The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991

By Ronald E. Powaski | Go to book overview

8

The Reagan Cold War,
1981-1989

Ronald Reagan: The Cold War Victor?

Like the overwhelming majority of America's Cold War presidents, Ronald Reagan entered the White House in January 1981 with almost no background in national security affairs. Before entering the political arena, he had been in movies and in television. His only direct military experience occurred during World War II, when he served in the armed forces making training and documentary films. His first and only elected political position prior to the presidency was the governorship of California, a position he held from 1966 to 1974. However, unlike most of his predecessors, Reagan was not particularly eager to master national security issues. This was demonstrated repeatedly during his presidency by his inability to explain them in any detail.

Reagan's knowledge of communism and the Soviet Union was also very limited. It was based almost entirely on personal experience rather than intellectual study. As the president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, Reagan fought what he believed was a communist effort to take over the motion picture industry, an experience that made him deeply suspicious of anything communist, particularly the Soviet Union. In his most celebrated statement, on March 8, 1983, Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." 1

Needless to say, Reagan had tittle use for détente, which he had called "a one-way street" that favored only the Soviet Union. 2 The economic concessions that his predecessors had been prepared to grant the Soviet Union, Reagan believed, would have propped up an inefficient economic

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