Most Influential Wartime Speeches

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No. 5 Ronald Reagan 1987

Ronald Reagan was certainly one of the most gifted speakers among U.S. presidents. A former actor and host of General Electric Theater, Reagan's background served him well when he sought political offices, first for governor of California, then the presidency of the United States. Reagan was president at the height of the cold war, when the United States and Soviet Union managed an uneasy coexistence. Reagan opted to scrap a decade-long strategy of detente in favor of escalation through an arms race, calculating that such a buildup would help bankrupt the Soviet Union. He challenged the USSR with rhetoric, first calling it to be left in the "ash heap of history" in 1982, followed by his proclamation that the USSR was an "evil empire." With the Soviet Union teetering on the brink, by the late 1980s, Reagan helped with a few final nudges. On June 12, 1987, with the Brandenburg Gate looming in the background - but on the other side of the Berlin Wall - Reagan delivered his challenge to Soviet Leader Mikhai 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!" The rhetoric was dramatic, but Reagan, already enjoying an unprecedented personal rapport with Gorbechev, worked with the reform-minded Soviet leader to signficantly reduce tensions between the two superpowers. Two years later, less than 10 months after Reagan left office, the Berlin Wall indeed fell.

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