WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ronald Reagan
won the Cold War by following his instincts and ignoring a lot
of bad advice from establishment Republicans in and out of his
administration. A new book just released tells the amazing story
of Jeane Kirkpatrick, a onetime liberal Democrat whose intellectual
honesty and probing mind led her to the inner circles of the
Reagan foreign policy strategists. This gifted, insightful woman's
role in what became the "Reagan Doctrine" is explored
in Peter Collier's Political
Woman: the Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. (Encounter Books, 2012, 368 pages)
The book provides a perfect focal point for a review
of the lead-up to the Cold War. Ms. Kirkpatrick's input to the
Reagan policy was one of several, and Mr. Collier provides us with
So let us not forget....
Before the Cold War fades too far into our past, we might benefit
from a review of that half-century nightmare now that our defeated
enemies have since regrouped under terrorist coalitions that include
Even much of the mainstream media will acknowledge — sometimes
in a backhanded way — President Reagan's role in bringing down
the Soviet Union. What is not known to younger Americans — or
even to older citizens who grew up with classroom distortions or were
not taught any American History, to speak of — is that Reagan
and his allies (here and abroad) were up against decades of propaganda
advanced by powerful forces (some well-meaning, others not).
At least two 20th century generations were largely influenced by a
one-sided set of conventional wisdoms that dominated public discourse.
With that in mind, the following background:
When "Johnny came marching home"
In the Post World War II years, Americans were understandably war-weary.
That many facets of the pre-war Depression-era New Deal had begun to
lose their appeal was evident in the overwhelming vote in 1946 for
a conservative Congress. It would have been gratifying, of course,
had we then lived "happily ever after." But as always, that
hoped-for scenario is confined to fairy tales.
In this instance, several factors got in the way.
The Cold War
We soon realized
that while we had defeated an evil man in Germany (Hitler),
we had helped make the world safe for another evil man (Stalin).
Americans began to ask if and when our fighting men would
be required to "put on their uniforms again."
On Capitol Hill, Senator Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio.) was alarmed.
He knew that the warfare state (whatever its cause) would serve
to strengthen the welfare state, and thus create a never-ending
growth of government, complete with its inherent threat to fundamental
The United Nations was created — concomitant with an almost
Pravda-like barrage of sanctimony whereby Americans were lectured that
hopefully we had "learned our lesson," that we could have
prevented World War II if we had only joined the League of Nations
after World War I, and that we dared not repeat the "mistake" of "withdrawing
from the world," lest we are called again to "bear arms."
Unraveling all the premises in that cliché-filled nonsense
would require a book — not a mere column. In shorthand: World
War I was a ridiculous war into which we were lured by the deceit of
Woodrow Wilson and others. It ultimately toppled four empires only
to replace them with successors that were demonstrably worse.
Americans then concluded, in retrospect, that pulling the British
Empire's chestnuts out of the fire did not justify our involvement
in World War I. We refused to join the League, largely out of concern
for its potential infringement on our sovereignty.
The Versailles Treaty — engineered largely by Wilson — planted
the seeds of World War II and provided an opening for the rise of Adolph
Hitler. Tyrants with evil intent usually require talking points.
In 1945, having fought in two world wars (the second a direct result
of the avoidable first), we were hectored to clean up the mess by joining
the League's successor, the United Nations. which for decades has bilked
our taxpayers, coddled our enemies, and routinely infringed on or attempted
to disrupt our sovereignty (and by the way, we did "bear arms" in
several wars, advanced by Communist and terrorist enemies, including
some who have occupied respected positions at the UN).
The notion that conservatism, for all intents
and purposes, did not exist in Post World War II America was
summed up in 1950 by Lionel Trilling, the famous literary critic
and professor, who wrote: "In the United States at this
time, liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual
Trilling, a controversial figure in his time, merely reflected
the perception of a smothering monopoly of liberal internationalism
that — with few exceptions — dominated the ideas
marketplace. Though Trilling himself was critical of communism,
many of his liberal contemporaries were anti-anti-communists,
believing that any criticism of home-bound communists served
only as fodder for the "reactionary right," and undermined
an establishment vision of "one world."
At war's end, Communist Party USA membership was at its highest level,
having prospered in the New Deal era's "united front" during
the Great Depression and then during the war when — after at
first collaborating with Hitler — Stalin became America's ally
only because he was left with no choice.
Outright Communists and their fellow travelers infiltrated government
(349 that were known at one count), theatre, movies, music, broadcasting,
academia — every avenue of public influence. They were aided
by the anti-anti-communists (mentioned above) who ran interference
The consensus was shattered just as the liberal "establishment" thought
the Goldwater defeat of 1964 had left it with permanent intellectual
and political victory.
The violent protests — fomented by the anti-war left, the new
forces of "political correctness," and some fringe elements
of the civil rights movement — had caused much of Middle America
to re-evaluate the way in which the world should be viewed.
This is the world that greeted Ronald Reagan and those on his team
who were with him intellectually (of whom Jeane Kirkpatrick was one).
The former California governor had entered the White House with the
goal in mind of bringing down the Soviet Union. Notwithstanding some
popular revulsion to the exotic extremes of the sixties, some of the
old Post World War II conventional wisdoms remained as never-to-be-challenged
fact in many influential quarters.
The question then was: How were the new White House arrivals to go
against that wind and overcome the moral equivalence widely accorded
a mortal enemy whose ultimate goal was nothing short of world domination?
Space requires that we take a second column to finish this brief summation
of the story, which resulted in victory over the Soviets, as the fight
continues against terrorists and contemporary UN threats to U.S. sovereignty
and security, including today's Law of the Sea treaty (rejected by
Reagan and roundly denounced more recently prior to her death by Jeane
The Big Picture
Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer whose broadcast career included
25 years with CBS Radio.
Copyright © 2012 by Wes Vernon and
the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. A version of
this article appeared at renewamerica.com on
June 7, 2012.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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