June 26, 2022

President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech

One of the famous quotations linked to the date June 26th is a line President John F. Kennedy spoke in German on June 26, 1963: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

Kennedy used the line twice that day in a historic speech in West Berlin, which was then separated from Communist-controlled East Berlin by the Berlin Wall.

His intention was to express his solidarity with the people there, by symbolically calling himself a citizen of Berlin. And, the literal translation of “Ich bin ein Berliner” is indeed “I am a Berliner.”

However, there’s been a long-running debate over Kennedy’s grammar.

His use of “ein” is the issue.

Ein” does means “a” in English. But Germans use the word “Berliner” without “ein” to mean “a citizen of Berlin.”

They say “Ich bin Berliner” when they want to say the English equivalent of “I am a Berliner.”

The term “ein Berliner” — when used as a noun — refers to the jelly-filled, doughnut-like pastry Germans call “ein Pfannkuchen Berliner” or “ein Berliner” for short.

Similarly, a citizen of Frankfurt, Germany, would say “Ich bin Frankfurter,” rather than “Ich bin ein Frankfurter.” The latter could theoretically be interpreted to mean “I am a hot dog.”

For this reason, Kennedy’s line “Ich bin ein Berliner” has generated both amusement and heated discussion over the years.

Technically, it’s true that what he said in German could be interpreted as “I am a jelly-filled doughnut.”

That’s why some people claim the quote is laughable.

It has also been claimed that West Germans who were there listening to Kennedy laughed at him when he said the line.

On the flip side, some people have claimed “ein Berliner” is grammatically correct when used by someone who is not really a citizen of Berlin. They say the doughnut theory is an urban legend.

My own view is that Kennedy’s grammar was non-standard.

However, much more importantly, the people of West Berlin knew exactly what Kennedy meant when he said “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

They knew he wasn’t talking about a jelly-filled doughnut. And, they found his words inspiring, not laughable.

You can see why by reading or watching a video of Kennedy’s speech.

It’s one of the most famous speeches in history. And, the crowd of more than 120,000 West Germans who were there on June 26, 1963 were cheering loudly — not laughing.

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John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech

Delivered in front of the Berlin Wall at Rudolph Wilde Platz in West Berlin
June 26, 1963

I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

John F Kennedy Ich Bin Ein Berliner speechTwo thousand years ago, the proudest boast was “Civis Romanus sum.” [“I am a Roman Citizen”] Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

I appreciate my interpreter translating my German.

There are many people in the world who really don’t understand, or say they don’t, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin.

There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin.

And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.

And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass’ sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in — to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say on behalf of my countrymen who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride, that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope, and the determination of the city of West Berlin.

While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system — for all the world to see — we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is true of this city is true of Germany: Real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people.

You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you, as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.

And, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

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June 13, 2022

“You have the right to remain silent.”

You probably know the famed “Miranda Rights” warning police are supposed to recite to someone they are arresting.

Even if you’ve never been arrested and heard it spoken by a law enforcement officer in real life, it’s spoken by characters in thousands of TV shows, movies, and books.

The exact language varies from state to state and in fictional uses, but in most cases the key lines are — or are close to — the following:

     “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you?”

Since the late 1960s, those words, especially “You have the right to remain silent,” have become famous. But most people know little about their origin.

The Miranda Rights warning dates back to June 13, 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision on the case Miranda v. Arizona.

That case involved a 22-year-old Arizona man named Ernesto Arturo Miranda.

Miranda had a tough life with a checkered past. By 1966, he had previously been arrested for of a number of crimes, including burglary, vagrancy, armed robbery, being a “peeping Tom,” and car theft. As a teenager, he was sentenced to time in an Arizona “reform school” twice and later spent time in jails in California, Texas, Ohio and Arizona.

In the early 1960s, Miranda was a free man who worked as a laborer at various jobs in Phoenix and generally stayed out of trouble.

Then, on March 2, 1963, an 18-year-old Phoenix woman told police a man had abducted her, driven her into the desert and raped her. Her description of the man’s truck led the police to Miranda. The victim failed to identify him in a line-up. But the police decided to take him into custody and interrogate him. After hours of questioning, Miranda signed a confession. He was soon convicted and sent to jail.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) decided to appeal Miranda’s conviction, after he later claimed he was innocent and that his confession had been coerced. The ACLU focused, among other things, on the fact that Miranda had not been aware of his right under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution not to say anything that would incriminate him. Nor had the police made him aware of that right.

Under the Fifth Amendment, “No person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” That’s the part people are referring to when they “take the Fifth” and refuse to testify about something.

Miranda v. Arizona was appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices ultimately ruled that Miranda’s rights had indeed been violated. The court’s decision included a section that became the basis for what was soon being called “Miranda Rights.”

The relevant text from the court decision says:

“Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has a right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed. The defendant may waive effectuation of these rights, provided the waiver is made voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently. If, however, he indicates in any manner and at any stage of the [384 U.S. 436, 445] process that he wishes to consult with an attorney before speaking there can be no questioning. Likewise, if the individual is alone and indicates in any manner that he does not wish to be interrogated, the police may not question him. The mere fact that he may have answered some questions or volunteered some statements on his own does not deprive him of the right to refrain from answering any further inquiries until he has consulted with an attorney and thereafter consents to be questioned.”

This was boiled down to the lines in the standard Miranda Rights warning spoken to suspects by law enforcement officers. The required wording varies slightly from state to state, but always embodies the basic thrust of the Supreme Court decision.

Unfortunately for Ernesto Miranda, the Supreme Court’s ruling didn’t end his long string of bad luck.

It overturned his initial conviction and set a major legal precedent, but it didn’t actually exonerate him.

The State of Arizona decided to retry Miranda on the rape charge. In the second trial, his confession was not used, but his estranged common law wife testified against him. On March 27, 1967, he was convicted again and sent back to prison.

Although Miranda received a harsh sentence of 20 to 30 years, he was paroled in 1972. Over the next few years, he was arrested several times for mostly minor offences, but he stayed out of serious trouble and became something of a celebrity.

One of the ways he made money in his final years was by selling autographed “Miranda Rights cards” showing the language of the required warning his Supreme Court case had embedded into American law and our language.

In January 1976, Miranda was stabbed to death in the men’s room of a bar in Phoenix, after a dispute over a poker game. A 23-year-old Mexican man who had been there was initially held for the slaying. However, he was not charged due to a lack of evidence and headed back to Mexico.

Among the things found in Ernesto Miranda’s pockets after his death were several autographed Miranda Rights cards.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another quote linked to June 13 is the famed quip by Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” You can read the background on that quotation in my post at this link.

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June 12, 2022

The origin of the proverbial political “smoke-filled room”

Although smoking is either banned or not tolerated in most meetings today, the idea of a meeting of power brokers making deals behind closed doors “in a smoke-filled room” is still a well-known political image and metaphor.

The now-idiomatic “smoke-filled room” was embedded in our language by an Associated Press article filed on June 12, 1920 by reporter Kirke L. Simpson.

That story dealt with the nomination of former Ohio Governor Warren G. Harding as the Republican Party’s candidate in the 1920 Presidential election.

My grade school and high school history books didn’t delve into the backroom machinations leading to Harding’s nomination.

But like other fans of the HBO television series Boardwalk Empire, I learned a bit about the real life characters involved and the wheeling and dealing that went on from watching some of the show’s Season 1 episodes.

Those episodes suggest that Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by actor Steve Buscemi) was instrumental in swinging the nomination to Harding.

While that may be one of a number of fictionalized plot elements in the series, Harding’s nomination was the result of some hard-nosed political deal-making.

In the days leading up to June 12, delegates to the Republican Convention in Chicago had reached an impasse.

Neither of the two leading candidates — former U.S. Army General Leonard Wood and Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden — could gain a majority of delegate votes.

So, on the night of June 11, a small group of top Republican party officials held a private meeting in Suite 404 in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel.

Smoke from their cigars filled the room as they discussed the latest ideas on how to break the deadlock.

Sometime after midnight, they decided to push through the nomination of Harding as a compromise candidate who could win in the key state of Ohio and would be friendly to the Captains of Industry.

The AP story filed by Kirke Simpson that morning famously said:

      “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today as Republican candidate for President.”

Simpson is often credited with coining the phrase “smoke-filled room,” at least in its political sense.

Some sources say that he got the phrase from Harding’s campaign manager, Harry Daugherty (played by actor Christopher McDonald in Boardwalk Empire).

Daugherty allegedly predicted in remarks to reporters:

“The convention will be deadlocked, and after the other candidates have gone their limit, some twelve or fifteen men, worn out and bleary-eyed for lack of sleep, will sit down about two o'clock in the morning, around a table in a smoke-filled room in some hotel and decide the nomination.  When that time comes, Harding will be selected.”

Safire's Political Dictionary, written by the late, great political quote maven William Safire, notes that Daugherty denied saying this.

Either way, the Kirke Simpson’s news story usually gets credit for making “a smoke-filled room” a common political term.

Simpson went on to win the Pulitzer Prize two years later for his series of articles about the burial and tomb of “The Unknown Soldier.”

Harding went on to be elected President of the United States, though he died in office a few years later, after a series of scandals made him a frequent nominee for lists of the worst presidents in history.     

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