Regents Prep: U.S. History: Presidential Decisions:
Head of State
As the Head of State, the office of the presidency serves as the symbolic or ceremonial representation of the United States. An analogy can be made to the Queen of England or the Emperor of Japan, individuals who serve to represent the government to its people, or to represent that government symbolically to the world. In this capacity the president may attend ceremonies or funerals for the heads of foreign governments, or toss the first pitch on baseball's opening day.

NOTE: The examples listed below are selected for their value in study for the Regent's Examination,
and represent a small fraction of the possible examples

Kennedy's speech at the Berlin Wall:
During the heights of the Cold War the divided German city of Berlin remained a sore point in US-Soviet relations. The successful Berlin Airlift in 1948 had assured the survival of the democratic West Berlin and after that event, US troops had remained stationed in the city.

The growing economic disparity between the successful capitalist West Berlin and the economically faltering communist East Berlin created a huge incentive for refugees to migrate westward. The Soviets, seeking to halt the flood of refugees constructed a 20 mile concrete wall, topped with barbed wire and gunman. The Berlin Wall became a symbol of the deepening Cold War and the further division between capitalism and communist governments.

In a symbolic decision, President John F. Kennedy decided to travel to the Berlin Wall and declare US support for the people of West Berlin. In his famous speech at the Berlin Wall Kennedy declared that all free peoples were "citizens of West Berlin" and reaffirmed the support of the western democracies. Kennedy's presence was a symbolic gesture, as US head of state, to symbolize the struggle against communism and America's commitment to supporting democratic governments.

Richard M. Nixon's visit to China:
President Richard M. Nixon's visit to communist China in 1972 was a symbol not of Cold War tension, as Kennedy's trip to West Berlin had been, but instead served to highlight an opening of relations with the communist government. This new approach to the realities of the Cold War world were typified by the philosophy of Realpolitik, which advocated realistic or practical political engagement. 

Following the 1948 communist revolution in China, the United States had refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new government, instead backing the government-in-exile in Taiwan. By 1971 the reality of the situation caught up to Cold War politics and Nixon decided to extend recognition and diplomatic relations to communist China. The American National Ping-Pong team was sent to China in an effort to open relations. This so-called Ping-Pong Diplomacy began to ease tensions between the two nations and symbolized a normalization of relations. This was highlighted in a 1972 visit by Nixon to China which served as a symbolic recognition of the communist Chinese and paved the way for trade and commerce between the two. This opening of trade has now widened to a huge degree, as many US companies have opened production facilities in China, and further penetrate the lucrative Chinese market of 1.2 billion people.


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