It is certainly true that the Reagan presidency helped usher along the opening of the inner German frontier and later the demise of the Soviet Union. After all, his changes to U.S. foreign policy toward Moscow challenged, among other things, the status quo that assumed the Berlin Wall's existence as inevitable. And Reagan reasserted the idea that simple coexistence with the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe was neither desirable nor acceptable.
But did Reagan's 1987 address have much bearing on the actual fall of wall? That's a newer idea, one that happens to put Reagan at the center of a wider narrative of communism's descent in Europe. In fact, not only was Reagan out of office by the time the wall collapsed in the summer of 1989, but his speech had received very little coverage in the media, according to and to historian Michael Meyer, who wrote in his history of 1989's revolutions, "Major U.S. newspapers with correspondents in Europe, such as the New York Times, carried stories that ran in the back pages." Reagan also delivered the speech to an audience of about 45, 000, one tenth the crowd estimated to have attended John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech. When Reagan declared "Tear down this Wall, " it's easy for us to forget now, he was the visibly aged leader of a lame duck administration clouded by scandal and corruption, Iran-Contra in particular.
Historians still dispute, and likely will for many years, the extent to which the Soviet Union collapsed due to pressures from the U.S. or from within. But the Berlin Wall's fall was a moment when Gorbachev's actions, not Reagan's, played a particularly prominent role. The revolts Eastern Europe began in large part because of the Soviet leader's 1985 decision to launch the reforms of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Gorbachev also reneged on the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had asserted that problems within any Warsaw Pact nation were considered "a common problem and concern of all socialist countries" - in other words, Moscow would intervene in Soviet bloc countries to keep them in line.
You might also like:
24x36 Poster; President Kennedy At The Berlin Wall, 26 June 1963