Journalist in Chief

Article excerpt

The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan; edited by Douglas Brinkley (HarperCollins)

During his two terms in office, from January 1981 to January 1989, President Ronald Reagan faithfully kept a diary. Writing brief but often telling and informative entries in easy-to-read longhand, he filled five 8-by-11 hardbound books with his thoughts on everything from his son Ron's hatred of Secret Service protection and his getting shot ("Getting shot hurts.") to his historic Cold War-defrosting meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev.

As appreciative historian Douglas Brinkley writes in his introduction, "There is an appealing earnestness to the diaries, an unvarnished account of his days in office. The entries don't dazzle in a self-congratulatory fashion. Nor do they consciously attempt to spin history in his favor. ... Nowhere in the entries did the president bask in glory, savor the misfortune of adversaries, or wallow in his own defeats. More often than not, he is self- deprecating."

Some excerpts.

1981: Thurs. Feb. 26

P.M. Margaret Thatcher arrived. We had a private meeting in Oval office. She is as firm as ever re--the Soviets and for reduction of govt. Expressed regret that she tried to reduce govt. spending a step at a time & was defeated in each attempt. Said she should have done it our way--an entire package--all or nothing.

Wed. March 4 = Our wedding anniversary. 29 years of more happiness than any man could rightly deserve. A Pakistani plane was highjacked and landed in Kabul. The Russians are holding it & 3 or 6 of the passengers are American. We haven't been able to learn which figure is right but we're going to let the Soviets know we won't put up with their games.

1984: Fri. Dec. 7

We're convinced they [the Soviets] want above all to negotiate away our right to seek defensive weapon against ballistic missiles. They fear our technology. I believe such a defense could render nuclear weapons obsolete & thus we could rid the world of that threat. Question is will they use that to break off the talks & blame us?

1985: Tues. Nov. 19

This was the day. Mr. G. [Mikhail Gorbachev] & I met [at the Geneva Summit]. We were scheduled for 15 min. of pvt. one on one -- We did an hour which excited the h--l out of the Press. Then we joined the plenary meeting. He did a pitch about us not trusting them, etc. We should have no pre-conditions set before any agreement about better relations. "Our ruling class (munitions makers) keep our people upset at the Soviets so they can sell more weapons." He also took off on the Heritage Foundation & think tanks that do the same. He said we had declared zones of special interest around the world but attacked the USSR when they did the same thing. We must recognize right of people to a revolution. Well finally it was my turn and I took them all the way through the history of Soviet aggression, etc. In the p.m. session he had quite a prepared thing that had us suspicious without cause etc. Again I rebutted with some pretty solid examples -- W.W. II their refusal to let Am. warplanes use Soviet fields etc. When I finished I suggested he & I leave the group & do another 1 on 1. We walked down to a pool house on the lake shore. Eddy [Serrano, White House navy steward] had a fire going & we did about 2 hours on S.D.I. [Strategic Defense Initiative]. He's adamant but so am I. I scored one we've worried about -- that the meetings should be on an ongoing basis. He accepted my invite to U.S. next year & I'm invited to U.S.S.R. in '87.

1986: Sun. Oct. 12

Our teams had given us an agreement to eliminate entirely all nuc. devices over a 10 yr. pd. We would research & develop SDI during 10 yrs. then deploy & I offered to share with Soviets the system. This began the showdown. He wanted language that would have killed S.D.I. The price was high but I wouldn't sell & that's how day ended. …