Tuesday, October 5, 2010

John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" Speech Analysis

In 1961, East Berliners became prisoners in their own homes. Post World War II Germany was divided into four occupation zones. As a result, Berlin was split in two. East Berlin was under Russian control while West Berlin was under American, British and French jurisdiction. To prevent Germans in the Soviet side of Berlin (East) from fleeing to the free Western side, a 12 foot-high, 100 mile-long wall was built surrounding East Berlin, separating it from the Western half. This became known as the Berlin Wall. On June 26, 1963, John F. Kennedy (Figure 1) visited West Berlin and delivered the speech "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner). Throughout his speech, JFK attacks the Communist system of government and reassures the citizens of Berlin that one day they will be reunited with their Eastern brothers and sisters.

Figure 1. “John F. Kennedy.” 1963. Photograph. 4umi. Web. 4 Oct 2010.

John F. Kennedy uses Berlin as the prime example of the failure of Soviet Russia’s Communist government. This is evident when JFK announces, “The wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system”. He then goes to say that not only is the Communist system of government unsuccessful, it is also “an offense against humanity”. It tears families apart and exploits the citizens within. JFK brings this point to light when he claims “there are even a few who say it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress”. After JFK makes the claims that “there are some who say”, he follows them up with “Let them come to Berlin”. He does this to amplify the negative effects Communism has on the public. There were a total of 238 confirmed deaths at the wall. It is estimated that over 1,000 Berliners were killed attempting to escape. JFK compares Communism to the free countries of the world when he states, “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”.

JFK encourages West Berlin to remain strong when he says "I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope, and the determination of the city of West Berlin". He lets West Berlin know that they are not alone. Countries across the continent and across the sea have been following their story since the beginning. JFK reassures that Berlin will once again be one great city with the lines, "When all are free, then we look -- can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one ... 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". Promoting democracy and freedom in Europe is also a strategic move. With essentially the world as his audience, the citizens of West Berlin being his primary, speaking of the evil that is Communism will show that any country that decides to enforce this system of government will not be an ally of the United States and will be frowned upon in society.

Months before his assassination, John F. Kennedy visited West Berlin and delivered one of the most compelling and inspiring speeches. He shed light on the city of Berlin and revealed the cracks in the Communist system. Berliners cheered and roared when he spoke the words "Ich bin ein Berliner". He made himself one with the people and praised them for their determination throughout their seemingly futile fight against oppression.

Works Cited
 Kennedy, John Fitzgerald. "Ich bin ein Berliner." West Berlin, Germany. 26 June
     1963. American Rhetoric. Web. 1 Oct. 2010.

Works Consulted
 Cohen, Andrew. "Going to the Wall." Ottawa Citizen. 24 June 2008, Final ed., News
     sec.: n. pag. eLibrary. Web. 1 Oct. 2010.
 "The Cold War and the Iron Curtain." Frontline. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct.
 "Great Speeches Collection: John F. Kennedy." The History Place. N.p., n.d. Web.
     3 Oct. 2010.