This paper will analyse the a key political speech given by US president John F Kennedy in West Berlin June 26th 1963 commonly referred to as the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, literally translating as “I am a Berliner” although perhaps more amusingly making reference to a local food “I am a do-nut.” (Bruner 319-328) The historical context of the speech may be seen as an important factor in considering the importance of the speech as much as the words and language of the piece itself. To this extent, the speech was given in the capital of Germany a country which the United States had been at war with just 18 years earlier, in 1963 the city served as an important starting point for Kennedy’s European tour of five countries designed to enhance American relations in the face of the ongoing Cold War and struggle between the Communist East and the Capitalist West.
Berlin serves as a significant city for the given of the speech given that the city was itself blockaded by the Soviets in 1948 only to be saved by US and British intervention. Furthermore at the time of the speech the city itself was divided by the infamous “Berlin Wall” separating the Soviet occupied section run under the East German regime from the Western sector of the city which had been handed back to what at the time was referred to as “West Germany.”
Considering the issue of ethos or the appeal to credibility, one of the first devises used in the speech is Kennedy’s reference to previous deeds between the United States and Germany and the city of Berlin. In this case, in order to enhance credibility in the first paragraph of the speech Kennedy makes reference to General Clay, an American general of significant standing amongst the German audience and with a practical knowledge of problems faced in the country and city (Bruner 319-328).
One of the important aspects of the speech is the use of logos or an appeal to logic. In promoting the pro-Western capitalist message a key phrase used by Kennedy over and again is “let them come to Berlin.” Montefiore 130-138 In this case the appeal to logic is clear, Kennedy is implying that the capitalist system works as has been demonstrated by the experiment in the Western sector of Berlin, as such the simple appeal to logic is for Kennedy to invite critics of such a system to come and see the contrast to the “two Berlins.” At the same time however, this may also be seen as another example of pathos appealing to the emotion of pride of those living in the Western sector of Berlin.
With regards to how effective the speech was, one may consider that the speech overall had the desired effect. Sources report mass demonstrations of support from the audience following the speech (Bruner 319-328) and it is significant that almost 40 years later there are few who would not attribute the phrases “Ich bin ein Berliner” to JFK or know some of the context of the speech. Perhaps more importantly, the speech set a tone for the rest of the tour which promoted US interest within the wider Germany and Western European nations.
Having reviewed the speech, the writer comes to the conclusion that Kennedy created a speech which appealed to the sense of pride of the citizens of Berlin in their city in order to create the feeling of empathy and a shared struggle against the dangers of the communism to the East. As such, the speech may be seen as a key point in the cementing of US and European relations during the Cold War era.
Bruner, Michael. “Symbolic uses of the Berlin Wall, 1961, 1968.” Communication Quarterly. (1989): 319-328. Print.
Montefiore, Simon. Speeches that changed the world. London: Quercus, 2010. Print.