On this day in 1963, John F. Kennedy gave his “Ich bin ein Berliner” address. More than 100,000 people looked on as the President of the United States said that he was a jelly doughnut. Or that Berliners were jelly doughnuts. Well, it turns out not really. But that would have been totally awesome.
So, I have a question: beyond the political theater, especially the image of East Germans watching in silence as Kennedy spoke, can somebody spell out for me why this speech is still considered a big deal? I understand that JFK was identifying with the plight of Berliners. And I understand that Berlin at the time served as a symbol for the dangers of the Soviet Union’s ostensible program of world conquest. That explains, I suppose, why the BBC says that this “was seen as a turning point in the Cold War.” But such a claim hinges on a pretty loose definition of “turning point,” right? Not to mention the convenient use of the passive voice. In the end, the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech seems to me like little more than anti-Communist demagoguery. I mean, JFK was no Mayor Quimby. Or am I missing something? I suppose we should just be glad that Kennedy didn’t try to give the Chancellor Adenauer a backrub. That would have been embarrassing.