Barack Obama: Advancing a Common Humanity in Berlin

The visuals were phenomenal: Senator Barack Obama, the Brandenburg Gate, over 200,000 people listening attentively, cheering for an American leader as they used to. But what did he say?

Andrea Mitchell, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC, said the speech was heavy on rhetoric. But Chuck Todd, Political Director and Analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, said that the McCain campaign should have “ceded the week” to Obama. As Senator John Kerry noted, it was good to see Europeans cheering an American leader [for a change].

The Speech was more than presidential, it was globally unifying – something both Europeans and Americans need to hear. Invoking the history of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama called upon people of Berlin – and people of the world – to remake the world. He said that he knows America’s actions haven’t always lived up to her intentions, but that for more than two centuries we have strived to form a more perfect union and a more hopeful world. He said America has no allegiance to a particular land or region; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What drew his father to the shores of America was a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people. The shared aspirations of all nations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. Obama said it is “because of these shared aspirations that the airlift began and that all people everywhere became citizens of Berlin.”

Obama said “this is the moment when all nations must summon the spirit that led to the airlift.”  Here near the Brandenburg Gate, he continued, “we must insist that we never forget our common humanity and that history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one…Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again…when the German people tore down that wall, walls came tumbling down around the world…and the doors of democracy were opened.”

He spoke about the unique new perils of the 21st century including terrorism and, specifically, the challenge we now face due to the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the genocide in Darfur, which “shames the conscience of us all.”

“In this new world, dangerous currents swept along faster than we could contain them..that’s why we can’t afford to be divided. None of us can deny the the threats or escape responsibility in meeting them. In the absence of the Wall, it’s easy to forget this truth.

In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in the world has become all too common. In America, voices deny Europe’s role in our security and our future. The truth is that Europe is bearing more burdens..and so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe. Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe…there will be differences in the future. The burdens of global citzenship bind us together. Both America and Europe will be required to do more, not less.”

He spoke about history’s examples of fallen walls: Belfast, the Balkans and South Africa and said, “The greatest danger is to allow new walls to divide us from one another.”

Obama said we must seek the peace of the world without nuclear weapons, we must reject the coldwar mindset of the past and resolve to work with Russia when we can, and that now is the time for free trade that is fair for all. He said that America and Europe must stand together and send the message to Iran that it must abandon its nuclear ambitions. He called upon both sides of the Atlantic to support the Lebanese, to support both the Israeli’s and the Palestinians in their search for lasting and secure peace, and to “support the millions of Iraqi’s who seek to rebuild their lives as we pass the responsibility on to the Iraqi government and bring this war to a close.”

Challenging people and offering shared responsibility is more than rhetoric. Invoking the progress advanced by the fall of the Berlin Wall and reminding us of how history portrays our role in that progress is more than rhetoric. When Obama said, “The world will watch and remember what we do with this moment,” he was calling upon people — from all sides of all walls — to advance a common humanity.


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