Photo of President John F. Kennedy giving his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. (Berlin, 1963)

President Kennedy gives his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in Berlin, 1963.

Volume XVII – Number 2

Gregory Nicholson

During WWII, the Soviet Union occupied parts of Eastern Europe, and after the war ended, residents of these regions wished for Soviet retreat and their own independence. During these years, kegs of gunpowder littered the armory of the international arena, lying in wait for a nation to haphazardly wave around a torch. In 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave Western powers a firm deadline by which to withdraw their forces from West Berlin, believing the city should become demilitarized and free. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy assumed office, after campaigning on the dangers of Soviet military might. President Kennedy remained resolute on his view that a strong West Berlin was a better deterrent to Soviet expansion than a weak, unified Germany. During the crisis, the city of Berlin played an ancillary role in the broader goals of both nations. For the Soviet Union, the end goal was testing American resilience. If the United States ceded ground on the commitment to secure democracy worldwide, American influence and power would be shattered. For the United States, giving in to the Soviet Union on this issue would lead to a slippery slope. The necessity for a hardline defense, or at the very least, a middle-ground agreement, was clear. This article looks at the reified grapple between communism and democracy, rhetoric used by both leaders during the period, and the impact the crisis had on the international system as a whole.

Keywords: John F. Kennedy, Berlin Crisis, Nikita Khrushchev

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