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[ ] chapter 5 A Seminal Symbolic Disaster: Reagan at Bitburg, May 5, 1985 After his triumphant speeches at the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 1984, Ronald Reagan seemed to become more comfortable speaking in ceremonial settings in Europe. His well-written and welldelivered speeches took place in locations chosen for the maximum visual effects for television and other media. The speeches were delivered when they would receive maximum attention on television in the United States and,in many respects,they were written and delivered for an audience in the United States even though they were presented in Europe.The speeches were so effective that they were used in television commercials during Reagan’s reelection campaign that year. Reagan’s return to Europe the following year for the celebration of the end of World War II was not as successful. Although his speechwriters had prepared two carefully crafted speeches, the controversy surrounding the speeches made it difficult,if not impossible,for him to repeat his successes and to receive the kind of acclaim he had received after the speeches at Normandy. Although he and his staff carefully created messages that were delivered in speeches, press conferences, and letters in the weeks preceding his trip to Germany, he was not able to silence his critics. [ ] a seminal symbolic disaster Revisiting the Controversy The controversy surrounding Reagan’s trip to West Germany and his response to his critics illustrate the many sides of this complicated individual and highlight his strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Reagan’s acceptance of the invitation by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany to visit a World War II cemetery without considering possible negative implications may be seen as an example of Reagan’s lack of interest in seeking information, but it also illustrates his loyalty to a crucial friend and ally.Observers stated that Reagan was extremely loyal to friends.He wanted to repay Kohl for providing military support to the United States in its opposition to the Soviet Union and to make it clear that he could be counted on to support Kohl in any conflict with totalitarian regimes. Reagan’s lack of supervision and the ineffective staff work in his second administration dramatically compounded his problems. Once the conflict surfaced, Reagan’s stubbornness became apparent when he refused to change his itinerary even though he found himself in a situation that was damaging his image and his presidency. In the end, he compromised and altered the schedule for the trip by adding a stop at the site of the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. He never accepted responsibility for the controversy surrounding the trip, and he attempted unsuccessfully to redefine the situation by arguing that there had been a misunderstanding concerning the original invitation from theWest German government.Even if Reagan’s speeches and press conferences leading up to the German visit were apologies,1 in the end he did not effectively apologize and many of his opponents did not accept his efforts to address their concerns.If Reagan speechwriter Josh Gilder’s assertions are correct, Reagan may have been less concerned with apologizing and limiting damage with his audiences in the United States than he was in assuring Chancellor Kohl and other European leaders of his support in their opposition to the Soviet Union.2 [ ] chapter 5 Responding to the Controversy In situations as complicated as that surrounding Reagan’s 1985 trip to Germany,it is possible that there was little potential for public discourse to make a difference. But Reagan had been successful in difficult situations in the past, and he turned to the area of his greatest strength, the power of speech, in an attempt to calm his adversaries and rescue his presidential image. His speechwriters prepared two well-written and well-argued speeches that he felt would improve his image and calm his adversaries.The speeches built on one another and contained many of the same themes and ideas.The speech at Bergen-Belsen focused more on the issue of the Holocaust and the horrible crimes committed by the Nazis during World War II. The Bitburg speech contained many of the same themes, but it was more of a cold war speech in which Reagan told the world that it was time to move from the past to the present. The world should remember the crimes of World War II, but there should be more focus on challenging current tyrants, especially the Soviet Union. In the end, both speeches...

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