Although the Cold War effectively ended in 1989 with the fall of
the Berlin Wall - some two years after President Ronald Reagan
publicly challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down
this wall!" - many professional historians can not bring themselves
to admit that Reagan played a central role in ending the most
protracted conflict of the 20th century.
When Reagan died two years ago, for example, C. Vann Woodward
said flatly of the Reagan presidency that he knew of "nothing
comparable with this magnitude of irresponsibility and
Fortunately, a stream of younger writers interested in
assembling facts not in making ideological points have emerged.
They are producing first-rate books about the global
accomplishments of our 40th president and how he helped bring down
an evil empire responsible for the deaths of an estimated 100
million men, women, and children.
One of the most impressive of these young historians is Paul
Kengor, author of the best-selling "God and Ronald Reagan," who has
now published another important book: "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan
and the Fall of Communism."
Sifting through 30 years of Soviet media and other archives,
Kengor discovered that the Soviets routinely described Reagan as
"The Crusader" because they understood that he was determined to
eliminate Soviet communism.
As president, Reagan coordinated a sophisticated global campaign
that included aiding freedom fighters in Afghanistan and Nicaragua,
blocking the Soviet oil and gas pipeline, supporting the
anti-communist Solidarity movement in Poland, building up the U.S.
military and launching the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Far from being disengaged from policy-making - as is often
charged by liberal critics - Reagan chaired weekly meetings of the
National Security Council and met personally with John Paul II at
least seven times to discuss Poland and other foreign policy
issues. The close collaboration between Washington and the Vatican
is but one of many revelations offered by the author.
Kengor argues that it was a river and a church that instilled in
young Dutch Reagan the "can-do attitude" that led him as president
to challenge the Soviet empire. For seven summers, during the
1920s, Reagan was a lifeguard at the dangerous Rock River in Dixon,
Ill., where he rescued 77 people.
"These feats of physical daring," Kengor wrote, did wonders for
"Reagan's self-esteem." In the opinion of William Clark, his
national security adviser and personal friend, the rescues also
gave Reagan a basic respect for the dignity and sanctity of human
At the First Christian Church in Dixon, under the guidance of
the Rev. Ben Cleaver and his mother Nelle, young Reagan came to
believe that God had a plan for his life and guided him daily along
"a preordained path that was just and right." This deeply-rooted
confidence, said Kengor, led President Reagan to pursue Cold War
victory "when few put stock in the possibility."
I have studied and written about Ronald Reagan for 40 years, and
yet throughout "The Crusader," I learned something new about
Reagan's lifetime crusade against communism, including his belief
that Poland could be the wedge to knock apart the Soviet
Why did the Cold War end when it did? It is a fact that the
Reagan administration implemented a series of actions, policies and
formal security directives that forced the Soviet Union to abandon
its imperial designs. And it is a fact that the man in charge of
the strategy was Ronald Reagan.
In "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism,"
Kengor skillfully uses the unusual access he had to documents in
the Reagan Presidential Library and the Kremlin archives to make a
compelling case that it was Ronald Reagan more than any other world
leader who brought down Soviet communism and deposited it on the
ash heap of history.
Paul Kengor on the man who was 'The
Lee Edwards: You have studied Ronald Reagan in-depth for many
years. Did you learn anything in your research for "The Crusader"
that surprised you?
Kengor: I found many things that surprised me, beginning with
the word "crusade." I learned that Reagan was committed to a
"crusade for freedom" to liberate the so-called "captive peoples"
of Eastern Europe from Soviet communism, as early as 1950. I was
also surprised to find countless examples of the Soviets calling
Reagan "the Crusader" in their newspaper articles and official
literature throughout the 1980s.
Also, I did not expect some of the things I learned about Nancy
Reagan, including her extraordinary reaction to her husband's near
assassination in 1981, which was shared with me by the Rev. Louis
Evans, their pastor in Washington who kept the moment to himself
for 25 years before sharing it with me.
Edwards: Who was the single greatest influence on President
Kengor: There were several influences, from his mother, Nelle,
to his childhood pastor, Ben Cleaver, to certain authors of certain
books, most notably Harold Bell Wright's "That Printer of Udell's,"
which greatly impacted him as a boy, and Whittaker Chambers'
"Witness," which greatly impacted him as an adult.
Edwards: What is there yet to learn about Ronald Reagan?
Kengor: Quite a lot. He has never been given his due for his
high level of intelligence and intellectual curiosity. To say that
Reagan was dumb is itself a dumb statement, badly misinformed,
badly prejudiced, and almost entirely the product of
Likewise a victim of partisanship were his views on race. Reagan
was racially very tolerant and not at all discriminatory. The mere
suggestion that he was in some way intolerant of minorities is an
outrage, and merely a product of people on the left disagreeing
with certain of his policies and thereby ascribing sinister motives
to those policies.
Another victim of partisanship was his film career, which was
much more rich and commendable than commonly believed. Also
unappreciated was his fierce opposition to abortion, including as
governor, when, ironically, he helped legalize it in California.
Finally, his skills as a negotiator have not been given their due,
a subject I might tackle in a future book.
Edwards: Where would you rank Ronald Reagan among the nation's
Kengor: Reagan established a clear, unequivocal plan and
intention to win the Cold War and to defeat atheistic Soviet
communism. The battle of the 20th century began in Russia in
October 1917, and ended in 1989, the year that Reagan left the
After advancing the frontiers of communism every decade since
its inception, and especially between 1974 and 1979, the Soviet
Union not only quit advancing but reversed and imploded on Reagan's
Few presidents got so much of what they wanted, and so firmly
reversed the tide of history, and did so to ridicule and amid
naysayers everywhere. Reagan won the big battle of the 20th
century. That places him at least in the top two of the 20th
century, and easily the top five for all presidents.
Edwards: I understand you are writing a biography of Judge
William Clark, who served as President Reagan's national security
adviser. Can you give us some idea of what you have learned so far,
especially about the Reagan-Clark relationship?
Kengor: There was no other adviser as close to Reagan and as
important as Bill Clark. It was under Bill Clark from 1982 to 1983
that the foundation to win the Cold War was laid. He was essential.
I'm very much looking forward to publishing this story. Bill
Clark's crucial contribution needs to be recognized.
Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at The Heritage
Foundation (heritage.org), is the author of many books, including
the just-published "
To Preserve and Protect: The Life of Edwin Meese III."
Paul Kengor, "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of
Communism," New York: Regan (Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)
$29.95, 402 pages.