Tuesday, 17 November 2009

JFK Surprised by 'Strong American Outrage to the Wall'

John F. Kennedy was relieved by the construction of the Berlin Wall, according to a US diplomat William R. Smyser, who was station in Berlin at the time . Smyser claims the U.S. president was not concerned about the German reunification, but "Khrushchev's effort to force the Americans out or to shoot down an American plane flying there" and due to "the strategic importance of Berlin during the Cold War" he could not risk going to war (Smyser in Schmitz, 2009).

Smyser also notes that the U.S. Secretary of State at the time, Dean Rusk, and diplomats "wanted to say the construction of the wall represents a victory for the West because it showed that the Communists had to imprison their own people. But they only said it once or twice and when everybody scoffed, they retracted it" (Smyser in Schmitz, 2009).

Markham (1987) claims that Kennedy's view was that the Wall was ''not a very nice solution, but... a hell of a lot better than a war'' and "in the taut run-up to the rending of Berlin, John F. Kennedy speculated to his adviser Walt W. Rostow that Nikita S. Khrushchev would have to do something ''to stop the flow of refugees - perhaps a wall.''

According to Markham, president Ronald Reagan said that had he been President in 1961 he would have "knocked down that wire then" and that the president didn't think "there'd be a wall today [in 1986] because I don't think they wanted to start a war over that". 

Construction of the Wall did impact politics of the West Berlin mayor Willy Brandt's "rethinking of the German question and the decision to embark on what was to become his Ostpolitik -the diplomatic opening to East Germany and Eastern Europe" and even though there are disputes between the US and the USSR, "they have not led to Soviet and American tanks facing each other across the divide" (Markham, 1987). 

Markham, J.J. (1987) A Lot Better than a War. [online] http://www.nytimes.com/1987/02/08/books/a-lot-better-than-a-war.html
Schmitz, G.P. (2009) The Day Berlin Was Divided: Kennedy Surprised by 'Such Strong American Outrage to the Wall'. [online] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,658349,00.html