When Ronald Wilson Reagan became the 40th president of the United States in 1980, conventional wisdom assumed that the Soviet Union's position as a fearsome superpower was permanent.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger held the pessimistic belief that the Soviets had attained such nuclear power that his job, as the Nixon-Ford Russia expert, was just to negotiate the best deal he could for a weaker United States.
Since Reagan's passing, many commentators have paid tribute to his optimistic view of life and how it made him such an engaging personality. In truth, Reagan's optimism was revolutionary; he optimistically believed Communism was doomed, that the free world would triumph and it was his mission to hasten the day.
Reagan had been in the White House only a little over a year when he gave a landmark speech to the British Parliament challenging the long-held belief about the permanence of Communist rule. He said, "The march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies that stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people." Reagan thus flatly contradicted all the recognized experts in Soviet affairs who were touting detente and peaceful coexistence with Soviet Communism.
Reagan believed that the Cold War was winnable at a time when few others did.
Reagan had no qualms about criticizing the mistaken policies of his predecessors. He said: "When I came into office, I believed there had been mistakes in our policy toward the Soviets. I wanted to do some things differently, like speaking the truth about them for a change, rather than hiding reality between the niceties of diplomacy."
On June 12, 1987, Reagan spoke the words that changed history. Standing at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Reagan flung down the gauntlet to the Soviet dictator, saying: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" These words were Reagan's own, not written or approved by his speechwriters or the State Department. Those words marked the beginning of the end of the vast dictatorship that he had dared to label the "evil empire."
Reagan's words were not empty rhetoric. In l983 he had announced his commitment to build an anti-missile defense system to defend U.S. lives against the Soviets' powerful and threatening nuclear weapons. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., dubbed Reagan's plan Star Wars and tried to ridicule the whole idea of defending the American people against incoming nuclear missiles.
But Reagan had common sense on his side.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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