Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Reagan Legacy

As I mentioned in a post down below, I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville is a small town but it somehow got both Redstone Arsenal, a substantial military base, and the Marshall Space Flight Center, which was one of the three legs of America's space program (with Houston and Cape Kennedy/Canaveral). MSFC was the home of the German rocket scientists, Wernher Von Braun, et al. Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, we always knew that we were sitting right next to a first or second strike nuclear target if a shooting war broke out between America and the Soviet Union.

Reread that last sentence. If you are my age or older, it sounds like a kind of nostalgia to talk about it. If you are younger, it sounds alien. Words and phrases like "Soviet" and "nuclear target" and "first strike" are from some other time and place. No one thinks like that any more.

You can thank Ronald Reagan for that. Because of his vision and determination, the Soviet Union was destroyed and the threat of nuclear war is a distant one, for now. He had the strength of character and the persuasion of belief to carry this country to his goal. We went from a bi-polar world of Mutually Assured Destruction (another archaic term now) and five minute warnings to the uni-polar world of American victory.

For people who didn't live through the time, to always know in the back of your mind that any international blunder could mean nuclear annihilation for you must seem strange. It's similar to the fear of a terrorist attack today, but worse, because nuclear war meant the end of everything. We in Huntsville would be the lucky dead; the survivors would live in desolation. It was a time of television programs like "The Day After," about the aftermath of a quick war, which was one of the highest rated programs ever. It's not even much recalled any more.

You would be in the middle of your day and something on the news would kick the flame of fear from a low flicker to a guttering fire. You could actually joke with girls about wanting to do it at least once before we all died. Alarm sirens always stabbed your heart. You stopped for a beat, listening and worrying. "Is this it?"

We don't have that any more and you can thank Ronald Reagan for that. All the media blather this week makes it sound like Reagan was universally loved in America. That's not true at all. During his two terms he was as vilified as any President of the twentieth century. Much as George Bush is today, the elites of New York and Washington and their peers in Europe thought Reagan a reckless madman who was bringing on death and war. He was stumbling -- because he was incapable of the level of thought necessary to understand -- across decades of diplomacy.

The anti-nuclear campaigns of the time firmly believed, at the tops of their shrill and hysteric voices or in earnest condescending tones, we needed to just sit down with the Soviets and negotiate away whatever we had to so that the Soviets wouldn't attack us. Nuclear weapons were a threat, not a deterrent. From the day of Reagan's election, they warned that we were on the edge of nuclear war. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists had a "doomsday clock" (yet another archaic term) that was set some minutes to midnite, showing how little time we had, how close the threat of all-out war (another archaic term) was.

How many of you today have even heard of this clock? How many of you haven't heard about it in a long time? You can thank Ronald Reagan for that.

It's no surprise that so much of today's Leftist rhetoric resembles the Sixties protest movement. The relics of that era moved on to the anti-nuclear campaigns in the Seventies and Eighties, picking up new recruits. Reagan ended that whole movement, stranding them, until the Gulf War and then the War on Terror came along. Some of us see the War on Terror, against the fascists and terrorists of radical Islam, akin to the Cold War. There is an enemy of American that doesn't seek co-existence but defeat. There are no peace talks that will save us; no treaties that will stop them. We face an ideology that warps the lives of tens of millions even as it kills millions of its own people. The faces may change, but the task is always the same.

So, some of us see that Reagan was right to dedicate America to the fight against our greatest enemy. It's for our safety and for the freedom of the oppressed. Bringing freedom and liberty to the people of the Arab world will make our world better too.

America was given a great gift from the philosophers of the English Empire, France and Germany. We were conceived in liberty and grew to a strength unknown anywhere in the world. It has been our Great Commission to bring that gift to every corner of the world, to spread democratic republican government.

Ronald Reagan understood that with a clarity unmatched. He believed it with an ardor that literally redrew the map of the world. He gave half a continent freedom and opportunity.

Now that responsibility falls to us. We must bring freedom and opportunity to the Middle East. Reagan always knew that people are good, but our leaders can be bad. It's the same for Arabs, Turks, Persians, et al. They are not bad people, just laboring under a bad ideology imposed by bad leaders. Give them the gift of freedom and they will flower just as Eastern Europe is.

You can thank Ronald Reagan for that.

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