Ronald Reagan, Crusader
Steigerwald, Bill, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
In his second book on Ronald Reagan, "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," Grove City political science professor Paul Kengor documents Reagan's lifelong crusade against Communism and how hard he worked as president to dismantle the Soviet Empire. Kengor, who earlier wrote "God and Ronald Reagan," relied on Soviet media archives, declassified presidential papers and interviews with administration insiders to reveal what the Soviets thought of Reagan and what secret actions Reagan ordered to wreck the Soviet economy, assist Poland's Solidarity Movement and aid the Afghan rebels. On Tuesday, Reagan's birthday, Kengor will discuss his book at a noon luncheon sponsored by the Allegheny Institute at the DoubleTree Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Q: What exactly does it mean that you have reassessed Ronald Reagan's life and presidency through the lens of his anti- communism?
A: Well, you could see Ronald Reagan's life as preparing and then ultimately taking on Soviet communism. Ronald Reagan was born in 1911. The Bolshevik Revolution took place in October of 1917. The demise of communism really comes from 1989 to 1991; 1989 was the final year of Reagan's presidency; 1991 was the actual disintegration of the Soviet Union. So really the rise and fall of Soviet communism are the bookends of Reagan's life. Mercifully, his mind lasted just long enough to comprehend the Cold War victory and defeat of communism. His letter informing the world that he had Alzheimer's came in November, 1994, so he had that short window from 1989 to 1994 where he could savor the victory. In fact, what historically never gets talked about is that Reagan even made a trip to the Berlin Wall and a trip to Poland in the early 1990s. The parish priest of Lech Walesa handed Ronald Reagan a saber and said, "We are giving this to you for helping us to chop the head off of Soviet Communism."
Q: So what is it that Reagan had against communism?
A: It was really multi-faceted, but I'd say three different areas: One, it was the shear brutality of the Soviet system. You've got these basic human rights transgressions -- freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly. The Soviet Union repressed if not snuffed out all of those rights. Add to that the Soviet Union was responsible for the deaths of a lot of people -- anywhere from 30 million to as high as 60 to 70 million. Two, add to that the fact that this was an expansionary ideology. Marx talked about world communism. So did Lenin, so did Stalin, so did Stalin's foreign minister. There was a Commintern (Communist International), whose goal was global communism. Then you add into it the third factor -- and this is the one that everybody missed: Ronald Reagan was appalled by the institutionalized atheism of the Soviet system. What Mikhail Gorbachev called "the war on religion" was indeed a war on religion. And it was that that for Reagan convinced Reagan this was not just a bad place, this was in fact an actual "Evil Empire."
Q: What are the most important discoveries of your book?
A: Well, there are a lot of them. That's not just PR hype, it's really true. One, generally speaking, no one has really presented the Soviet point-of-view on all of this, as I have. I spent all of the 1990s, including graduate school at Pitt, reading through old translated media archives of Pravda, Izvestia, the Moscow Domestic Service and TASS, the official Soviet news agency. I also got transcripts of all of the Soviet news programs on TV and radio. For example there was a show called "Studio Nine," which was the Soviet equivalent of "60 Minutes," where you had basically three or four Soviet propagandists, all working for the KGB, sitting around a table, analyzing what Ronald Reagan was doing. Here I found them calling him "The Crusader" over and over and over again. I thought, "Wow! Where's that coming from?" The Crusader? …