3 Speeches at Brandenburg: A Tale of American Decline?
Speaking at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate is designed to evoke images of American presidents who have changed history there. Now the reaction is much different.
On June 19, 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Berlin, Germany, and gave a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. This is the site of other iconic speeches given by U.S. presidents and is symbolic of the challenges and opportunities of the post-World War II world.
Whether the words spoken by President Obama will be recorded among the great speeches in history is yet to be seen, but the location reminds us of where the world has been and where we are now.
Two historic speeches
Two previous speeches delivered at the Brandenburg Gate provide an important lesson about America’s role in the 20th century.
- President Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, speaking about the Cold War division of Berlin, powerfully delivered the iconic line in German: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
In English: “I am a Berliner.” The significance of that statement brought attention to Berlin as a microcosm of the post–World War II world. Like the entire nation of Germany after World War II, Berlin was divided into two parts: the western part of the city under American influence and the eastern side under the control of the Communist Soviet Union.
West Berlin was already experiencing economic recovery and growth under the democratic-capitalist model and with American support. East Berlin was economically stagnant, as it barely limped along under the dominance of the oppressive Soviet government and Red Army.
That one city, divided between two opposing philosophies of governance and economics, represented the core division the entire world faced for over 40 years during the Cold War.
President Kennedy’s line—“Ich bin ein Berliner”—expressed the unity of the free world in resisting Communist tyranny. That world was led boldly by the United States. The free world was only preserved through the leadership and protection of the military and economic might of the United States.
- President Reagan
On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Regan spoke in front of the Brandenburg Gate and delivered the memorable line directed to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
This line was delivered in the final years of the Cold War. It was already becoming apparent that the Soviet Union could not compete economically or militarily with the United States or the success of democratic-capitalism. It was already becoming obvious that Karl Marx’s philosophy would not transform the world into a Communist “workers’ paradise.”
The division of Berlin—the symbol of the global division between the two competing systems—lasted only two more years after President Reagan’s speech. In late 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened and finally fell. Though the Soviet system did not formally collapse until 1991, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the failure of the Soviet system of Communism and the triumph of the American-led West.
President Reagan’s words represented America’s place in the world during that period: bold and decisive global leadership that was able to end the rule of tyrannical governments.
Whether it was the rule of Spain in Cuba, the militaristic ambitions of the German kaiser, the 1,000-year Reich aspirations of Adolf Hitler or the communist goals of the Soviet Union—America in the 20th century was able to use its global power to check despotism and spread economic and political freedom.
President Obama’s trip reveals America’s decreased global influence
President Obama’s June 19 speech at the Brandenburg Gate comes at a time when America no longer has undisputed global hegemony. Though still the greatest military power in the world, America is no longer able to influence the world’s nations to follow its lead as it could in the 20th century.
President Obama’s main message in his recent speech was the need for further reductions in the nuclear arsenals of America, Russia and Europe. But his message and choice of priorities didn’t seem to gain much traction in our complex, dangerous and multipolar world.
Russian leaders have already criticized President Obama’s nuclear reduction goals. The BBC reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin, shortly before President Obama’s speech, said Russia “cannot allow the balance of the system of strategic deterrence to be disturbed or the effectiveness of our nuclear force to be decreased.” Other Russian officials made similar critical comments about Obama’s plan.
Before his speech, President Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In that meeting, Merkel chided the president for recent revelations of U.S. surveillance programs on its own citizens.
A recent article in The New York Times entitled “Extending a Hand, Obama Finds a Cold Shoulder Abroad” highlights the many foreign policy challenges America faces and how the current administration has not been able to exercise effective leadership on the world stage.
America’s timid approach to the civil war in Syria, inability to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and continuing difficulties in Afghanistan (and other regions of the Middle East) are just a few other examples of America’s decreased ability to provide meaningful global leadership.
Where is America headed?
Students of Bible prophecy who are regular readers of Life, Hope & Truth understand that the United States is identified prophetically as the people of Manasseh—one of the sons of the biblical patriarch Joseph. Manasseh and his brother Ephraim (the British peoples) were prophesied to be the most prosperous and militarily strong nations in the world when they would reach the height of their power (Genesis 49:22-26).
But the blessings of prosperity and global power would not last forever. The Bible also prophesied that, as a result of national sin, the descendants of Israel would decline (Leviticus 26:19) and eventually fall by the hand of other nations (verses 23-25).
The presidential speeches given in the 20th century at the Brandenburg Gate represent a different America than we see today. They represent the role of America at the height of its biblically prophesied power. But those days are gone and America now struggles economically and on the world stage.
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For more information about America’s role in Bible prophecy, read the articles in our section on “Where Is America in Prophecy?”