when he was born, nearly seventy years before, no black man could have aspired to lead the greatest military in the world.
He said that his career was defined by one word: containment. Containment of the Soviet Union was what he was doing when, as a junior officer in the Army he was stationed in West Germany. Ten years later, as a major, Powell was told again. Go to the Berlin Wall, turn left. Stop at the Fulda Gap. And dont let any Soviet tanks come through.
Finally, he said, as a four-star general, he was still engaged in containment. Except now, under President George H.W. Bush, his job was to oversee the entire scene of the East-West face-off. Gen. Powell was responsible for making sure that the United States and NATO would not be surprised by any Soviet thrust into Western Europe.
All of this was most impressive. Gen. Powell is the kind of smart, courageous, skilled professional you would want guarding the Fulda Gap, standing watch for our freedom at the Wall.
If that is all we wanted to do.
For nearly fifty years, that is all we wanted to do. Containment was our goal until Ronald Reagan became President. Reagan was not content with containment. Ronald Reagan did not consent to a permanent division of Europe into captive and free nations. Ronald Reagan was all about prevailing. He was about Freedom Rising.
Twenty-one years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down. It seemed a miracle at the time.
Tom Brokaw, the former NBC news anchor, was in West Berlin when the Wall fell. He thinks it was all an accident, that some East German Communist official mixed up his instructions and erroneously opened the floodgatesand the puppet regime couldnt put it back together again.
President George W. Bush doesnt see it all as an accident. He recognizes what Reagan meant. He said Reagan never urged the Soviets to knock the three top bricks off the Berlin Wall; instead, Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and publicly challenged the Soviet ruler. He proclaimed to the whole world: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Open this gate.
He did more than that. When President Reagan delivered his famous speech at the Berlin Wall, he also described the East Berlin radio tower the Communists built to overshadow all the church steeples in their sector. There was, the President pointed out, an unfortunate defect in that tower. The Communist authorities had tried, with paint, with acid, by sandblasting, to get rid of the defect.
Still, when the sun shines on the globe of that radio tower, it reflects the Sign of the Cross.
Ronald Reagan was the only President in our history to invoke the Sign of the Cross in a public address.
Americans love Babe Ruths called shot. We love the story of the bambino pointing to the right field stands and hitting a home run on the next pitch, just where he had pointed.
We also love the story of young President John F. Kennedy pointing to the Moon and saying we would get there first, we would land a man there before 1970. We did it and we beat the Soviets in the process.
Ronald Reagans speech at the Berlin Wall was the third in this trilogy of called shots.
Twenty-one years ago today, his great purpose was achieved.