Reagan’s Victory: The Cold War

“The march of freedom and democracy will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history… ” Ronald Reagan     

The GOP & Freedom’s March

An essay by Robert Pedersen, Westside Republican chairman     

From the Beginning…the Republican party has stood for individual rights and personal liberty, believing “The Government which governs best governs least.”  The Republican Party was born in the struggle for human freedom. It continues to fight for freedom and human rights today.     


“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.” - Karl Marx     


For 40 years the greatest threat to human freedom and human rights came from a bizarre 19th century ideology called communism, a totalitarian system that emphasized “Collectivism, strong central government and party control. Under communism — or “actually existing socialism,” as they called it — the few dictated to the many, not as individuals, but as groups.  Anyone who owned property was the enemy, Christians were oppressed, Jews persecuted.  Communists believed they were creating a utopia, but in the name of economic justice, they waged war on landowners, entrepreneurs, private farmers, bankers, intellectuals, writers and independent thinkers. They created a nightmare that wrecked havoc on untold millions of human lives across the globe.     


“We can’t expect the American People to jump from Capitalism to Communism, but we can assist their elected leaders in giving them small doses of Socialism, until they awaken one day to find that they have Communism.” - Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Premier     


Jimmy Carter

1976 Electoral College mapJimmy Carter’s  naiveté led to failed foreign policies abroad and rampant inflation and gas lines at home.

Jimmy Carter’s abandonment of the friendly government of the Iranian Shah in 1977-78 helped lead to the Iranian revolution (and the Muslim dictatorship) which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of the middle class, dissidents and ethnic minorities, in particular Jews).     

U.S. Embassy workers held captive by Iranian revolutionariesHis botched negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries led to dozens of Americans being held hostage for 444 days in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and emboldened  the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. Perceiving Carter as weak, the Soviet Union stepped up its support of revolutionary causes and sent Cuban and other Soviet surrogate troops to Angola,  Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Grenada, and a host of other nations. The result was an orgy of blood and revolution.   Communism appeared to be on the rise.  Carter’s response to the Soviet‘s invasion of Afghanistan was to withhold US athletes from participating in the 1980 Olympics.  Carter also gave away the Panama Canal to local control, despite the fact that Panama was being run by the corrupt dictator Trujillo, and abrogated our treaties with the Republic of China (Formosa) in favor of the Communist mainland, without exacting anything material in return.  When Jimmy Carter kissed the harsh Soviet dictator, Leonid Brezhnev on the cheek, many on the right saw a policy of appeasement.     

Meanwhile, at home rampant 21% inflation — the highest in American history — ate at American’s savings and long lines developed at the gas pumps.  In the face of the severe economic crises, Carter seemed to blame the American people, taking  to the airwaves in what came to be known as his”malaise” speech. With the economy weakened, change was in the wind.     


1980 Electoral college map showing the Reagan landslide     

1984 Electoral College map
1984 Electoral College map


Under Ronald Regan the country underwent fundamental political shifts seen in the 1980 and 1984 electoral maps.     

“Mr Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” – Ronald Wilson Reagan     


Ronald Reagan took the oath of office on January 20, 1981.  It was one of the warmest innaugrual days in history with the temperatures hovering in the 60′sF.  As the soon to be president rose to take the oath, the sun burst through on an otherwise cloud-covered day.  As if Reagan had brought all the warmth of California, where he had been a two term governor, with him.  But, if the sun was rising in America, it was about to set in a very different part of the world.     


“The Soviet Union is an Evil Empire, and Soviet communism is the focus of evil in the modern world.”      

Soviet army marching in paradeRonald Reagan called it an “evil empire,” and it was!  Since 1917, when the Regicidal and murderous Bolsheviks seized power, 20-30 million  had died behind the “Iron Curtain,” in horrific induced famines,forced depopulation of cities, forced labor and  executions.     

Million more suffered from political and religious persecutions. From Stalin’s paranoid purges, from the forced resettlement of Ukrainian farmers, from the shipping of whole ethnic populations to Siberia.     

Statue of LeninNumberless millions more rotted away in “Gulags” strung across the USSR’s Eurasian continent — for the slightest of “crimes”: having the wrong class background, having an education, being devout, or even having spread, or overheard, the wrong bit of gossip.  Even to this day it sounds incredible — and it was!     

While the Left could only speak of “red-bating,” often openly admiring the Soviet state, much of the world – and most of the world’s leaders — insisted on “playing nice,” on turning a blind eye, on trembling before Moscow’s bellicose threats of nuclear armagedon.   Harry Truman had set a Soviet tankscontainment policy.  Others had attempted to draw lines.     

Ronald Reagan — almost alone — believed that the Soviet Union was rotting within and could be effectively countered:     

“The years ahead will be great ones for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West will not contain Communism; it will transcend Communism. We will not bother to denounce it, we’ll dismiss it as a sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.” - R.R. – May 17, 1981 (from a speech at Notre Dame University)     

Ronald Reagan speaking at Berlin WallAnd President Reagan proceeded to nudge it along — with diplomatic pressure, economic boycotts, coordination with others to bog the Soviets down in Afghanistan (turning it into their own “Vietnam.”) He  countered Cuban backed terrorists in Angola, Grenada,  Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and South America. John Paul II and the Reagan White House worked closely to support the Solidarity labor movement in the pope’s native Poland with every means possible.     

Reagan established full American diplomatic relations with the Holy See, by dispatching America’s first full ambassador to the Vatican. Together they coordinated financial and technological aid distribution through various Western unions and Sandinavian shipping agencies. With Ronald Reagan with Pope John Paul IIhis references to the “Evil Empire” he sought to inspire the dissidents, insisting on meeting with them in every communist capital he visited….     

“In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten foot prison cell on the border of Siberia.  My jailers gave me the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Reagan for (calling) the Soviet Union an  “evil empire.” Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison.  We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”  – Natan Sharansky, Soviet-Jewish refusnik     

Solidarity rally in PolandBut still, Reagan did more. The Soviets were running out of money under the dual weight of their inefficient centrally planned economy and their Globe-wide imperialist adventures.  They badly needed Western technology and Western funds to keep their carcass of an empire afloat. Reagan coordinated with the willing Western countries, and brought pressure to bear on the unwilling, to cut off the prop of Western financial support. He froze bank accounts.  He tangled up needed assests — especially oil pipeline technology badly needed by the Soviets — with litigation over technolgy rights.     

Map of communist Eastern EuropeMilitarily, Reagan increased defense spending by 25% — the sharpest increase in defense spending since the Vietnam War; After the weakness of the post Vietnam malaise, Reagan aimed to restore America’s military credibility; he believed that the Soviet Union was vulnearable  from its imperial overreach, and he aimed to exploit this by pushing the Soviet Union into an arms race they couldn’t afford. Reagan countered Soviet SS-20 medium range nucIear missles in Central Europe,  with a build up of American Pershings and Tridents in Britain and  along the West German border.  In this he was greatly helped by the staunch efforts of Britain’s Margaret Thatcher (left) and Germany’s Helmut Ronald Reagan talking with Margaret ThatcherKohl.   In the end, by the Soviet’s own estimations,  it was Reagan’s refusal to back off the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that brought the Soviet empire to its knees. “That was technology,” said a leading KGB official, “that we knew we had nothing within our capacities to compete with it.”     

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” — Ronald Reagan, 40th president of US (1911 – 2004)     

Ronald Reagan in front of U.S. flag“Ronald Reagan was beloved because of what he believed.  He believed in America so he made it his shining city on a hill. He believed in freedom so he acted on behalf of its values and ideals.  He believed in tomorrow. So the Great Communicator became the Great Liberator.” — George H. W. Bush     


Soldiers dismantling fence     

On November 9, 1989 a miracle happened.  For weeks the pressure had been building.  The first crack had come when the nation of Hungary (once half of the Austro-Hungarian Emprire) dismantled its border controls with its neighbor Austria.  Hungarian’s, who had settled into a stupor for another 33 years after enduring the nightmare of the 1956 invasion of their country by Soviet tanks — the tanks making a ruin of large sections of Hungary’s capital Budapest  – were once again free to travel.     

For weeks now,  East Germans — summering in Hungary — had used this path to escape from tyranny,  flooding through the open Austrian border towards West Germany (where they were automatically granted citizenship rights and a government stipend); Now with the border crossing sealed to East Germans, they began filling up West German embassy grounds in East Bloc captials — Warsaw, Budapest, and especially Prague. Prague’s exquisite Baroque Lobkowicz Palace, which housed the West German embassy, quickly became overcrowded.     

With few toilets, little food, and fearing typhoid Hans Deitrich Genscher, the West Germany Foreign Minister, meeting in New York, appealled to his Soviet Counter part, Edvard Schevardnadze for relief. Genscher appeared on the rear balcony  of the West German  embassy in Prague to make the announcement to the tense and nervous refugees.  Genscher himself had esceped East Germany decades earlier, “If  a former refugee such as myself gives you his gaurantee,” he  promised them, “you know it will happen.”   Three days later, Trains packed with euphoric East German refugees began rolling towards West Germany.  But there was one catch — in order to save face, Erich Honecker, The Communist Dictator of East Germany (GDR) insisted that these refugees trains pass back through a corner of the GDR so that he could maintain the illusion that the communist were expelling the refugees.     

Interior of St. Nicholas ChurchIn Dresden, Honecker’s slight of hand backfired as riots broke out — tens of thousands of East Germans trying to force their way aboard what they saw as the last train to Freedom.  Meanwhile, in Leipzig, for weeks following the typically fraudulent East German elections, the Monday Night demonstrations (following mass prayer services in St. Nicholas Church) had grown exponentially, demanding socialist reform and free elections.  They were spurred on by Solidarity’s victory in Poland where — facing massive work strikes — the Polish Government had consented to install the first non-communist Polish prime minister in 40 years.     

Protest in East GermanyNow the East Germans asked, “If in Poland, why not here?”  Soon the demonstrations began to spread to other cities around the country.   With East Germany at a breaking point, the dictator Honecker was forced to resign.  Meaning to open a “safety valve” on the building pressure by allow East Germans to travel, the new GDR government issues a  vague, and therefore inept satement of the new travel policy. Within hours East Germans began gathering at the Berlin Wall.  First in the hundreds, then thousands, and tens of thousands, until the overwhelmed officers at the border crossings — unable to get clarification — simply opened the gates.  So it was, that on the night of November 9, 2009, a miracle happened. And wihin a year, East Germany ceased to exist.     

Soldiers on top of Berlin Wall     

“When talking about Ronald Reagan I have to be personal.  We in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty…His policy of aiding democratic movements in Central and Eastern Europe in the dark days of the Cold War…taking the risks he did in supporting Solidarity….while pushing a defense build-up that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink…meant a lot to us.” — Lech Walesa, leader of Solidarity, President of Poland 1990-1995.     


Protest Rally in PragueWithin two weeks, the Czech’s were out on the streets of Prague.  The “Velvet Revolution” started with a march from a cemetary up on a hill near the University, proceeded up the shore of the Vlatva River, until near the National Theater the Czech security forces turned it into a bloody melee.   The spark had been lit.  For a week Vaclav Havel, the playright, dissident, and later President, led the massive crowds in demonstrations that flooded the streets and brought Prague to a halt.     

Vaclav HavelFirst seeking to negotiate with the leaders of Civic Forum, by December the communist had given in.   On December 29, 1989, Vaclav Havel (left) — long opressed by and frequently imprisoned by the communists had become the first non-communist President of Czechslovakia in 41 years.     

A decade later the Czech Consul, B. John Zavrel, gave a speech before Vaclaw Havel, Madelaine Albright,  and  others at the Library of Congress in Washington , D.C.: “The millions of people in Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic understand very well that without the courageous engagement for liberty and peace of Ronald Reagan….their fate would have been much different.”     

“Some in the West…believed communism and democracy were equally valid and viable.  This was the school of “moral equivalence.”  In contrast Ronald Reagan saw communism as a menace to be confronted in the genuine belief that that its squalid underpinnings would fall swiftly to the gathering winds of freedom – provided…that NATO and the industrialized democracies stood firm and united.  And we know now who was right.” – Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney     


Romanian ChurchThe Calvinist congregation had sung hymns throughout the night, holding candlelight prayer vigils to keep their pastor from being dragged off to prison or worse.  What began with the oppression of the Calivinist Pastor, Lazlo Tokes, for speaking out against the inhumanity of the oppressive Ceausescu regime — where laborers were forced into mines thousands of miles from their families for months at a time, workers were paid a wage hovering around $40 US a month, rooms could not be heated above 40F and the state forced pregnancies on woman of all child-bearing ages (with regular gynecological inspections) in an insane drive to produce more workers for the communist state — rapidly spread into public outrage.  For Pastor Tokes, although of a double minority (both of Hungarian extract and of the Calivinist Faith) was beloved for his compassionate ministry to all Romanians.     

Romanian protest rallyAs the crowds spilled out onto Timisoara’s main square (a couple of short blocks from Tokes church) an open bloodbath and melee broke out as demonstrators were mowed down by machine gun on the steps of the central Orthodox Cathedral. Soon the Securitate’s tanks were on the streets — but now rage over the martydom of Timisoara swept the country.     

Days later as the dictator Nicolae Ceasuescu spoke from the balcony of his palace in central Bucharest, the crowd stormed the palace — civil war broke out (much of the palace area included the National Library — with its ancient volumes –was shelled and torched) as Romanian revolutionaries on military vehicleCeausescu and his wife Elena were lifted out by helicopter.  But now the military turned against the dictatorship.  In a panic — and fearing to be shot down by the Romanian airforce — Ceausescu forced his helicoptor pilot to land on an open highway, were the dictator frantically flagged down a hapless driver, forcing him to drive from one military post, to another, until Ceausescu believed he was safely located with loyal troops.     

But it was in those barracks that a few short hours later, a mock trail was pulled together.  The once well-coifed Elena Ceausescu –who had regularly flown to Rome and Paris to have her hair done, while the people were on starvation rations (so that everything of value could be sold as export to build Ceausescu’s maniacal visions including the monstrous marble, gold and mahogony People’s Palace; 12 Romanian palacestories tall with 1,100 rooms;- for which much of ancient central Bucharest, including scores of hundreds-years-old  Orthodox monestaries and cathedrals were razed* —  seemed flabbergasted that her “children”, the Romanian people could turn on them.  But turn on them, they did,  And on Christmas Day, 2009  Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were marched to the barrack’s central courtyard. “This is perposterous. You aren’t really going to do this,” Elena stammered with disbelief, “I don’t die in the dirt.”  But quickly, their bodies crumpled to the ground.  The 78-year-old Bulgarian dictator, Todor Zhivkov, seeing the hand-writing on the the wall, had resigned weeks earlier.     

Romanian revolutionWHO WON THE COLD WAR?

There are many theorticians who have made careers by arguing speciously what the socialist and the American Left want to hear.  To them Ronald Reagan  was a bafoon, a wreckless cowboy who brought the world to the brink of disaster and war.  They are the appeasers who refuse to distinquish between  right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral. For them America was as much the cause of the cold war as the communists. Equally bent on domination of the world and its resources. Even today, they believe that America and its capitalist friends brough a golden socialist  utopia to its knees — in this struggle for world supremacy.  But what do some of the prinicpal players of the day have to say?     

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher“Others hoped for an uneasy cohabitation with the Soviet Union; President Reagan won the Cold War – not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortress…he warned that the Soviet Union had an insatiable drive for military power and territorial expansion; but he also sensed it was being eaten away by systematic failures impossible to reform….So the President…pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures.”     


“Reagan challenged the Soviet Union at every level: in the developing world, in terms of supporting proxies and the Reagan doctrine; in the battle of ideas…in terms of defense build up, the military challenge…so I think across the board, there’s an offensive strategy and that I would argue is unique in Cold War history…Reagan challenges the legitimacy, the fundamental legitimacy of the communist system.”– Peter Schweizer, Hoover Institute, author, Reagan’s War,     

People climbing the Berlin Wall after the collapse of communist East Germany“No American throughout the history of the Cold War up until Reagan had been willing to make rolling back and defeating communism a primary goal…but Reagan understood that communism by its nature, was a danger to peace” — Peter Robinson, Hoover Institute.     

*another Ceausescu scheme built a canal from the Black Sea — hundreds of miles away — to the palace doors, exclusively for the dictator’s use so that the Ceausescu’s could travel to the seashore by personal barge.

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