Lauer: It 'May Be a Little Egocentric' to View Berlin Wall Fall as an 'American Victory'

Reporting live from the Berlin Wall NBC's Tom Brokaw, on Monday's "Today" show, never once mentioned Ronald Reagan's name and his role in helping to end the Cold War, but did find time to praise Mikhail Gorbachev and "Today" co-anchor Matt Lauer even wondered if it was "a little egocentric" to look at the fall of the Wall as an "American victory," as seen in the following exchange:

MATT LAUER: I know, I think it may be a little egocentric but I think most Americans look at that event and they think of it as an American victory. When you talk to Germans today, do they view it that way?

TOM BROKAW: Well, they certainly think that the United States played a major role. But the real payoff came later when Germany was peacefully re-united. I said at a dinner last night, the remarkable thing is that no tanks rolled that day, no shots were fired, no East German leaders were hanged in the streets of East Berlin. And you have to give Mikhail Gorbachev a great deal of credit for that, Matt. Because he was in Moscow and he didn't send in the troops and he said to the East Germans, "You need to learn how to reform."[audio available here]

The following is the full segment as it was aired on the November 9, "Today" show:

MATT LAUER: Now to the fall of the Berlin Wall two decades later. Exactly 20 years ago today, the world watched as one of the most iconic symbols of the Cold War came crumbling down. And NBC's Tom Brokaw was the only network anchor there to witness it firsthand. This morning he's back in Berlin in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Tom, good morning. Nice to see you.

TOM BROKAW: Good morning, Matt. Well I'm 20 years older, a little grayer, a little heavier but very happy to be back here. And there will be ceremonies throughout the day, then tonight a real gala with Angela Merkel, who was born in East Germany, now the first woman chancellor of this country, presiding with Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa of Poland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sarkozy of France, a gathering of leaders past and present to acknowledge what was effectively the end of the Cold War, Matt.

LAUER: What's your most vivid memory from that day or those days?

BROKAW: Well, that it was so unexpected. I was at the news conference late the afternoon of that day when the announcement was made, almost inadvertently, by Gunther Shabowski. There was a lot of confusion. I ran upstairs where I had an interview with him and got him to spill it out again. It was broadcast throughout the GDR as East Germany was known in those days. And by about midnight that night, East Germans didn't wait for a visa. They just started pouring through the wall. And you really did have the very strong impression that we were witness to not just a historic moment but the collapse of the Soviet empire which came not too long after that. Really one of the most historic events not just of the 20th century but of the last 400 or 500 years. I also remember that the West German people were so welcoming. East Germans whose came across had so little. West Germans met them and gave sweets to the children, handed out German marks so that they could go buy things. And it was like people from Venus arriving in Mars. The worlds were so different.

LAUER: I know, I think it may be a little egocentric but I think most Americans look at that event and they think of it as an American victory. When you talk to Germans today, do they view it that way?

BROKAW: Well, they certainly think that the United States played a major role. But the real payoff came later when Germany was peacefully re-united. I said at a dinner last night, the remarkable thing is that no tanks rolled that day, no shots were fired, no East German leaders were hanged in the streets of East Berlin. And you have to give Mikhail Gorbachev a great deal of credit for that, Matt. Because he was in Moscow and he didn't send in the troops and he said to the East Germans, "You need to learn how to reform." President Bush 41 stood with Helmet Kohl, with his grand idea of uniting this country. A lot of European leaders, including Margaret Thatcher, did not want it to have re-united because in the 20th century Germany had led the world into two world wars. There were great fears that could happen again. Now Germany is still trying to heal the wounds. People still think of themselves as being from the East Sector or from the West Sector. The Eastern Germans feel like they're the poor cousins here. They still have a long way to go in terms of getting this country fully pulled together again.

LAUER: Fascinating look back, Tom. Thank you very much. It's good to see you again.

BROKAW: Okay, Matt. Good to be here.

LAUER: Alright and Tom's gonna have much more from Germany tonight on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.