So, I guess in a way [the Nicaraguan rebels] are counterrevolutionary, and God bless them for being that way. And I guess that makes them contras, and so it makes me a contra, too.
RONALD REAGAN, MARCH 14, 19861
IN REACTING TO THE THREAT of nuclear holocaust, President Reagan was guided by a futuristic vision. But in responding to almost every other foreign policy challenge, his perspectives were the product of the past. Reagan's mental pictures of the world had been formed when the Nazi storm was gathering in Europe and imperial Japan was on the march in China. He viewed the world through World War II eyes, and he had learned his generation's lesson that unwillingness to prepare for war invites aggression. For Reagan, the word "appeasement" carried connotations of "surrender." He believed that U.S. military strength was the best guarantee of peace. "War will not come again, other young men will not have to die, if we will speak honestly of the dangers that confront us and remain strong enough to meet these dangers," Reagan said at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, 1982.
But Reagan's picture of a golden, patriotic past was filtered through the dark, distorting lens of Vietnam. California had been on the cutting edge of the peace movement during Reagan's governorship, and the student protests against the Vietnam War had left a lasting impression. While Reagan was never on the side of the students, he also had reservations about the war, or at least the way he thought the war was being waged. He sensed that the divisiveness of Vietnam somehow bound Americans together in shared emotions of frustration and anger. As a political outsider, Reagan was well positioned to exploit this frustration. He bore no responsibility for the decisions that led to American participation in the Vietnam War, and he shared the inveterate conservative skepticism about the wisdom of land wars in Asia. As the protests mounted, Reagan became a spokesman for