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Today in history: August 13
President John F. Kennedy said of the Berlin Wall, "A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war"
President Kennedy boosted West Berlin morale with his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.
President Kennedy boosted West Berlin morale with his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. CORBIS

Aug. 13, 1961: President John F. Kennedy criticized construction of the Berlin Wall, but said, "A wall is a hell of a lot better than a war."

The Berlin Wall was built by Communist East Germany to keep its citizens from fleeing to the West. It ran between East and West Germany, and between East and West Berlin. It was guarded around the clock by heavily armed soldiers, who were trained to shoot anyone trying to escape. During the 28 years the wall stood, some 5,000 people attempted to escape; an estimated 600 were killed. The Berlin Wall was the most visible symbol of the Cold War and a hated symbol of communist oppression.

Kennedy would visit Berlin on June 26, 1963, and standing on a platform overlooking the wall, deliver his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a Berliner) speech to an audience of 450,000. The president made it clear that the United States would support West Germany, and he condemned the wall, saying it showed the failure of the communist system. The speech is regarded as one of Kennedy's best, and was seen as a morale booster for West Berliners, who were surrounded on all sides by communism.

Quote of the Day

"I am an idealist without illusions." -John F. Kennedy

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