This book is not a "history of Ronald Reagan," or even his presidency. Instead, it solely focuses on the role Reagan played in teh downfall of communism. For example, although the bombing of Libya in April, 1986 was a key event in reducing Libyan terrorism, its not mentioned in the book.
The book starts in Reagan's childhood, with the key reference being Reagan's work as a lifeguard saving 77 lives "and not one of them thanked me for it." The author, Paul Kengor, contends that this was a key indicator of Reagan's natural inclination to help others and a confidence builder in his decisions and actions.
It then spends a good deal of time on Reagan's acting career, or, more importantly, the amount of time he spent fighting Communism in Hollywood. This is what struck me most about this book. Reagan saw first hand in Hollywood during the 40s and 50s the lengths the Soviet Union and Communists would go to influence Western culture and embed itself into the West as a means to undermine and eventually "turn" the West. (Side note: I argue that we are still feeling the effects of this today, given the anti-Americanism I've witnessed over my life in the media, from Hollywood, and in academia. The Soviets knew what they were doing when they were converting, teaching, and raising communists here in the US). It was in Hollywood that Reagan fought his first battles with Communism, and where his deep-rooted conviction that Communism must be pushed back.
The book then begins covering his political career, which really started while he was host of GE Theatre, which he used as a platform for his political ideals. Before too long, Kengor is covering the 1980 election and laying the foundation of fall of Communism.
Anyone who has paid attention realizes that the Soviet Union failed due to its getting in an arms race with the US under Reagan's guidance. While the nation was in uproar over the trillion dollar deficit Reagan had created, at the time few realized the administration was planting the seeds of the downfall of the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism.
The book devotes a chapter to each year in the 80s, painting a picture of the administration goals and strategy, and tactics executed each year to first stop the advance of communism and eventually roll back communism.
Key learnings from the book that I did not realize before reading:
- I did not realize how important Poland and the Pope were in Reagan's strategy and daily life.
- The crusade against communism did not stop with the arms race; other economic warfare tactics included getting the Saudis to increase oil production to drive down the price of oil (thus hurting the Soviets biggest source of hard currency), and the generation of deceptive high-technology leaked to the East that failed in the field
- How much his cabinet and staff was against many of his policies. I realized the public at the time was against many of Reagan's foreign policies (he got re-elected on the basis of the economy, IMHO), but did not realize the extent he "went it alone" with his confidence and belief driving him. He did have some key allies in Bill Clark and William Casey, but they were in the minority.
- France sucks. Oh, wait, I knew that. But the book gives me more reasons to believe so.
- How important Grenada was strategically to eliminate the bad taste of Vietnam.
- Once Reagan took office, not once inch of free land was lost to Communism. WOW.
Best thing about this book is that it is rich in cited statements and documents, even to the extent that a KGB letter in response to Sen. Edward Kennedy's communication to the Soviet Union to help defeat Reagan in 1984 was printed in the book. Kengor's references include administration documents that have been declassified and Soviet documents (TASS, Pravda, and KGB). In fact, I would venture that Kengor has more references to Soviet press than he did to US/Western press. Ironically, it was telling just how much the Soviets understood what was happening and why (that Reagan was waging an economic war on the Sovient Union), while the West simply bought into the Soviet propoganda that Reagan was a blood-thirsty warhawk that thirsted for WWIII.
Kengor also uses interviews from those who served under Reagan to back his claims, giving his perspective much credibility.
"Those who fail to learn from history and doomed to repeat it." While in the past I've likened the current war against terrorism to the fight against Communism (on a smaller scale of course), this book really brought out the two in a very similar light: leaders committed to eliminate a threat to freedom, leaders criticized for "going it alone,"
Usually looking in the past shows us plenty of failures; fortunately, with Reagan, we can see success, and learn from that success.
Interesting enough, Amy and I have used this opportunity to teach Spencer about Reagan (he saw the name on the book and said "that's my name!"). We've taught him he was a great leader, a great man, a great father that made this world much, much safer for him. I'm not sure how the public schools teach the history of Reagan, but I'm not leaving it to chance. After all, educating my children is MY responsibility, not the schools'.