Reflection on Ronald Reagan-30 years later
Ronald Reagan Revisited
Reflecting on the Reagan Years – 30 years later by Michael M. Nakade
(Nakade is a self-claimed historian on the American Presidency. The below is a mock Q & A session with Nakade in a high school history classroom in 2009.)
Q1: Mr. Nakade, you were a 19-year-old college student when Ronald Reagan became the president in 1981. How did you like him back then?
A: Like many college students on campus during that time, I couldn’t stand Reagan. He talked ‘tough’ during his presidential campaign and got the support of many conservative Americans. I thought he was leading the nation to a dangerous course.
Q2: What were specific policies that you thought were dangerous?
A: First of all, he was proposing a military build up. I was a typical college student at the time. I could not agree with anyone who wanted to spend more money on weapons when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. seemed to have too many nuclear warheads anyway. I didn’t have any objective statistical evidences, but I believed that the weapons that America possessed could blow up the earth 40 times over. I was hoping for a leader who would bring an end to the madness of arms race.
Q3: Did you dislike Reagan’s ethos, too?
A: Absolutely. I despised how he came across. He was a former Hollywood actor with no diplomatic and academic background in the field of international relations. His rhetoric was that of a John Wayne movie. He rattled his saber much too often to be credible as the leader of the Super Power. He was an extreme intellectual light weight but very smooth in his delivery. Like many young people on college campuses in America and in Europe, I thought of him as the most dangerous man in the world.
Q4: In the presidential election of 1984, he won the reelection by an overwhelming margin. How was your thought at that time?
A: I remember that day very vividly. During the election campaign season, I followed Mondale closely, and I thought he was more sensible and reasonable. Having been a vice president in the Carter Administration, he had the experience in international relations. But the fact that Mondale was overwhelmingly rejected by the American people, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe why so many Americans happily endorsed Reagan.
Q5: The relationship with the Soviet Union changed dramatically when Gorbachev became the General Secretary in 1985. He seemed to be very popular among the Liberals in America. What was your thought back then?
A: Gorbachev seemed far more intelligent than Reagan. I thought Reagan would embarrass himself with his limited intellectual capacity in negotiating with Gorbachev. I also thought that he and Reagan would find the common ground and would reduce the crazy arms races for the benefit of everyone on the planet. My hope went up, but I was afraid that Reagan was going to screw up. It’s funny, but during that time, I had no faith in Reagan but had faith in Gorbachev.
Q6: Do you recall any one incident that made you think that Reagan was inadequate as the chief negotiator for the American people?
A: It was the summit meeting at Reykjavik, Iceland in October, 1986. The basic agreement to reduce the nuclear warheads was achieved, but Reagan refused to take the Star Wars off the table when demanded by Gorbachev for the condition of the agreement. Reagan went on national T.V. and explained why the talk with the Soviet Union collapsed at the end. I was very upset with Reagan for blowing this great chance for peace. The Star Wars or S.D.I (Strategic Defense Initiative) sounded like a story right out of science fiction, and it seemed utterly silly to hang on to such an idea in light of what he could have gained.
Q7: Do you have any one Reagan speech that made you sick to your stomach?
A: There are so many, but the one that stands out is the “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech in Berlin. I think it took place in the summer of 1987. I thought he went completely insane. Here was the leader of the Super Power challenging the leader of another Super Power in the most public setting. It’s like an invitation to fight outside the bar parking lot. My immediate reaction was: there you go again, Reagan, talking tough and being embarrassingly inappropriate.
Q8: In spite of all of these Reagan’s tough speeches, the Soviet Union seemed to be softening. Did you think that the end of the Cold War was nearing in 1988?
A: At the time? No. I had grown up in the Cold War environment all of my life. I couldn’t possibly imagine that the Cold War would end abruptly. But, in retrospect, there were signs in 1988. For example, starting in May, the Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan, the first time the Soviets had voluntarily withdrawn from a puppet regime. Before long, Soviet and satellite troops were pulling out of Angola, Ethiopia and Cambodia. In America, we were receiving the footage from Moscow that young people were acting more carefree. It was called the “glasnost” or openness. The changes inside the Soviet Empire were pleasing to us, America’s liberal folks. We never thought of giving credit to Reagan for that, though.
Q9: Then, the Soviet Empire collapsed in June, 1989, a mere five months after Reagan left the White House. The Wall in Berlin did come down. That wall served the most visible symbol and the reminder of the Cold War, and one day, it was gone. What were you thinking at the time?
A: It was the case of ‘pinch me.’ I couldn’t believe it. But, never once did I think that Reagan contributed to the end of the Cold War. He was the last person to whom I was going to give a credit to. I thought that the collapse of the Soviet Empire was due to the dire economic situation of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s liberal policies that led to the Russians’ desire for more civil liberty. In 1989, the talk of praising Reagan for winning the Cold War for the Liberal crowd was much too premature.
Q10: Mr. Nakade, it’s now 2009. Exactly 20 years removed from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Do you acknowledge Reagan’s contribution in the ending of the Cold War?
A: Without a doubt. It does take about 20 years to assess the contribution of the American president’s policies. In 1999, historians were still debating if Reagan’s tough talk and confrontational stance toward the Soviet Union won the Cold War or not. So, 10 years ago, the debate was still on. Today, we know much more about what was taking place inside the Soviet Union in the 80s, since more and more documents became available for historians to study. It is very clear that Reagan knew what he was doing. His military build up forced the Soviet leaders to look at different alternatives. The command economy was clearly not functioning well by the 1980s, and the situation in Afghanistan was becoming like America’s Vietnam. It made them give up the effort to keep up with the Americans in military build up. That act of giving up came about due to Reagan’s talking the talk and walking the walk. He was the difference maker. I never thought that I’d live long enough to say anything positive about Reagan, but here I am. History sometimes teaches me that I’ll need to change my opinion in light of overwhelming evidence. Reagan’s policies led to the end of the Cold War in 1989. Twenty years later, this thesis is legitimate and accurate.