June 09, 2004

Revisionist History
Posted by McQ

I haven't said much about Reagan's passing because, well, so much has already been said. But I'm becoming a little tired of the revisionist history we're now seeing put forth by the talking heads and pundits. What am I talking about? That version of recent history which essentially writes Reagan out of the events and policies which saw the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of what was essentially WWIII or the Cold War.

Thankfully there are those out there with much more ability to write and a much wider audience who are just as tired of this as I am. Dinesh D'souza is one of those writing in the NY Post:

Writing on Ronald Reagan's achievements in Newsweek, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. notes, "Reagan's admirers contend that his costly re-armament program caused the Soviet collapse. Maybe so; but surely the thing that did in the Russians was that time had proved communism an economic, political and moral disaster."

Funny: Here's Schlesinger in 1982, observing that "Those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse" are "wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves."

Many historians and pundits have refused to credit Ronald Reagan's policies for helping to bring about the Cold War victory, blaming communism's chronic economic problems. Yet, like Scheslinger, they failed to describe it as inevitable while Reagan was actually in office.

Schlesinger was one of many of that era that felt the proper way to "live" with the USSR was detente. Reagan didn't. He wanted the end to the "evil empire" and the only way he saw as sure fire in that regard was to engage them in one way or the other.

For that he was branded a "cowboy", "dangerous", and of course, "dumb".

It was impolitic to actually engage the other superpower. Why it would lead to nuclear war and holocaust.

Yes, the Pope had a role in the fall of the USSR. But it was a supporting role. Without American leadership, his was a role that focused only in one part of the Soviet bloc. And if Hungary was a lesson, without a more powerful opponent in the arena as well, Solidarity may well have gone the route of the Hungarian freedom fighters of the '50s.

One can't discount the role of Maggie Thatcher either. But again it was supporting role, and not the primary role. Britian just doesn't have the international weight of the US. When it came down to it, the job feel squarely to the US, and Reagan TOOK the job.

As for Gorbachev, I've always considered him more of a result of Regan's policies toward the USSR than one who was the inevitable leader of that system. Because of the US and its policies toward them, the USSR had to do some quick and dirty assessments of their future. The leadership knew there had to be changes and they saw Gorbachev as the guy who could make the necessary changes while still keeping the communists in power.

As with so many things, they were wrong. Gorbachev no more wanted the end result obtained than would have Leonid Breshnev. The fall of the USSR was a totally unintended consequence of Gorbachev's ascendence.

It was a totally intended consequence of Ronald Reagan's policies.

So when you see these people saying Reagan didn't have much to do with the USSR's collapse, its useful to remember what they were saying when he was hastening its collapse:

Then remember those things about Reagan that they would perfer you forget:

Ronald Reagan was a leader and one of the things that can be said about him is he had a vision and he worked toward that vision unceasingly. The results were and are profound as in a short while millions upon millions of people trapped for years behind the Iron Curtain were freed from its totalitarian grip and the world was changed forever. Not many men in history have changed the world in such a positive manner.

The revisionist historians can spin their tales today, but the real historians of years to come will dismiss their nonsense for what it is and credit one man with the primary responsiblity which brought down the "evil empire".

Or, in his own words:

"Who can forget those so-called 'experts' who said our military buildup threatened a dangerous escalation of tensions? What kind of fool, they asked, would call the Soviet Union an 'Evil Empire'?"

Why, Ronald Wilson Reagan, of course.

And we are all forever in his debt for doing so.



Hm...I've been mulling over a post similar to this, but you've eliminated the need for me to write one.

I would contend that Reagan was the Joe Montana of the Cold War. He didn't do it single-handedly - he built on the work of people before him - he worked in concert with many others - but, when it comes down to it, Reagan was the leader who took charge and led the game-winning final drive. Reagan wanted a touchdown, when others would have settled for a field goal.

He got it, too.

Posted by: Jon Henke at June 9, 2004 09:30 AM

Bruce: did you see the Thomas Friedman article that I linked yesterday?

He scooped everybody: writing Reagan out of the history a week before he died.

It was utterly astounding.

Posted by: Billy Beck at June 9, 2004 10:34 AM