Former President Bush 41 Reflects on the Fall of the Berlin Wall 20 Years Later

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," November 2, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now you are heading to Germany. Now, two decades ago, on November 9th, 1989, that horrible Berlin wall finally came down. President George H.W. Bush was in office when the wall came down. President Bush gives you the inside story.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, nice to see you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you've obviously made a big impact here in Germany.

BUSH: A little coverage. Isn't that nice.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is a little -- it's not just a little, it's a lot of coverage. Of course, my favorite one, though, I think, in today's paper might be this one, although it's a little bit smaller -- the hands.

BUSH: That's right. It was a wonderful reunion with two men for whom I have not only respect but friendship. It was very emotional, very nice.

VAN SUSTEREN: Take me back to -- let's go back to about 1959, 1960. What was it like before the wall went up?

BUSH: It was hard to think there would be freedom on the East German, GDR side of the wall. One side was oppressive, one side was denying all of human rights, and the other side was freedom.

And Cole said when they saw the advertisements from the west going into the east, that just stirred up public opinion on the east side that they wanted freedom. And it was inevitable, I guess, eventually, but it happened so fast. It happened faster than any of us thought.

VAN SUSTEREN: When I was a young girl in 1961, it seemed that that wall was always going to be there, the Berlin Wall. I never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would come down.

BUSH: Well, I think a lot of people felt that way, and when I took office a lot of people felt that way. But it was the long-term objective of the United States that it to come down, and, of course, it did.

And it would not have happened if a Gorbachev had believed in self- determination, letting people choose where the wanted it to be. And down it came. Everybody gets a little taste of freedom, and that's very strong.

VAN SUSTEREN: In seems that important point in our history for the wall start a little bit in the early 1980s, when you were vice president, and Chancellor Kohl decided to get more involved with the Pershing missiles. Am I right about that?

BUSH: Yes, the deployment of the Pershing missiles was a very big yard mark, because most of Europe was worried about it and a lot of people didn't want it.

But when we went ahead and he went ahead and deployed the missiles, that showed a real commitment to the west, you might say. And it was controversial, and he and I got into a couple of big demonstrations against it when I was over here with him. I was vice president then

But I think it was a turning point, I think it was an important point.

VAN SUSTEREN: As I recall, President Reagan dispatched you to come over here and to sell the whole concept of the Pershing missiles here locally in Germany.

BUSH: Not just here but around the rest of Europe, because there were a lot of skeptics in the Netherlands, and everyplace, you name it. And so we had to convince people that this was not detrimental to their own security. They would not be targets because of the deployment of the Pershing II missile.

VAN SUSTEREN: You tell one story I heard where you even got egged, that the motorcade got egged.

BUSH: Yes, we had some eggs thrown at us. But it is -- we get used to it a little bit. It's like going into San Francisco if you're a Republican.

VAN SUSTEREN: It terms of that time, when you helped Chancellor Kohl sell the Pershing missile, did you ever in your wildest dreams thing that that wall would come down?

BUSH: Not then. Not then, I really did not. But things happened really fast. And Gorbachev, with his perestroika and glasnost, carried the day, you might say. I think if it had not been for his vision, it wouldn't have happened. And if it hadn't been for Kohl's determination it wouldn't have happened, and they say, because of unwavering support, it would not have happened, without that, it would not have happened.

I know we had a great team working on it, and they all deserve credit.

VAN SUSTEREN: One of the things I thought it would be the hardest thing to do is to have you take credit for what you did during that time.

And actually I wrote a list, if I can find my list -- is that you presided over the wall coming down. And nobody thought that that wall with come down, but you were president. You presided over the reunification of Germany while you were president. France didn't want it. England didn't want it, but that was done under your watch.

You know, in coming here today, I figured one of the hardest things to do was f for y to take credit for all of the things when you were president about this.

BUSH: I do not deserve credit. We had a team working the problem. We had Brent Scowcroft. Jim Baker was extraordinarily helpful in negotiating with the Russians and with the rest of Europe. It was a team effort, and I was blessed by having a strong team, all of whom were committed to a free Germany in the heart of Europe.

VAN SUSTEREN: I do not want to quibble with you, but it is the historic fact that you're in the middle of it, you were the president when this was happening, and the president gets criticized for things that happen under his watch that are not good, so you ought to take credit for the remarkable things that happen under your watch as well.

BUSH: I would take credit, but my mother is looking down from heaven, and she doesn't like braggarts and she doesn't like people taking a lot of credit. "Give the other guy credit," my mother would say all through life.


VAN SUSTEREN: Up next, President Bush takes you behind the scenes into the Oval Office, the moment he first heard that the Berlin wall was coming down. That's next.



VAN SUSTEREN: Continuing with former president George H.W. Bush from Berlin Germany, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


VAN SUSTEREN: In the months leading up to the wall coming down, let me go back to like the summer before the wall came down in November, what was it like as president. You saw the unrest that was building here in Europe.

BUSH: Yes, you did, and it was probable. You could feel it, but I was not sure it would result in the wall actually coming down. And I think most other people weren't. And these young people particularly got their hammers and started hammering away.

It was inevitable, you might say, but I did not think it would happen as soon as it did.


BUSH: Well, just because it had been there so long and it was so obscene and so tough, and it was patrolled so intolerantly by the Stasi, by the East Germans.

It is funny, you think of Germany divided, and now you come to Berlin and it is united, it is hard to believe that there was this division, this wall separating family from family and certainly ideology from ideology. But down it came and life went on.

VAN SUSTEREN: On the day that it came down, do you remember getting the first word that the first hammer had been hit again the wall. Do you remember that?

BUSH: I think it was in the Oval Office that I heard it from Brent or somebody from the National Secretary Council that it was actually happening, and it was dramatic.

But then I got a little criticism at for not being emotional enough. Why don't you express the emotion of the American people and do what Mitchell and Gephardt suggest, go and dance on the wall with these young people. It would have been the stupidest thing a president, in my view, could do.

We did not know how the Soviet military was going to react. We did not know if they were just going to say to Gorbachev, "Enough. We are not going to be kicked around like this." And so we used a little diplomacy and it all happened peacefully.

But it would have been a crazy idea for the American president to beat his chest and come over here and get three points in the polls and maybe threaten the whole peaceful resolution.

VAN SUSTEREN: There was a lot of uncertainty around the unification of Germany. Margaret Thatcher was not wild about it, what she?

BUSH: No, she had reservations, and so did Mitterrand. And you have to understand both of them had in mind very much their country's being devastated by World War II and World War I. And they had in mind a militant Germany. They did not know if it would be good to have a unified Germany in the heart of Europe.

And my view was Germany has earned the right to have a democracy right there in the heart of Europe. And so we had slight differences. I think they did not come out against it, but they were not enthusiastic, let's put it that way, about the speed at which it was happening.

VAN SUSTEREN: If you did not live through the cold war, it may be hard to understand about how frightened people were. And World War II, of course, the devastation here in Europe, it's hard. Unless you understand it is hard to have a full appreciation of what a huge event it was during your presidency that that wall came down and that there was unification. It was giant.

BUSH: It was major. And I think most people in the United States forget it, but you come to Germany like we did the last couple of days and you see the emotion of the people, it is just great.

VAN SUSTEREN: You never take credit for anything, so I am going to exempt you from this question. Who are the heroes on the wall coming down?

BUSH: I think clearly Gorbachev and clearly Kohl. And I would say the American side deserves credit for persevering and keeping things going forward, bringing Europe onboard, reassuring the Poles that this was not detrimental to their interest, and making the world the understand that this was a good thing for everybody.

So there is plenty of credit to go round, and to that degree we'll take some.

VAN SUSTEREN: In the days and months after the wall came down, I imagine there was a flurry about where the world was going to go. What were your thoughts about what the role of Germany would be in Europe?

BUSH: I think it was a goal of mine that I stated at a speech in Minsk prior to all of this, Europe, Poland free. And I think it became a reality. I think that was a goal, and it proved to be realizable goal.

VAN SUSTEREN: You come here, and you guys are rock stars here because you utterly changed this country, the East Germans, but the way this country as compared to what it is 21 years ago.

BUSH: I think they were very generous in their recognizing all of this. But I'm not sure how many -- I've talked to people about this, how many of the young people in Germany remember the divisions about the wall.

I am sure in our country, people do not remember. They've got soccer games to go to and important events on their own current events calendar. But I think a lot of people do not remember how divisive the wall was and what it meant for freedom when the wall came down.

VAN SUSTEREN: People who did not live to this period of time, I think one of the best ways to see it, there is a big chunk of the wall, and you can see on one side there is beautiful color, crazy graffiti on sections. On the other side it is stark and cold, the communist side. Just the physical piece of the wall is so telling.

BUSH: The imagery that sticks in my mind is a picture of a young man named Peter Fechter, who was shot as he tried to leave East Germany, the GDR, to come to the west, to come to freedom. And they shot him and left him bleeding to death in the sort of no-man's land between the wall and the west.

And you see pictures of the guards, the Stasi, just coming out and dragging him in. That one still lives in my mind.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do what extent do you think you're service in World War II has a bearing on this? I would assume this is a personal matter to you as well as a president.

BUSH: I do not know that it has a direct bearing on how I handled East Germany and the wall coming down situation. But my military service and being in combat with a fierce and enemy in those days, Japan, served me well because I realized that without American power and without American conviction, good things would not have happened.

I also realized that even though Japan was an enemy, they would not be enemies forever. And Japan is a friendly country, a democracy, and we can look at them as a dramatic change from the old imperialist days.

VAN SUSTEREN: With communism, it seems it is disappearing from this planet, but what about North Korea? Do you think we will ever see it go there?

BUSH: Yes, eventually, we will, eventually, there will be some change there. They cannot hold out with this rigid totalitarianism for too much longer, I do not think.

VAN SUSTEREN: It is nice to see you, Mr. President.

BUSH: Thanks for stopping by with your busy schedule, Greta, my gosh.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, and I am sure that all the Germans are absolutely ecstatic to see the three of you here, and what a huge moment in history that wall coming down.

BUSH: It was a wonderful moment, and I think it did bring back a lot of memories for Germans, a lot of good memories.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: We are posting our entire interviews with Secretary Clinton and former President Bush on Check them out.

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