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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

“Reagan was the main author of the victory …”

Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism
Peter Schweizer
Doubleday, 2002

“It’s surprising what you can accomplish when no one is concerned about who gets the credit.” This lettered sign stood on Reagan’s desk during his presidency and since it reflected his attitude, he cannot have worried much that his own part in the downfall of Communism has been seriously underestimated, a judgement which Peter Schweizer labours to correct in this book. For its theme, Reagan’s War, was the war against communism. By leaving out other aspects and events which did not touch on it – Israel, the Palestinians, the Lebanon, the Falklands, or the home economy – an exaggerated impression may have been given of Reagan’s singlemindedness. Even the inclusion of the assassination attempt, so nearly successful, is with an emphasis on Reagan’s belief that he had been preserved by God to conduct this war.

Reagan began political life as a Roosevelt-admiring Democrat. He had been aware of the attempt by communists to dominate and subvert the American film industry as early as 1946 and become involved in countering it, almost certainly sidetracking his career as a film star. The Korean War (1950-3) reinforced his attitude and, while still a Democrat he campaigned for Eisenhower, though disappointed later by his lukewarm anti-communism, and even less impressed by Nixon. This was also the time when anti-anti-communism became intellectually fashionable, Reagan encountering it when he was hired by General Electric to host and act in GE Theatre on television. Travelling round the country as the company’s roving ambassador to its plants and business contacts he was able to give speeches entirely based on his own views, unhampered by any kind of censorship. Schweizer distances Reagan from Senator McCarthy, who, he mentions, was initially supported by John F. Kennedy and never censured by him (p. 37). Reagan met Nancy Davis, who became his second wife (after his first wife Jane Wyman left and divorced him) through being asked to exonerate her of communist connections, apparently a case of mistaken identity. Reagan parted from General Electric in 1962; his attacks on the Kennedy Administration were inconvenient when GE was being investigated for price-fixing by the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. Also GE Theatre was, perhaps inevitably, losing its popularity. But he was still in television theatre, and this was the year of his last movie, The Killers. It was also the year in which he met Senator Barry Goldwater, and found they had much in common, politically and in their love of the outdoor Western way of life, typified by horse-riding. Reagan’s fluent speech-making particularly impressed Goldwater, as well as the Republicans who were running him for President. His uncompromisingly anti-communist speech on the eve of the 1964 election made a tremendous impression nationally, but Goldwater still lost in a landslide to Johnson.

Johnson, and Nixon who replaced him in 1968, never fought to win in Vietnam, as Reagan urged, nor does Schweizer suggest that the US public would have been willing to try. The policy of both Republican and Democrat administrations was to accommodate to the Communist powers, in the belief that both the USSR and China would wish to reciprocate, and also help them to some sort of compromise in Vietnam. In fact, the USSR planned and carried out expansion on all fronts, military and nuclear, naval and territorial in Africa and Latin America and finally, Afghanistan.

Reagan was on the sidelines nationally, but had to face local subversion during his terms as governor of California from 1966 to 1974, during riots, takeovers and sit-ins by students on the Berkeley campus. He put himself forward as a Republican candidate for the presidency in 1968, but the party preference for Nixon was overwhelming and Reagan supported him loyally from then on, and even undertook missions for him to Taiwan, South Vietnam and South Korea. He did, however, challenge Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, but lost again. The Carter presidency that followed probably saw US international status at its nadir, culminating in the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Reagan, who this time had won the Republican nomination fairly easily, now beat Carter soundly to enter the White House in 1981.

To put it simply, Reagan now reversed the US foreign policy of detente of more than a decade. “Going against the advice of the majority of his cabinet, Reagan commenced the largest peacetime military buildup in history.” (p. 140) Schweizer does not record how he got the enormous appropriations through Congress. His strategy was not so much one of direct confrontation, as of competition: to keep up, the USSR would end up bankrupt. The bill that Reagan ran up for the USSR to pay is estimated as $36-$44bn per annum. (p. 284) “They cannot vastly increase their military productivity because they’ve already got their people on a starvation diet,” he explained. (p. 141) This strategy, it would be fair to say, did not have popular support, and as the year 1984 for re-election came, he lost support for it from past presidents Ford and Nixon, from Republican business men and State Governors and even key members within his cabinet, but, as his National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane commented, “The president would have willingly lost the second election if it came down to changing his Soviet policy.” (p. 229) Reagan so often persisted in driving through his own policies that it is difficult to see where the idea came from that he was some sort of manipulated puppet, or even went with the flow of some inevitable train of events.

If the home opposition was considerable, to the extent that the Kremlin hoped to rely on it, that of the left in Europe was nearly hysterical. From released KGB and other archives Schweizer documents how much the USSR and East European governments funded the peace movements both in Europe and the USA, as well as terrorists such as the Red Army Faction in West Germany. As a quid pro quo, as it were, Reagan saw to it that arms in large quantities were sent to the anti-communist resistence in Afghanistan. His suggestions for a Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), while mocked by the opposition at home as “Star Wars”, is now known to have really frightened the Russians. That all this might have risks and that Dr Strangelove was actually living in Moscow is illustrated by an anecdote of the applause at a vodka-lubricated party there for a general’s suggestion that the nuclear button should be
pressed now before it was too late. (p. 243)

Gorbachev owed his selection [as Soviet leader by the Politburo] to the pressures Reagan was exerting on the Soviet system,” Schweizer claims. (p. 245) In fact, Gorbachev, recommended by the veteran Soviet politician Gromyko as a new man “with a nice smile but … teeth of iron”, failed, with his glasnost and perestroika, to reform communism and provide both guns and butter. Although the two leaders seemed to have hit it off in personal terms – “Gorbachev immediately started to like Reagan,” recalled a Soviet diplomat (p. 254) – Reagan refused all Soviet disarmament offers, particularly in exchange for abandoning SDI, an irony in that the US has never followed it up.

Communism collapsed after Reagan left office at the end of 1988. In 1989 the system fell like a pack of cards; the USSR could no longer support the East European regimes and first Poland, then Hungary and Czechoslovakia and, in November, East Germany replaced their communist governments, and the Berlin Wall came down. “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Reagan had demanded, speaking at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987. In due course the Soviet Union itself disintegrated and Gorbachev was swept away in the debris of what he had tried to prop up. Doubtless in his comfortable academic position, TIME’s “Man of the Decade” is explaining away the unfortunate accident that brought about this catastrophe.

Reagan is now a tragic victim of Alzheimer’s dementia, a fate bravely announced by himself and given in the last document printed in Reagan In His Own Hand. It is now up to his critics and detractors (and there are plenty of these, vide the Introduction, pp. 1 – 4) to assess his record and agree with, or refute what the Chairman of Solidarity declared in Warsaw in 1989: “Reagan was the main author of the victory of the free world over the ‘evil empire’.” (p. 278)

22 comments to “Reagan was the main author of the victory …”

  • DSpears

    Reagan is in my opinion the greatest president of the 20th century. I have voted Republican for the last 20 years entirely becasue of him, and am thinking about no longer doing so (although there really is no alternative) precisely because that party no longer resembles the party of Reagan.

    Reagan was truely unique amongst US presidents.

    The least told story of the last decade was the information pouring out of the now de-classified Soviet archives. Every anacdote I have seen of these documents suggests that Reagan was dead did more to contribute to the fall of the USSR than anybody, Joseph McCarthy was a lot closer to the truth than his critics, and that the Anti-War and Civil Rights movements of the 60’s were heavily influenced by Soviet espionage.

    But I have never seen this stuff presented in a clear, concise manner. “The Black Book of Comunism” is the closest thing, but that is specifically about what went on inside the various communist countries and what they did to their own people, not the Cold War per se’. A must read for sure.

    If anybody can steer me towards such a thing I would be greatly appreciative.

  • Dan

    Along the lines of fighting Communism and book recommendations, the folks at Calpundit honestly seem to believe there was no Soviet/Communist manipulation of the American Left. I was part of the American Left, and I know damn well Russians used to offer our senior leadership money in exchange for information and services. No one I talked to admitted taking it, but I’m willing to be someone did.

    One example I’ve been thinking about lately is “Covert Action Information Quarterly.” I knew a woman who worked for it, and she was appalled when I suggested that they cover other intelligence agencies than the CIA. Twelve years later, I realized they no advertising and few subscribers, yet kept managing to get the magazine out….

    Anyway, if anyone knows a good compendium of Soviet attempts to influence the American Left, I’d love to know about it.

  • Sandy P.

    –he cannot have worried much that his own part in the downfall of Communism has been seriously underestimated,–

    No, the left has a vested interest in denying an actor and a hawk was right.

    After all, it was Gorby who did it, not RR.

    They will never admit that man was responsible, they’d have to kill themselves.

  • John J. Coupal

    Since this is the evening of the Oscars, it’s an appropriate time to give you evidence of Soviet control of the American Left.

    There is a book entitled “Hollywood Party” that was published a few years ago which I’ve read. (don’t remember the author).

    It details Soviet infiltration of the US motion picture industry during the 1930s and its waning toward the end of the 1940s. Pretty revealing stuff about directors, screenwriters, even set painters, etc. who were communists and created a lot of labor turmoil.

  • Reagan: “Criminal in the eyes of the ICJ”

    It’s suprising how few people now about the ICJ ruling against the Reagan administration for commiting “terrorist actions” against Nicaragua, by placing mines on it’s coasts and by commiting Economic Holocaust. How can one call Reagan one of the greatest Presidents when he is a terrorist under ICJ ruling?

    Media Watch 2004

    –Carpe Diem

  • I was a young G.I. in Germany during the Reagan military buildup. I remember telling German peacenik friends that I loved them, but frankly, they were communist dupes, and their revolutionary heroes (like the Red Army Faction, and the radical labor leaders) were wholly funded subsidiaries of the KGB. This was common knowledge back in the 80’s. The German government’s inheriting of the Stasi’s files, and the opening of the KGB archives, merely provided receipts to document the extent of the corruption of the so-called peace and labor movements.

    Perhaps you can understand my hostility then, toward the current incarnation of the so-called peace movement, and the latest “fair trade” incarnation of the labor movement, featuring the same cast of characters in leadership, with only slightly modified causes. I suppose there is a new generation of high school and college age dupes supporting them, but it’s the same anti-Americanism and anti-West attitude (anti-capitalism, more or less free markets, personal autonomy) that motivates them.

    Simply looking at the big funding of the anti-Iraq war movement (paging George Galloway) hints at this – new MP, new funding source, same old song. But then, the duration of this tactic, top-down funded “grass roots movements” shouldn’t be surprising; many of the enduring tyrants like Saddam, and many of the leading members of the “peace movement” were trained and compensated by the Soviets.

  • Tim in PA

    Triumph over Soviet communism, yes… triumph over communism in general, I don’t think so.

    Until my professors and fellow students wake the hell up and stop extolling the virtues of the PRC and Cuba, we still have a long way to go.

    We need more leaders like Reagan — or Kennedy, for that matter. But the American left sure as hell isn’t providing any, and the right is too busy stepping on their own dick (as usual)

  • Verity

    “It’s suprising how few people now about the ICJ ruling against the Reagan administration for commiting “terrorist actions”.

    What’s not surprising is how few people give a stuff what the ICJ thinks. Especially the people who post on this blog.

  • M. Simon

    The war actually ended in 1987 with the exchage of Defence Ministers. I was working for an American defence contractor at the time. I said to one of my co-workers “the gravy train is over”.

    As to the ICJ and Ronnie – if you look at the results he got you will see that the government he fought turned out to be unpopular with the people of Nicuragua. So though his methods may have been a tad crude (actually an act of war) he was, unlike the Sandanistas, on the side of the people.

  • Sandy P.

    Danny-boy couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Nicaragua. Voted him down 3x.

  • A couple of items…

    Johnson, and Nixon who replaced him in 1968, never fought to win in Vietnam, as Reagan urged, nor does Schweizer suggest that the US public would have been willing to try. The policy of both Republican and Democrat administrations was to accommodate to the Communist powers, in the belief that both the USSR and China would wish to reciprocate, and also help them to some sort of compromise in Vietnam. In fact, the USSR planned and carried out expansion on all fronts, military and nuclear, naval and territorial in Africa and Latin America and finally, Afghanistan.

    This is not a very good interpretation of the events. It is true that Johnson never fought to win, wasting tens of thousands of American lives due to his almost psychotic Vietnam policies. Nixon, however, effectively won the Vietnam War except for one factor: US public opinion. Kissinger worked successfully on splitting the Chinese and USSR, and tried to get the USSR economically dependent on the US. Nixon ultimately took the necessary steps to win: interdicting supply lines by mining Haiphong harbor, cutting (temporarily) the Ho Chi Minh trail by invading Cambodia, and removing restrictions of bombing targets and unleashing the Operation Linebacker bombing campaign of Christmas, 1972. This led to an immediate acceptance of a truce by the North Vietnamese (and the communist front PRG of South Vietnam).

    The anti-war movement in the US, combined with the Republican loss of political power due to the Watergate affair, removed the ability of Nixon and later Ford to maintain the victory. A crucial part of the Communist strategy, which Johnson played into, the US press was happy to support, John Kerry played a crucial part in, and the US left was happy to support was the destruction of US will. By the time Nixon took office, it was probably too late for him to reverse this trend (although Reagan, with his charisma and rhetorical powers might possibly have done so).

    The ultimate result was laws which not only prohibited the US from offering any military assistance to South Vietnam (to maintain the truce), but starved the South Vietnamese military for supplies. That this movement was crucial to the success of the Communists has been stated by General Giap (North Vietnamese Chief of Staff) and others, including “A Vietcong Memoir” by Troung Nhu Tang, a founder of the NLF whose autobiography I finished reading last night. See here for a history not written by left-wing university professors.

    The Soviet expansionism took place largely under Carter, who was incredibly naive about Soviet intentions (until they invaded Afghanistan late in his term). These communist actions were greatly aided by the perception, due to the Vietnam failure, that the US was an unreliable ally and a paper tiger. Although the left refuses to admit this, that expansionism was the validation of the much derided “domino theory” which was one of the major stated reasons for the Vietnam War. Uncharacteristically, Reagan, early in his term, reinforced the paper tiger view by pulling out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing.

    None of this is meant to detract at all from Reagan’s achievements. Against the left wing congress that had castrated Nixon and Ford, Reagan was able to fight the communists in many ways, and to replace Keenan’s containment doctrine with the Reagan doctrine. Just in the western hemisphere, he invaded Grenada, helped suppress the communist rebellion in El Salvador, and through aid to the Contras, helped paved the way to forcing democratic elections in Nicaragua (1990) in which the communists were ejected from power (to the visible weeping of some members of the US press corps).

  • John SF

    As a an anti-Soviet left winger at the time (yes, there were some of us about) I had my doubts about some aspects of Reagan’s policies, but I always thought rebuilding Western, “zero-option” cruise missile deployment, SDI research etc. I was worried though, that the conventional military build up and the budget deficits might lead to severe economic “overstretch”.

    Perhaps an irony of history may be that the Soviets played a part in avoiding that problem by being dumb as rocks.

    Instead of “Potemkining” their military to cut back costs but avoiding giving the West reason to follow suit, they kept on spending. And Gorbachev’s glasnost put the cart before the horse by trying to “reform” politics (probably to use “open-ness” as a tool for KGB to pressurise state and party bureaucrats) as the first step. The Chinese rulers were smarter (unfortunately), reforming the economy (especially farming) while retaining the police-state apparatus, and retain their political power now while their ecomy expands. If the Soviets had done similar, how much longer might they have lasted?

  • Rob Read


    International Communist Junta?

  • Rick

    I agree with John Moore. Nixon actually won the Vietnam War. By 1973 the South Vietnamese were doing all the fighting, the Viet Cong and the North were no longer effective, the US had greatly reduced the number of its troops in Southeast Asia, and the cost of ongoing support was easily sustainable. Then the U.S. withdrew because Watergate discredited Nixon and because the Left wanted Nixon to lose in Vietnam.

    I disagree with the perception on this board that only Reagan was willing to defend American liberty and free markets. The war has never been against Communism or any other “ism” per se. It has been against the eternal siren song (dating back at least to Plato) of central planning. In this broader sense, George W. Bush is at least as effective as Reagan. Before Bush, America truly was a “paper tiger”, due to its unwillingness, after Vietnam, to seriously prosecute a real war. Even Bush the elder’s Gulf War was limited in that he not only left Hussein in power, but did not stop the slaughter of Kurd and Sunni rebels.

    George W. Bush is expanding the Reagan policy of maintaining a strong military. It is not enough to have a great military capacity. You must also demonstrate that you are willing and able to use it.

    I only hope that the American public is wise enough to follow-through with the aggressive defense of liberty that George W. Bush has initiated.

  • David Mercer

    See here for The Strategy of Technology, the seminal work by Stephan T. Possony, Jerry Pournelle (yes, that one), and Francis X. Kane. It details the type of economimc, technological warfare that the US had been unconsciously engaging against the Soviet Union with since the early Cold War.

    It’s central realization is this: That a totalitarian expansionist system such as the Soviets is playing the game to win (take over the world), while nations such as the US are playing the game for the sake of continuing to play (continue to pursue greater Life, Liberty and a smoother Pursuit of Happiness for each successive generation).

    The game-theoretic difference that assures that a sufficiently large society based on free enterprise and individual liberty will triumph over a centrally planned economy is primarily it’s greater efficiency and speed of ability to respond to changing conditions.

    These fundamental economic differences assure that while yes, it’s possible to for us to collapse in an overheated deficit driven military expansion, that the closed, centrally planned economy will collapse first if they are pursuing ever advanced military technology at an equivalent pace.

    For this to occur, they need to be sufficiently convinced of our will, and scared enough to respond in kind.

    This strategy was followed in a pell mell fashion, and in an increasingly structured way after the publication of The Strategy of Technolgy and it’s adoption by the American War Colleges. But it had no champion from the top to put the fear of God into the Soviets that was needed for it’s end game to come about.

    The opportunity to implement this vision was indeed the single over-riding concern that internally pushed Reagan to run. Everything else in his administration was indeed seen through the lens of how it would effect this overarching struggle. His personal contact with Dr. Pournelle and his wife (who indeed first suggested to him that he enter politics directly and run for governor) led him to become familiar with his work, and to come to believe that this was indeed the only way to beat the Soviets without blowing up the world.

    The sections on guerilla warfare and terrorist insurgents, while not the central focus of the work, also has many valuable gems to contribute to the current War on Terror. Chief among them are a clear taxonomy to distinguish different types of civil/guerilla/terrorist movements by their strategic goals and means, and how to fight them differently.

    Back on topic, Ronnie was indeed the charismatic leader needed to single handedly shepherd this vision through to completion. Looks to me like we are entering the same situation vis a vis China in this century. Sigh, those who read history are doomed to watch those who don’t repeat it!

  • David Mercer

    Oh, additionally, all of the above is in support of my main point: That Reagan was the actor who carried out a plan authored by the good Drs. mentioned above. ‘Actor’ in the sense of one who takes action. But it overlaps nicely with his prior profession. 🙂

  • Nate

    *sniff* *sniff*….a great man. Still today, his speaches make my heart swell and my eyes misty. He is and will be missed.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Unfortunately, China is a rather harder nut to crack… The links between economic freedom and political freedom has yet to be conclusively proven. One does not necessarily lead to the other.

    Not that I won’t appreciate a revolution in that country in the near future, hopefully a bloodless one. Yeah, I’ll admit that’s truly unhinged optimism.

    The Wobbly Guy

  • The Falklands War most certainly did have an impact in the Cold War. The Soviets admitted as much to Thatcher, telling her that they calculated after the invasion that Britain surely wouldn’t fight, and that even if she did she would lose. They never forgot that Maggie proved them wrong on both counts, and that the free world had a strong and brave warrior in Europe.

  • Kirk Parker

    David Mercer,

    > Jerry Pournelle (yes, that one)

    What, are there two??? 🙂

    Joking aside, I suppose it means you think most folks will know him only for his Science Fiction or his computer column.

    At any rate, thanks for posting the link. More people should be aware of SOT.

  • Findlay Dunachie

    For John Moore (Useful Fools)

    Recognition from your comment on my review of Hayward’s “The Age of Reagan 1964-80” under the title The Fall of the Old Liberal Order. You may well be right, but some may say that Nixon could have done better if he had operated from a simple conviction like Reagan did. But it is certain that the USA lost more because it was sabotaged by the US left than for any other reason.

  • Kirk: Yeah, most people aren’t aware that he was in defense (militar and Boeing?) and politics (Deputy Mayor of LA) before he became a full time writer.

    Unfortunately we seem to not have a purposeful Technology Strategy in the US anymore, and just trust that tech will march apace. Which is one of the fallacies the book covers.