Delivered on November 1, 2006
LEE EDWARDS, Ph.D.: When Ronald Reagan died on June 5,
2004, the highly respected presidential historian Michael
Beschloss recalled that after Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in
1945, The New York Times predicted that "men will thank God
on their knees a hundred years from now that Roosevelt had been
president to fight Hitler and Tojo." It is not too much to suggest,
said Professor Beschloss, that Americans would give similar
thanks that they twice elected Ronald Reagan, a President who saw
the chance to end the Cold War in his own time.
Not everyone agreed with Professor Beschloss's tribute to
Reagan, among them the historian C. Vann Woodward, who before his
own death in 1999 had once said of Iran-Contra that he knew of
"nothing comparable with this magnitude of irresponsibility and
incompetence." CBS's Morley Safer said of the late President, "I
don't think history has any reason to be kind to him."
Well, fortunately for history, Mr. Safer's not writing it.
Brilliant young scholars like Paul Kengor, our guest speaker today,
are. Dr. Kengor is an associate professor of political science at
Grove City College, the author of two best-selling books, God
and Ronald Reagan and God and George W. Bush. But I
happen to know that foreign policy is Paul's passion, and I think
he has written his finest work in The Crusader: Ronald Reagan
and the Fall of Communism.
I've studied and written about Ronald Reagan for 40 years, and
yet on nearly every page of The Crusader I learn something
new about Reagan's lifetime crusade against Communism; about his
eloquent leadership against the attempted Communist takeover of
Hollywood's trade unions after World War II; about his
insightful analysis of the aims and weaknesses of the Soviet Union
before he entered the White House; about his understanding that
Poland could be the wedge that knocked apart the evil empire, and
of his close relationship with Pope John Paul II-I had no idea
until I read Paul's book that the President and the Pope had met at
least seven times; I think that's a new fact that is not generally
known-about the central importance of National Security
Decision Directive 75 that outlined an American strategy to
win the Cold War; about the deep-rooted anger and growing fear
within the Kremlin about the Strategic Defense Initiative and
other Reagan initiatives which ultimately forced the Soviets to
abandon the arms race and end the Cold War at the bargaining table
and not on the battlefield.
In The Crusader, Paul Kengor skillfully uses the unusual
access he had to documents in the Reagan Presidential Library and
the archives in the Kremlin to make a most convincing case
that it was Ronald Reagan, more than any other world leader, who
brought down the Soviet Union and deposited it on the ash heap
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the author of this riveting and
most important work, Dr. Paul Kengor.
Lee Edwards, Ph.D.,
is Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought in the B. Kenneth
Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
He is also an adjunct professor of politics at Catholic University
of America and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial
PAUL KENGOR: I remember sitting in a coffee shop in Grove
City almost ten years ago. I was trying to figure out a way to
get funding to do research to do this book, to go to the Reagan
Library and do the traveling that I needed to do. Lee gave me some
suggestions, one of which was a fellow from Pittsburgh named
B. Kenneth Simon, who is the founder of the Simon Center here at
The Heritage Foundation. Ken was the first to provide a grant
for this book. So there are a number of people here at
Heritage that I think are at least partly responsible for me
even starting this in the first place. Thank you.
I'm going to start today with a story that I used to start the
book. Stepping out of his house on the morning of August 2, 1928,
Ronald "Dutch" Reagan was expecting another scorcher. He walked
across the street to the Graybills' house, Ed Graybill, who owned
the beach at Lowell Park in Illinois. He would get a ride to Lowell
Park to the beach every day with Mr. Graybill.
It was another humid-beyond-any-reasonable-expectation day in
the Midwest in Illinois in August. So on this day, a lot of people
in Dixon did what they always do in the summer and headed off
to Lowell Beach to cool off in the water. On afternoons like that,
the person watching over them was Ronald "Dutch" Reagan, this
17-year-old lifeguard. This was a particularly dreadful day; it
felt like the sun would never set. Fortunately, it finally did
after he spent about 12 hours at the beach. Reagan worked at the
beach about 12 hours a day, seven days a week, all summer long for
seven consecutive summers.
On this day, after hours on the beach, after the sun had set, a
party of four, two boys and two girls, were looking to have some
fun. They surreptitiously slipped into their bathing suits
downshore and made their way down toward the beach area. Among them
was a young man named James Raider from Dixon who wasn't the
proficient swimmer that he thought he was.
About 9:30 pm, Ronald "Dutch" Reagan and Mr. Graybill were
closing up the bathhouse at the park, getting ready to go home, and
they heard splashing in the water: James Raider had been sucked
under. The group came running over toward Mr. Graybill and Ronald
Reagan, yelling and screaming for help. Dutch Reagan sprinted to
the water and dove into the darkness. There was a major struggle in
the black water; the witnesses recall splashing, yelling, arms
flailing in the air.
Suddenly, a mass of human appendages came in their direction:
Reagan with one arm hooked under James Raider's armpit and the
other arm digging as hard as he possibly could. Reagan brought
Raider to shore, dragged him onto the grass, and started
artificial respiration. The party was no longer in a
partying mood; the sense of festiveness was now muted by a
sense of horror. They watched, hoped, probably prayed, and
eventually Raider responded.
Exhausted, Raider was taken back to his home, given a new lease
on life, and Ronald "Dutch" Reagan just drove home with Mr.
Graybill and, at some point that night, just went to bed. His
parents were probably in bed when he got home.
The next morning, if his parents, Jack and Nell Reagan, asked
how his day was yesterday at the breakfast table, Reagan could have
said it wasn't especially unusual. It was the second
near-drowning in two weeks.
This early rescue gave Reagan one of his first tastes of
notoriety; the front page of the Friday, August 3, 1928, Dixon
Evening Telegraph carried a top-of-the-fold headline that read,
"James Raider Pulled from the Jaws of Death," about the rescue that
evening made by "lifeguard Ronald 'Dutch' Reagan." The newspaper
informed readers that it was Reagan's 25th save.
This was Reagan's first page-one headline. He shared the top of
the fold with a story about King George, who was reportedly
enthusiastic about the Kellogg-Briand pact to outlaw war, and along
with the customary story on election fraud in Chicago, which was
always carried in the Dixon Evening Telegraph. This was
the first time of many times that Dixonites could open their paper
and read about Reagan's latest heroic exploits. And the
Dixon Telegraph-this was a small-town
newspaper-would keep a running tally of Dutch Reagan's saves.
Can-Do Willingness. So why mention this? Why am I
beginning a talk on Reagan and the end of the Cold War by talking
about Ronald "Dutch" "Lifeguard" Reagan? The reason is, I believe
it's not an exaggeration to draw a straight line from Reagan at the
Rock River to Reagan at the White House. When Reagan was once asked
as President about his favorite job ever, you would think that
somebody with the resume that he had might say, "Well, I have my
favorite job right now," or maybe "a certain job in Hollywood," or
maybe "being a radio broadcaster." He said, "My beloved
lifeguarding"-that's how he put it-"may be the best job I ever
had." For seven summers, Reagan was the rock at the Rock
River, and he saved the lives of 77 people from drowning.
I have students who are lifeguards, some of whom have saved
people and others who never saved anybody, but Reagan worked this
absolutely wretched river: dark, murky. When I took my two sons to
the river about four or five years ago, I held their hands very
tightly as we stood by this pier because I didn't want them to go
into that thing. Swirling, murky, debris floating down the
river-I figured I'd probably never get them back. In fact,
swimming there today is banned; that's how treacherous it is.
And yet Reagan never lost a single save in those seven years.
Previous lifeguards had lost people. Ed Graybill's wife said, "We
never had a basket of clothes left behind."
The object here is not to transform Ronald Wilson Reagan
into a political superhero. That's not what I'm trying to do, nor
am I trying to focus totally on these positives to the
exclusion of any negatives. But these were very real rescues,
and there were more. Reagan notched a number of other saves in the
In fact, he returned the year after he graduated from Eureka
College and had quit lifeguarding. His buddy was working the beach,
and he asked Reagan if he would watch the beach for a few minutes.
So Reagan did, and Reagan said, "Would you believe it? Somebody
started drowning." And he had to go in and save him. That was
There is evidence that he saved a couple of people from a
pool in Iowa when he was there working at WHO as a radio
broadcaster, and even once when he was governor when they held a
reception at the governor's pool to celebrate the end of the
legislative season. A little girl fell in the water off the side of
the pool, and Reagan the governor sat there and watched, started
tracking in his head exactly how long she was under, and that was
it: He sprinted along the side of the pool and dove in with all his
clothes on. The guests were a little shocked by that.
All of this, these feats of physical daring, impacted him
greatly. This formed an indelible mark on his psyche, and I think
that this shaped Reagan not just as a person of immense confidence,
but as a President of remarkable ambition, of can-do
willingness. That's the point here. This really changed this man
and affected him.
When he was President, they called it the "Teflon presidency"
because nothing unseemly would stick to him. Walter Cronkite: "I'm
amazed at this Teflon presidency! Reagan is even more popular than
Roosevelt, and I never thought I'd see anyone that well
liked. Nobody hates Reagan; it's amazing." Even the Soviet talked
about his "Teflon qualities," as they put it, and Teflon
I think you can ascribe this Teflon nature to his confidence as
well; it was unshakable. David McCullough, the great historian,
says that every President has this hidden intangible that no one
really knows about going in, but it ends up being so crucial to
what that President eventually does: Lincoln's "depth of
soul," as McCullough put it; Truman's character. "What's
essential is invisible," says McCullough. With Reagan, I think that
invisible crucial trait was his confidence.
Crusading for Freedom. Let me give you some examples of
how that confidence related to what he did in the Cold War. As
early as 1950, Ronald Reagan was committed to ending the USSR, or
at least ending the Cold War and liberating Eastern Europe,
liberating the people of the Soviet empire, the so-called captive
people of the captive nations. I call the book The Crusader
because Ronald Reagan referred to it as a crusade-not a religious
crusade, but a crusade for freedom, as he put it.
In fact, in 1950 he joined a group formed by General Lucius Clay
called the Crusade for Freedom that was committed to that exact
purpose and even made ads using his Hollywood persona to make
pitches for the Crusade for Freedom. That same year, he joined
another group, Dr. Fred Schwarz's Christian Anti-Communism Crusade,
which was in particular motivated by the institutionalized
atheism of the Soviet system.
Fifty years ago this week, in October-November 1956, what
happened? The Hungarian Revolution: 10 thousand, 30 thousand
Hungarians yearning for freedom, thinking that maybe under
Khrushchev they can get a break. Soviet tanks rolled in and killed
10,000 to 30,000 Hungarians. Ronald Reagan at the time was the host
of "GE Theater" in Hollywood on CBS, 9:00 p.m., once a week. It ran
from 1954 to 1962 and was extremely popular. In fact, it passed "I
Love Lucy" within just weeks of its debut and was quickly the
number one show on TV, and it remained at that top spot for a
number of years.
People don't appreciate this: You don't get Reagan without
Hollywood in so many ways, one of which was that Hollywood made him
enormously popular. It made him a household name. In 1956 and 1957,
already two out of every three American homes had a TV set, and
those TV sets didn't get 120 channels; most of them in most markets
got two. And you'd turn it on once a week, and there would be
Ronald Reagan, introducing "GE Theater" and also acting in more of
the episodes than any other person who was involved in the
Hungary happens in October-November 1956. Ronald Reagan a few
weeks later does a "GE Theater" broadcast. When the show
ended, he walked out to give his customary goodbye and plug for GE
products, and then he added this: "Ladies and gentlemen, about
160 thousand Hungarian refugees have reached safety in Austria.
More are expected to come. These people need food, clothes,
medicine and shelter. You can help." He told his fellow
Americans to send donations to the Red Cross or to the church
or synagogue of their choice.
From what I can tell, this was the great communicator's
first use of the TV bully pulpit on behalf of Eastern Europeans. He
was committed then and there to someday, if he ever had the
possibility and he ever got into power, not sitting still if
something like this happened while he was President. By the way,
his sympathies were shared by a priest in Krakow, Poland,
named Karol Wojtyla, who one day, with Reagan, would join him in
that. So he believes here that you can liberate the Soviet empire,
that you can do this.
In May 1967, Ronald Reagan debated Robert F. Kennedy on national
television. CBS broadcast it, and they believed it was watched by
about 15 million people. It wasn't really a debate between
Reagan and RFK. It was really Reagan and Kennedy against a group of
about 20 incredibly rude international students. Total moral
equivalency: At one point when Reagan said that the people of China
have never elected their leader, meaning Mao Tse-tung, the students
laughed as if that was a ridiculous statement to make.
Reagan, in that debate in May 1967, publicly called for the
removal of the Berlin Wall. That was 20 years before the speech at
the Brandenburg Gate. In fact, there are about 12 examples of
Reagan calling for the Berlin Wall to be torn down publicly before
the Brandenburg Gate speech in June of 1987.
Courage to Do What Is Right. The "Time for Choosing"
speech that Reagan gave on behalf of Goldwater was October 1964. He
took excerpts from that speech and put them in his 1965 book,
Where's the Rest of Me? That was his first
autobiography, taken from a movie line. Reagan said, in
reference to the Cold War:
A policy of accommodation is appeasement, and appeasement does
not give us a choice between peace and war, only between fight and
surrender. We are told that the problem is too complex for a simple
answer; they are wrong. There is no easy answer, but there is a
simple answer. We must have the courage to do what we know is
morally right, and this policy of accommodation asks us to
accept the greatest possible immorality. We are being asked to
buy our safety from the threat of the atomic bomb by selling into
permanent slavery our fellow human beings enslaved behind
the Iron Curtain, to tell them to give up their hope of
freedom-why? Because we are ready to make a deal with their
In the 1970s, in Reagan's view, this is what détente
would do. It was saying the Russians have their sphere of
influence; we have ours; we need to learn how to get along; we need
to understand that they will always exist, that that's the Soviet
empire; we have our side, and they have their side. Reagan said
that is the greatest immorality because it meant accepting the
permanent subjugation of the people of Eastern Europe. He also
added-again, this is 1964-1965-that a nation which opted for this
kind of a course was opting for disgrace. Reagan wrote:
Alexander Hamilton warned us that a nation which can prefer
disgrace to danger is prepared for a master and deserves a
master. Admittedly, there is a risk in any course we follow;
choosing the high road cannot eliminate that risk. But should
Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery rather
than dare the wilderness? Should Christ have refused the cross?
Should the patriots of Concord Bridge have refused to fire the shot
heard round the world? Are we to believe that all the martyrs of
history died in vain?
He wasn't going to do that. He wanted to become President, first
and foremost, for the purpose of undermining Soviet Communism.
Richard V. Allen, who became Reagan's first National Security
Adviser before Bill Clark, was there throughout 1981. He was a
foreign policy adviser for Reagan in the latter 1970s. He talks
about visiting Reagan in California in January 1977. Allen went
there to recruit Reagan because Allen wanted to run for governor of
New Jersey. They were talking about foreign policy.
Then Reagan spoke up, and he said, "You know, Dick, my idea of
American policy toward the Soviet Union is simple and some would
say simplistic. It is this: We win and they lose. What do you think
of that?" Allen was taken aback by that, and instead of recruiting
Reagan to do a commercial for him to run for governor, he joined
Reagan's crusade and signed onto the campaign and committed to
trying to win the White House.
The next year, November 1978, Dick Allen, Ronald Reagan, Peter
Hannaford, and their wives- Nancy was there as well-went to the
Berlin Wall. This was Reagan's first visit to the Berlin Wall. They
watched this East German police go up with an AK-47 and poke some
shoppers, make them drop their bags, open their bags: "What do you
have in there?" This is just a routine shopping trip in the
worker's paradise, presumably. Reagan was outraged at this,
absolutely livid, and when he saw the Berlin Wall, according to
Allen, Reagan said, "We have got to find a way to knock this thing
"An Era of National Renewal." In January 1981, he finally
got that chance, he believed. On January 20, 1981, in his Inaugural
Address, which he wrote himself, the former Dixon lifeguard set out
a new rescue mission: America. Reagan pledged himself to "an era of
national renewal." We had to restore America to greatness. If you
looked at The New York Times the next day, that's what they
quoted at the top of the fold: "Reagan Promises an Era of National
Renewal." The line underneath that says, "Fifty-Two American
Hostages Flown to Freedom after a 444-Day Ordeal." It couldn't have
been a better start.
Reagan, when he was being inaugurated that day, had his mother's
Bible open to II Chronicles 7:14, and his mother, Nell, had
scribbled in the margin: "A wonderful verse for the healing of a
nation." That's what he was committed to. Once he believed that
America was back on track, in January 1982, he got together his new
National Security Adviser, Bill Clark, and his National Security
team, and he said, "Gentleman, we've been focusing on the economy
and the domestic situation in the first year, and now is the time
to roll our sleeves up and begin focusing on foreign policy."
Here, too, was another rescue mission that many thought
impossible: The former lifeguard was going to try to rescue the
captive peoples behind the Soviet Union. He wanted to liberate
them. He wanted to play the role of world savior.
March 1983: The "Evil Empire" Speech. Why did Reagan use
such strong language, that biblical language? Everybody knew that
the Soviet system took away basic civil liberties, that it was
responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people. We don't
know how many people were killed in the Soviet Union. I think the
Black Book of Communism says about 25 million; it could be
40, 50, 60 million.
Those things appalled Reagan, but the other thing that appalled
Reagan was this "war on religion," as Mikhail Gorbachev put
it, that the Soviets pursued. Vladimir Lenin wrote to Maxim Gorky
in 1913, "There is nothing more abominable than religion."
They compared religion to venereal disease. Lenin called it a
"necrophilia." Marx, who of course had said that religion is the
"opiate of the masses," had also said in a less well-known quote,
"Communism begins where atheism begins."
Communists were brutal to all religious believers:
Christians, Jews, Muslims. Solzhenitsyn talks about how nuns were
put in special sections of the Gulag with prostitutes because the
Soviet deemed them, in their language, "whores to Christ." This was
an appalling place. The government wasn't neutral on religion. They
didn't have a separation of church and state; the official position
was atheism. That's not a position of neutrality; that's a position
by the state that there is no God.
So Reagan said, "This place is evil. It's not just bad; it's
evil." A few days after this, he had dinner with Nancy and Stuart
Spencer. Stuart Spencer was a political adviser, a political
moderate, independent, very good friend of Nancy, and the
three of them would often have dinner together. Spencer and Nancy
were criticizing Reagan for using this language, for calling it an
evil empire. Finally Reagan waved them off and said, "It is
an evil empire, and it's time to shut it down."
Gorbachev was chosen March 11, 1985. He was 54 years old. Unlike
a lot of other Reagan conservatives, I give Gorbachev a lot of
credit for what happened here, but I still think there is some
misunderstanding as to what exactly he intended. First and
foremost, Gorbachev's principal goal was to hold the Soviet Union
together. He didn't want a Stalinist Soviet Union, but
glasnost and perestroika were all about holding it
together. He also wanted the Soviet bloc, Eastern Europe, to remain
a part of the Soviet Union.
Read his 1987 book, Perestroika, written to the West,
published by Harper and Row, a best-selling book. "The goal of
perestroika," said Gorbachev, "is to make the Soviet Union richer,
stronger, better; raise it to a qualitatively new level." He almost
mockingly said to Reagan, "So do not rush to toss us on the ash
heap of history; the idea only makes Soviet people smile. The idea
that our country is an evil empire, the October Revolution is a
blunder of history, and the post-revolution period a zigzag in
history, is coming apart at the seams."
Actually, something was coming apart at the seams, but it wasn't
that. "We sincerely advise Americans, try to get rid of such an
approach to our country. Nothing will come of these plans." He was
addressing that to Reagan.
Also, Gorbachev to this day speaks very highly of Vladimir Lenin
for reasons that I don't totally understand. Gorbachev was never a
dictator, never a totalitarian, and today considers himself a
social democrat-in fact, he says Spain is his ideal form of
government. But for some reason, he has always had this love of
Lenin. Page 25, Perestroika:
The works of Lenin and his ideals of socialism remain for
us an inexhaustible source of dialectical creative thought,
theoretical wealth, and political sagacity. Lenin's very image is
an undying example of lofty moral strength, all-around spiritual
culture, and selfless devotion to the cause of the people and to
socialism. Lenin lives on in the minds and hearts of millions of
With regard to the October 1917 Revolution, he said, "as
perestroika continues, we again and again study Lenin's works."
Gorbachev said that "the present course" on which he was embarking
was a "direct sequel to the great accomplishments started by the
Leninist Party in the October days of 1917."
And in case there was any confusion among professors
teaching at universities in America at the time, Gorbachev issued a
There are different interpretations of perestroika in the
West, including in the United States. Perestroika does not signify
disenchantment with socialism; nothing could be further from
the truth. Those in the West who expect us to give up socialism
will be disappointed. It is high time they understood this. I
want it to be clearly understood that we, the Soviet people, are
for socialism. How can we agree that 1917 was a mistake? We have no
reason to speak about the October Revolution and socialism in
a low voice, as though ashamed of them. Our successes are immense
One more phrase from Gorbachev, a definitive sentence in his
book Perestroika: "The policy of perestroika puts
everything in place. We are fully restoring the principle of
socialism, 'From each, according to his ability; to each, according
to his needs.'" That's Marx.
What Gorbachev said in the book about the Soviet bloc was almost
offensive. Speaking of Hungary in 1956, Poland in 1956,
Czechoslovakia in 1968, all examples of thousands of
freedom-seeking people being killed, Gorbachev said this: "Through
hard and at times bitter trials, the socialist countries
accumulated their experience in carrying out socialist
transformations," as if the suffering they went through was
necessary for the advancement of socialism. And the Soviet bloc
today, in the 1980s, according to Gorbachev: "Now we can safely
state that the socialist system has firmly established itself in a
large group of nations, that the socialist country's economic
potential has been steadily increasing, and that its cultural
and spiritual values are profoundly moral and that they ennoble
Within two years of the publishing of the book, all these people
did precisely the opposite of what Gorbachev said that they were
going to do in 1987. They threw off those systems. He couldn't have
been more wrong.
"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall." One more thing from
Perestroika. Gorbachev refers to the Berlin Wall: "West and
East Germany are divided by an international border passing, in
particular, through Berlin." That's almost a euphemism. It was a
concrete wall with barbed wire across the top of it, where the
guards in East Germany faced east, not west, and shot hundreds of
people who tried to come through.
Caspar Weinberger, who I interviewed for this book, told me,
"Make me a promise. You're a teacher. You have audiences of
young folks. Any time you ever mention the Berlin Wall, can you ask
the audience this question?" I said, "Sure, go ahead." He
said, "Ask them in what direction the guards faced."
The answer, of course, is east. That's the only barrier or
wall I know of in all of human history where they put up a wall to
keep people from leaving rather than to keep the enemy from
invading. They didn't have to face west; no one was crazy enough to
come over from the West. They just had to guard the East.
Which brings us to June 1987, the Brandenburg Gate. Ronald
Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear
down this wall." Why did Reagan say that? Because Reagan understood
that the one person who had the power to tear down that wall was
Mikhail Gorbachev, and if he was really the almost mythological
figure canonized by Western hagiographers and Ivy League
professors, then he should go and tear down the Berlin Wall.
In May 1988, one year later-we now know this; the documents were
declassified in 2000-in the memoranda of conversation from the
Moscow Summit, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev were
sitting there, one on one, facing one another. Igor Korchilov
was the translator, and Reagan asked Gorbachev to his face:
"About a year ago I called on you to tear down the Berlin Wall.
Sir, would you do that?" And Gorbachev said, "No, I won't tear down
the Berlin Wall. I'm not going to tear that down." When it
happened, he didn't stand in the way. A few years later, Gorbachev
was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Ronald Reagan, of course,
never will be.
Although he didn't use force to hold the Soviet bloc together,
Gorbachev and his lieutenants used force in some of the Soviet
Republics in January 1991, which the New Republic and
National Review alike absolutely excoriated Gorbachev for
doing. Eduard Shevardnadze resigned and said dictatorship is
coming. Boris Yeltsin was outraged.
So does Gorbachev deserve any credit? Yes, of course he does.
One, he ended Article VI in the Soviet Constitution,
which guaranteed the Communist Party's monopoly on political power
in the USSR. Gorbachev introduced political pluralism into the
Soviet Union. The best book on Gorbachev and one of the most
favorable is by Oxford professor Archie Brown. It's called The
Gorbachev Factor. Brown points out that it had never been
Gorbachev's initial intention to introduce full-fledged political
pluralism into the USSR. That wasn't his purpose. You know whose
purpose it was? Reagan's. It's listed in National Security
Decision Directive 32 and NSDD 75, and Tom Reed, an influential
National Security Council staff member, gave a speech in 1983
talking about how that was their goal. Reagan was on record as
trying to accomplish that. Nonetheless, Gorbachev broke the
Communist Party's monopoly on power.
Two, he strongly repudiated nuclear war.
Three, he spurned the idea of global Communism and
that Soviets would ever want a one-world Communist state, which
Four, he and Reagan had five summits together and signed
breathtakingly superb missile treaties, from START to the
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in December of
1987, which banished an entire class of nuclear weapons.
Five, his glasnost was a huge success in opening
up the Soviet Union. I will tell any religious conservative in
the United States who wants to begrudge Gorbachev credit for
anything that happened in the Soviet Union that the short religious
revival that began in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s can be
traced to Gorbachev for allowing religious freedom to take
Six, these two men ended the Cold War peacefully.
For any conservative who doesn't give Gorbachev credit, you should
know that Ronald Reagan gave Gorbachev huge credit; and for any
liberal who doesn't give Reagan credit, you should know that
Gorbachev gave Reagan huge credit. So both of them would argue with
you on that.
December 1991: The End of the Soviet Union. By December
1991, Boris Yeltsin had already been elected president of Russia in
the country's first free and fair election. On December 18, the
Kremlin flag, the red hammer and sickle flag that had flown over
the Kremlin for decades, was moved down, and hoisted up to replace
it was the flag of the Russian Federation.
Seven days later, on December 25, 1991, Christmas Day, Mikhail
Gorbachev resigned as head of what was left of the Soviet Union. He
called President George H. W. Bush and said, "Sir, you can have a
very quiet Christmas evening. I am saying goodbye and shaking your
hand." And in his speech that night, his resignation speech,
Gorbachev said this: "I had firmly stood for the preservation
of the Union state, the unity of the country. Events went a
different way. The policy prevailed of dismembering this country
and disuniting the State, with which I cannot agree."
It had been Reagan's primary intention to break up the Soviet
Union; it had not been Gorbachev's. Reagan got exactly what he
wanted; Gorbachev did not get what he wanted. But nonetheless, they
ended the Cold War peacefully.
So if you look at the tombstone in the cemetery of international
history, it will say "USSR, Born October 26, 1917, Died December
25, 1991." It will probably say "May it not rest in peace" at the
very bottom of it. Reagan at that point was in California in his
office, and the crusader must have really relished the
spiritual significance of this country that had banned Christmas
and threw Christians in prison ending on the day that Reagan
and the West celebrates the birth of Christ.
After the fall of the Wall, the fall of the USSR, on December 9,
1994, Mike Deaver, who had been Ronald Reagan's friend for over 30
years, visited him in his office. Reagan, just a few months
earlier, had written his letter informing the world that he had
Alzheimer's disease and that he was "riding off into the sunset of
my life," as he called it. He was talking to Deaver. He didn't
recognize him, which greatly saddened Deaver. One thing, though, he
didn't forget about. He took Deaver over to the wall, and he
pointed at a picture of the Rock River that was hanging on his
office wall. Reagan said, "I saved 77 lives there at that river.
That's the river where I lifeguarded for seven summers. And
you know, none of them ever thanked me."
In fact, though, I would argue that Reagan was more than thanked
for those 77 lives. He was rewarded by the self-confidence that
this gave to all of his endeavors, everything he did in life, all
of his decisions, his decisions until his dying day. And then when
he got to Washington, he appointed himself a new rescue mission: to
rescue America from the decline of the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam
malaise years, and eventually to save the world from the evil of
atheistic expansionary Soviet Communism.
Communism in the 20th century killed over 100 million people. If
you take the total number of people killed in World War I and
World War II, add them together, multiply them by two, only then
are you approaching the number of people killed by Communism. The
100 million figure is from the book by Harvard University Press,
Black Book of Communism, which was conservative. The numbers
on Mao were easily higher than they said; the numbers on
Stalin were easily higher-and by the way, they published too early,
because Kim Jong-il still had two to three million people to starve
to death in North Korea at the end of the 20th century, in the
Reagan decided that it was up to him to play the role of world
savior. The numbers bear this out: In 1980, there were 56
democracies in the world; by 1990, there were 76; by 1991, there
were 91; by 1994, there were 114. There was a doubling of
democracies in the world between 1980 and 1994, between the time
that Reagan was elected and the moment that he was pointing out the
picture of the Rock River on his office wall to Mike Deaver. In the
time he shifted from presidential candidate to ex-President,
This was one of the great triumphs of the 20th century and for
all of humanity, and one of the least remarked upon as well. And
for Reagan, it was something that he desired. Few Presidents ever
got so much of what they desired, which itself is a remarkable
In conclusion, with the confidence and can-do attitude that
invigorated him like the waters of the Rock River, Reagan set out
to right these wrongs, this evil of Soviet Communism. The extent to
which these actual worldwide occurrences matched his incredibly
ambitious desires, dating back to 1950, is astonishing. He had said
in 1961, "Wars end in victory or defeat." The Cold War ended
in victory, or to paraphrase Reagan from January 1977, "We won,
they lost." It was a victory for which the world was thankful,
especially given the tranquil way in which it ended-not a missile
It didn't start at the Screen Actor's Guild, or in his testimony
before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, or with
"GE Theater," or at a Crusade for Freedom rally, or for Goldwater
in 1964, or the Berlin Wall in 1978. I think, oddly enough, it all
began at a state park in Dixon, Illinois, the site of murky,
splashing water, where a young lifeguard named Dutch saved 77
people over seven summers and in the process went on to change the
course of more than just a winding river.
Questions & Answers
QUESTION: Don't you think "crusader" has taken on a
wonderful and expansive American meaning beyond the original,
limited European-Christian militaristic meaning? Do you think
Muslims may understand better than Christians how successful and
committed and fearless crusaders truly were and are? Obviously, you
deliberately chose that term "crusader," and not everyone today
would consider that politically or religiously correct.
DR. KENGOR: Yes, and people have said, "Why did you pick
this title? You're trying to be provocative; this is a
dangerous, divisive time." I picked it about 10 years ago when I
was reading through Soviet media archives, and I found literally
hundreds and hundreds of examples of the Soviets calling
Ronald Reagan the Crusader. And the reason why they called him the
Crusader is because they saw themselves as a target of this crusade
Again, to make it very clear, Reagan meant crusade in terms
of a crusade for freedom, not a religious crusade. He meant
crusade in the way that FDR meant crusade. He was appalled at the
atheism of the Soviet Union but worked really hard, for example,
for emigration for Soviet Jews, who he had no desire to convert to
Christianity. He also did everything he could to defeat the Soviets
in Afghanistan by arming the Muhajadeen, who were
Muslims, and his purpose in helping the Muhajadeen was not in
any way to convert them, but that they could help in that crusade
for freedom by defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan.
So that's what it means. You can blame it on the Soviets. They
started it in the 1980s. And then when I found out later on in the
research that Reagan had signed on to two groups with the word
crusade in their title in 1950, I was really shocked by that. I
hadn't known that. So that was it. I had a title for the book.
Publishers always change whatever title you suggest, but not this
I began this research when I was arguing with another professor
who was very left of center politically. She was very fair, and she
had just written a journal article on Reagan, and she gave him
a lot of credit. We were talking about the article, and she even
said, "I think Reagan, unlike a lot of my colleagues, deserves a
lot of credit for helping to precipitate the collapse of the Soviet
Union. However," she said, "I don't know that that was his
intention; I think that some of what he did eventually caused that,
but I don't know if he intended that from the outset."
And I said, "No, you've got to understand, there are dozens of
formal National Security Decision Directives that lay out this very
explicit goal, and Reagan's statements and quotes and statements
from people who worked for him. There is no question that this was
his intention." And she smiled and said, "Well, why don't you show
me?" I thought, "Okay, I will," and that's how the book began:
merely to prove that this was Reagan's intent.
QUESTION: You've spoken about how effective Reagan was in
ending Communism in the Soviet Union. I wonder if you could speak a
little bit about how effective you think he was in his policies
toward Latin America, especially right now where Daniel Ortega
stands to possibly win the next election in Nicaragua.
DR. KENGOR: That's a good question. By 1994, outside of
Western Europe, 88 percent of Latin American and Caribbean nations
were democracies, 92 percent of South American nations. So the
numbers were really high; Reagan was thrilled about that.
This is very important for those who always say the Soviet Union
was bound to collapse; it was always an economic failure. It
was an economic failure, and yet it expanded in size
and proxy states and client states every single decade, beginning
in the 1910s. In the 1970s, from 1974 to 1979, 10 or 11 states were
picked up by the Soviets as client states or proxy states. The
1980s was the first decade when they didn't pick up a single
country and in fact lost all their countries and imploded. In the
book, I give a lot of examples of the economic warfare and so
forth that made that happen.
But in Latin America, they eventually had elections in
Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega was defeated, and Reagan was
thrilled with what happened there. I think right now, given what's
happening in Nicaragua, he'd be very disappointed.
Richard Pipes, the Harvard professor of Russian History, who
worked in Reagan's National Security Council from 1981 to 1982, is
really disappointed in the direction of Russia under Putin. He has
said, meaning presumably the Reagan Administration, "This wasn't
what we wanted." He said, "I'm happy there is no longer a
dictatorship there. It's no longer a communist empire. This is not
totalitarianism; it's much, much better, but there is a kind of a
soft authoritarianism here that troubles me." I believe that
Freedom House recently removed Russia out of the "free"
So Reagan would probably have those same kind of thoughts about
Nicaragua in particular and would be very upset by Hugo
Chávez in Venezuela.
QUESTION: I know you've got another book in the works
coming out about Judge Clark, and I wonder what you're going to do
DR. KENGOR: Yes, I am writing a book on Judge Bill Clark,
William P. Clark, who was Reagan's closest friend and National
Security Adviser and absolutely the most crucial adviser in all of
this. After that, I'm not going to write a book for a while. I'm
going to settle down and try to take it easy.
QUESTION: Would you explain what happened in Iceland, the
DR. KENGOR: Many people have pointed to Reykjavik as
being the crucial episode in the end of the Cold War, including
Zbigniew Brzezinski. The big thing that happened there was that
Gorbachev appeared to offer an incredible concession to
eliminate apparently all missiles, all nuclear missiles, in
exchange for Reagan giving up SDI, and Reagan didn't want to give
There's a lot of misunderstanding on this too. I've read this a
number of times from historians who should know better, who've said
this was incredibly stupid: Why would Ronald Reagan even need SDI
if we and the Soviets gave up all our nuclear missiles? Well, the
reason was the same as the reason that Reagan later offered to
share SDI with the Soviets.
Reagan never thought he could build an impenetrable, 100
percent effective missile defense. He chastised liberals. He said,
"They criticize me for this, which is odd, because they never argue
for 100 percent effectiveness in their welfare programs." Reagan
said, at the very least, if we could build a system that could take
down a limited number of nuclear missiles, then this could come in
extremely handy for, as he put it, "A Middle East madman, an Asian
dictator, a slip-up, a trigger-happy general, or some limited type
of missile strike."
That's why, even if the Soviets gave up their entire arsenal,
Reagan thought that we would still need some type of missile
defense system. That was his dream, as he called it, and it had two
goals. One was to build missile defense for its own sake, and the
other-I don't know if it was the initial intention, but he later,
within a few months if not a year or two, saw it very clearly-was
that he thought that it could bankrupt the Soviet economy. The
Russians will tell you to a person that it did do that.
As for the argument that Reagan had nothing to do with ending
the Cold War, if you say that in Soviet company, to former Soviet
citizens or high-level government officials, they will laugh you
out of the room. That's not taken seriously over there; they were
convinced that he helped end the Cold War and drove a stake through
the chest of Lenin's empire.
Paul Kengor, Ph.D., is an associate
professor of political science, as well as executive director of
the Center for Vision and Values, at Grove City College. He is also
a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and
Peace at Stanford University. He earned his master's degree from
American University's School of International Service and his
doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of
Public and International Affairs.