Rede von George Bush (09.11.1999)
and of course my colleagues Chancellor Kohl, former Chancellor Kohl, and President Gorbachev,
and other honored guests,
For a short period I was in the United States Congress, and for a short period I was in the White House, and I loved this spirit of harmony and sweetness and light that is in this Chamber today, and I would like to model it and take it back to our Congress and to the White House, it is a wonderful thing.
But I am indeed honored to be here just to offer a few personal reminiscences about the historic events of ten years ago.
Before I do, let me say that it is a true honour to be here with my esteemed friend Mikhail Gorbachev. We worked together for nearly three years of remarkable change of our world, and when he left office on Christmas Day 1991, I felt the same way toward him that President Eisenhower felt toward Winston Churchill. In his memoirs Eisenhower wrote in part of "Sir Winston": "When finally he laid down the mantle of his high office, I could not help feeling that for me a treasured partnership had been broken, but never will I lose any of the affection and admiration I hold for him personally."
I still feel this way towards him, history will be very kind to Mikhail Gorbachev. The architect of glasnost and perestroika, policies that helped build the common European home that he spoke of ten years ago by acknowledging the right to self-determination. For anyone who serves in a position of public leadership - and that certainly includes everybody gathered in this distinguished audience - politics can be a tough business, it can be a mean business.
And during a speech to the Reichstag in 1880, Otto von Bismarck noted that "to fight against the government by any means is the right and sport of every German". Well, six and half years after being sworn out of presidency I can assure you that it is no different, Mr. Chancellor, in the United States of America.
When I look back at my four years as President of the United States, there are many moments that I can point to as trying or difficult, Desert Storm certainly among them, but in many ways no situation was as dicey as the one that we all faced on November 9th, 1989. Of course, during the summer of 1989 the tide of history had turned in favour of liberty, and so by the time the fall arrived I believed we were already, as the song says, watching the world wake up from history. Change was in the air, almost overnight the body politic in East and Central Europe began to reject the alien regimes that had been grafted onto their society.
As the great poet von Goethe noted, I quote here: "A great revolution is never the fault of the people, but of the government." And so it was in the November of 1989, though few, if any, in government saw it coming, the people in the street were ready to seize control of their own destiny and chart a new course born of their own choosing.
I guess everyone in this room remembers where he or she was ten years ago on November 9th, when they first heard the incredible news. As for me, I was sitting at my Oval Office desk, when Brent Scowcroft, my trusted national security advisor who served so ably at my side, came in and told me there were reports that the Wall had been opened. And we immediately went into the study, the little study next door to the Oval Office and turned on the television and saw the coverage and large jubilant crowds here in Berlin. And the emotions I felt as I watched Germans of all ages gathered at the Wall and on it are hard to describe.
I had been to the Wall as Vice-President and stood there with my friend Helmut Kohl, former President von Weiszäcker, as they pointed out where young East Germans had been shot while trying to cross to freedom. In February of 1983 I had also been to the town of Middelreuth??, with my dear respected friend, the late Manfred Wörner, whom we deeply miss, and there I saw a border fence run right through the heart of that town, dividing the two Germanies.
But now, six years later, I was President of the United States, watching as the hopes and dreams of mankind, which for so long seemed so impossible, became a reality right before my eyes. It was a surreal sight, as if Dali had painted it, and then came the realization of what we were witnessing.
The dam had been breached, and freedom was literally cascading over the Wall. And soon thereafter my Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater arrived with more new reports and suggested that I make a statement to the press, and it seemed like the logical thing to do.
But although I was elated over what appeared to be happening, I was wary about offering hasty comments. And though growing in numbers, the reports were still unconfirmed and, more important, I knew that we had to be careful how we portrayed our response to the joyous news. I had to anticipate the pressures that would be placed on our friend Mikhail Gorbachev's shoulders.
I knew this was not the time to gloat about what many in the West would call a defeat for Russia. Rather, it was a time for prudence. And at the brief impromptu press conference right there in the Oval Office, I expressed our joy, while at the same time being careful not to gloat. And in the back of my mind I worried about a crackdown of the hardliners, and as a result my answers to the news media were cautiously positive, not tentative but cautious. And what they did not understand, the critics, as we watched these indescribably joyous events, transpired ten years ago today, was that an arrogant move on our part could destroy the joy and set back the cause for which so many people had worked, bled and even died.
And still some of our leaders on Capitol Hill had suggested that I come over here to the Berlin Wall to dance on the Wall with the students. In my view that would have been an open provocation, tantamount to sticking our fingers in the eye of the Soviet military. And so we maintained our restraint, and I believe that we did the right thing.
Ten years later, after some reflection, I hope it is not too self-serving to suggest that part of the reason things turned out the way they did, the reason the superpower struggle ended literally without a shot being fired, the reason the Wall came down and Germany was unified in peace and democracy was in large measure because the leaders on the scene knew one another. And, I am sure that Helmut Kohl would agree, the three of us respected one another.
And, yes, as we heard from the eloquent speakers that preceded me, it was the people in the streets who put the events into motion, not the leaders in Bonn or Washington or Moscow, but it ultimately fell to those of us in government to respond to the events as they happened and were possible, helping to shape the final outcome. And simply put, we were in the midst of a delicate dance.
And it helped more than words can explain to know innately that we Americans could trust Helmut Kohl and his able team, and despite the incredible pressures that Mikhail Gorbachev was under at the time, both Helmut and I believed in his commitment, solid unbending commitment to reform.
And still, rightly or wrongly, we had a major question, certainly I did, will the army intervene, might we have another Prague Spring on our hands, we did not know, but it all worked out, and today is a day for celebration, and what a marvelous day it is. As the adage says, good things come to those who wait.
And it is a special joy to share this special day with my former colleagues. Suffice it to say today Barbara and I understand how John Kennedy felt after his triumphant visit here in 1963, as Air Force I lifted off into the skies that afternoon. Physically drained but spiritually uplifted, Kennedy observed: "We'll never have another day like this one as long as we live." And I can tell you Barbara and I feel exactly that same way today.
May God continue to bless this free, united, democratic Germany.
Thank you very, very much.