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Summary Article: Ich Bin Ein Berliner from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

The city of Berlin was divided after World War II, with the Soviet Union controlling the eastern part of the city and the USA, France, and Great Britain controlling the west. With the superpowers unable to reach an agreement to reunify the city, Berlin remained a hot spot for Cold War tensions in the post-war years. Tensions reached their peak in 1961 when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened to end Western access to the city, and eventually erected a wall between East and West Berlin in an attempt to stem the tide of refugees fleeing westward. With these developments as backdrop, President John Kennedy visited West Berlin in 1963. There he cited the division of Berlin as a microcosm of the conflict between the communist and free worlds. Facing down the communists as they did, Kennedy proclaimed the Berliners an inspiration to all free men and women, and declared himself their compatriot with the famous phrase: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (‘I am a Berliner’).

Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was ‘civis Romanus sum.’ Today in the world of freedom the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’

There are many people in the world who really don't understand – or say they don't – what is the great issue between the free world and the communist world. Let them come to Berlin.

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.

And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere ‘we can work with the communists.’ Let them come to Berlin.

And there are even a few who say it's true that communism is an evil system but it permits us to make economic progress. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.

I want to say on behalf of my countrymen who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance the story of the last eighteen years.

I know of no town, no city that has been besieged for eighteen years that still lives with the vitality and the force and the hope and the determination of the City of West Berlin.

While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the communist system, all the world can see we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history, but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany. Real lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice.

In eighteen years of peace and good faith this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace with goodwill to all people.

You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin and all your country of Germany to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible and when one man is enslaved who are free? When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe.

When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’

John Kennedy

articles

Kennedy, John F(itzgerald) (‘Jack’)

Berlin Wall

Cold War

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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