Nov. 9, 2009
He was quoted as saying that U.S. policy in Eastern Europe should “strive for an evolution that makes the relationship between the Eastern Europeans and the Soviet Union an organic one.” The use of the word organic seemed to imply that he was advocating that the Soviet Union and its satellites should form one wholea position calculated to infuriate not only G.O.P. conservatives but also ethnic groups with roots in Eastern Europe.
In simple American English, the U.S. policy toward Eastern Europe should not rock the boat.
Ronald Reagans view could not be further from those espoused by the Kissingers, Sonnenfeldts, and the foreign policy establishments of both political parties. Reagan had told Richard Allen, who would one day serve in the White House as Reagans National Security Adviser, that his idea of East-West relations was simple: We win. They lose.
To say such a thing about the Soviet Union seemed stupid. Clark Clifford, one of the certified Wise Men of the Democratic Party, called Reagan an amiable dunce. Others thought him dangerous. The USSR had hundreds of heavily armed divisions, tens of thousands of rumbling tanks, artillery pieces without number, not to mention 27,000 nuclear warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles ready to launch against Western Europe and the U.S. Was Reagan insane, they asked?
Of course, the actual acronym for U.S. strategic deterrence in those days was MAD—Mutual Assured Destruction. An entire cult of arms control had grown up since the 1960s designed to manage the East-West relationship by having both sides agree not to defend themselves from nuclear attack. Both sides had to know that their cities and countries would be utterly laid waste, that a nuclear winter following World War III could extinguish all life on earth. Only if such was the alternative, the deep thinkers thought, could a nuclear holocaust be averted. By all means, nothing should be done by the West to incite rebellion behind the Iron Curtain.
In those years, it was always East-West, as if the argument between freedom and Marxist totalitarianism was simply a dispute over directions. Using terms like the Free World horrified the sophisticates of Georgetown cocktail party circuit. They shuddered at the naivete of the rubes who spoke of captive nations in Eastern Europe, and satellites of the Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan came to Washington widely viewed by this set of people as a political Neanderthal. Reagan, they shuddered, actually believed in God and talked about freedom. He thought in terms of black and white. He had not forgotten the incident in 1962, for example, when 17-year old Peter Fechter was shot by East German border guards as he made his escape attempt from the Soviet-occupied zone that the New York Times referred to as the German Democratic Republic. Young Fechter lay bleeding to death in the minefield leading up to the ugly wall built by the East German Communists in 1961 to complete their imprisonment of their own people. As the young man whimpered, East German Volkspolizei shot at his would-be rescuers.
Reagan thought such a system was evil. And he said so. He called the Soviet bloc an evil empire. When he spoke to Britains House of Commons in 1982, he said that Marxism was even then fated to wind up on the ash heap of history, a bizarre chapter in human history.
Reagan was the first President since JFK to speak of the Soviet Union and Communism as evil.
And Reagan was the first President ever to use humor as a battering ram against the inhuman Berlin Wall. Asked if Communism might work, President Reagan said it might work in Heaven, but they dont need it. And it surely would work in Hell, but they already have it.
When he went to West Berlin in June, 1987, President Reagan overruled his own Secretary of State George P. Schultz and National Security Advisor, Gen. Colin Powell. They did not want him to challenge the reforming Soviet ruler, Mikhail Gorbachev, directly. Dont embarrass Gorbachev and make our negotiations harder, they and the foreign policy establishment said.
But Reagan was determined. He had seen how the liberal media had swooned over the charismatic Gorbachev. It was Gorbachev, not the 77-year old Reagan, whom Western reporters saw as the hope for the future.
Reagan was having none of it. He knew that a hundred million people in Eastern Europe were still enslaved by the Soviet system. He knew that if Gorbachevs reformed Communism worked, it would still mean decades before the peoples of Poland, E. Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and a dozen other statesincluding the Baltics and Russia itself—could breathe free.
Reagan knew there was one place on earth to test the sincerity of Gorbachevs liberalizing claims: the Berlin Wall. So Ronald Reagan went to the Wall and threw down his famous challenge. He made it personal and pointed:
There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
Today, twenty years after the Fall of the Wall, we can remember Reagans brave words.
We can thank God that courage and determination brought down this monument to Communist inhumanity.