In light of the ongoing events in the Middle East from the bloodshed in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Israel, to nuclear negotiations with Iran, and the march throughout the world of Islamic supremacism and a revanchist Russia, we thought it instructive and illuminating to look at what Reagan wrote about defeating the enemies that he was to inherit as president.
The following excerpt comes from a Reagan speech entitled “PEACE,” delivered on August 18, 1980 at the Veteran of Foreign Wars Convention in Chicago Illinois. The transcription of the speech is written below as compiled in the indispensable “Reagan, In His Own Hand,” with all handwritten strikethroughs and typed bracketed addendums courtesy of Ronald Reagan. We have bolded certain relevant sections for emphasis.
While the threats Reagan discusses do not precisely parallel what America faces today, undeniably the principles, wisdom and spirit that animate Reagan’s words make this speech vital reading, whether for the most hawkish hawk or dovish dove.
It has always struck me as odd that you who have known at first hand the ugliness and agony of war are so often blamed for war by those who parade for peace.
I think the answer is obvious. Having known war, you are in the forefront of those who know that peace is not obtained or preserved by wishing and weakness. You have consistently urged maintenance of a defense capability that provides a margin of safety for America. There is no such margin today.
But because of your support for military preparedness, there are those who equate that with being militant and desirous of war. Back in the ’20′s, Will Rogers had an answer for
pacifiststhose who believed a strong militarythat strength invited war. He said, “I’ve nver seen anyone insult Jack Dempsey”– world(world heavyweight champion at that time).
About 10 days ago,
theour new Sec. of State addressed a labor convention. He took me to task. Indeed, he denounced me for urging that the U.S. should seek to achieve military superiority. Actually, I’ve called for whatever it takes to be so strong that no other nation wouldwill dare violate the peace. If that means superiority, so be it. But the Sec. was downright angry. with me. He charged that such a policy would lead to an all-out arms race but only the Soviets are racingracing. They are outspending us on defensetotal military by 50% and more than double, SOMETIMES TRIPLE, on strategic nuclear weapons.
One wonders if the Sec. of State or the Pres. for that matter sees any threatening pattern in the Soviet presence by way of Cuban proxies in so much of Africa, which is the source of minerals absolutely essential to industry in Japan, Western Europe and the U.S. We are self sufficient in only 5 of the 27 minerals
vitalimportant to ourus industrially & strategically.
“[I]t must not be peace at any price; it must not be a peace of humiliation and gradual surrender”
Then there is the Soviet takeover in Somalia, Ethiopia, So. Yemen, and now Afghanistan.
whichTHIS LAST moves them to500 miles closer to the oil-rich middle east ARABIAN GULF. And is it just coincidence that Cuban & Soviet-trained terrorists are bringing civil war to Central American countries in close proximity to the rich oil fields of Venezuela & Mexico?
World peace must be our number one priority. It is the first task of state-craft to preserve peace so that brave men need not die in battle. But it must not be peace at any price; it must not be a peace of humiliation and gradual surrender. Nor can it be the kind of peace imposed on Czechoslovakia by Soviet tanks just 12 years ago this month. And certainly it isn’t the peace that
has comecame to So. East[Southeast] Asia with our signing of the Paris Peace accords.
Peace must be such that freedom can flourish and justice prevail. Tens of thousands of boat people have shown us there is no freedom in
Viet Namthe so-called peace in Vietnam. The hill people on Laos know poison gas not justice, and, in Cambodia, there is only the peace of the grave for at least 1/3 [one-third] of the population slaughtered by the Communists.
Title: Reagan, in His Own Hand
For too long, we have lived with the “VietNam Syndrome.” Much of that syndrome
washas been created by the No. Vietnamese aggressors who now threaten the peaceful people of Thailand. Over & over they told us for nearly 10 years that we were the aggressors bent on imperialistic conquest. They had a battle plan. It was to win on the city streets of America & in our news media what they could not win on the field of battle. As the years dragged on, theywe were told that peace would come if we would simply stop interfering.
It is time
thatwe recognized that ours was, in truth, a noble cause. A small country newly free from colonial rule sought our help in establishing self-rule and the means of self defense against a totalitarian neighbor bent on conquest. We dishonor the memory of 50,000 young Americans who died in that cause WHEN WE GIVE WAY TO FEELINGS OF GUILT AS IF WE WERE DOING SOMETHING SHAMEFUL, and we have been shabby in our treatment of thethose who returned. veteransThey fought as well and as bravely as any Americans fighting menhave ever fought in any war. They deserve our gratitude & our respect. We
We owe it to them
There is a lesson for all of us in
that tragic warVIETNAM; if war does come, youwe must have the means & the determination to prevail or youwe will not have what it takes to secure the peace. And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight & possibly die in a war our govt. is afraid to let them win.
Shouldn’t it be obvious to even the staunchest believers in
disunilateral disarmament as aTHE SURE road to peace that peace was never more certain than in the years following W.W. II when we had the mightiest mil. force in the world and a monopoly on nuclear weapons?
True, there was the Korean tragedy, but even that bolsters the argument.
There is no question but thatNorth Korea’s attack on So. Korea followed an injudicious statement from Wash. that our sphere of interest in the Pacific and our defense perimeter did not include Korea. Then followed our first “no win war,” a PORTENT OF MUCH THAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE.
But reflect for a moment how, under U.S. leadership the free nations joined together to rebuild a war-ravaged Europe. Our will & our capacity to preserve the peace were unchallenged. There was no question about our credibility and our welcome throughout the world. Our erstwhile enemies became close friends and allies.
When John F. Kennedy demanded the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba and the tension mounted, it was Nikita Kruschev who backed down, and there was no war.
–maybe because oOur nuclear superiority over the Soviets was about 8 to 1.
But, then, in the face of
thatsuch evidence that the cause of peace is best served by strength not bluster, an odd thing happened. Those responsible for our defense policy ignored the fact that some indicationevidence of aggressive intent on the part of the Soviets was surely indicated by the placement of missiles in Cuba. to begin withNo attention was paid to the declaration ofby the Soviet foreign minister that they would seemake sure they never had to back down again. No one could possibly misinterpret his statement. as anythingHe was announcing the intention of the Soviet U. to begin a military buildup.
Our policymakers, however, decided
therethe Soviet U. would not attempt to catch up, that, for some reason, they would be satisfied with the status quo and accept 2nd place as their proper placeposition. Sometime later, in 1965, Sec. of Defense McNamara, was positive in his assertionin an interview in U.S. News & World Report, stated unequivocally that the Soviets were making no moves whatsoever to enhance their nuclear capability vis-a-vis ours.
Fifteen years have gone by since that exercise in positive thinking.
WhenAT THAT TIME we led the Soviets in some 40-odd mil. categories according to the Nat. Defense Council. They lead us in all but 8 and, according to the Council, will surpass us in those in the next few years if present trends continue.
Someone in the United Kingdom once described four stages or periods of thinking that led to W.W. II. He said that when warnings came of a military buildup
byin Hitler’s Germany, theyTHOSE WARNINGS were greetgreeted with disbelief. Then when there was no denying the evidence of Hitler’s rearming, the response was “we’re too strong; he can never match us so what’s to worry about.” Stage 3, foundwhen the Nazi buildupforces had achieved equality, was greeted by the English with pleasure. They said; we have“GOOD. THERE IS a balance of power, & that has always brought peace.” The buildup continued until the Nazi superiority was plain for everyone to see–stage 4, and the response was, “we mustn’t try to catch up; it would be provocative & might cause war.”
Is there a parallel? Are we in stage 4? Is that why the Sec. of State became so angry THE OTHER DAY at the
suggestionidea that we should improve our defensive capability?
Soviet leaders talk
ofarrogantly of a so-called “correlation of forces” that has moved in their favor, opening up opportunities for them to extend their influence. The response from th ise admin. in Wash. has been one of weakness, vacillinconsistency, vacillation & bluff, or so it seems. A Soviet combat brigade is discovered in Cuba; the Pres. goes on TV to declare its presence 90 miles off our shore is unacceptable. The brigade is still there. Soviet troops mass on the border of Afghanistan. The Pres. issues a stern warning against any actionmove by those troops to cross the border. They cross the border, execute the puppet Pres. they themselves had installed, and carry out a savage attack on the people of Afghanistan. Our credibility in the world slumps further. HeTHE PRES. proclaims we’ll protect the middle east by force of arms and 2 weeks later admits we don’t have the force.
Is it a lack of coherent policy? Is it vacillation and indecision? There is another more frightening possibility–the possibility that this admin. is being very consistent, that it is continuing the McNamara doctrine that we have noting to fear from the Soviets–if we just don’t provoke them.
“Weakness…is tempting to a nation whose imperialist ambitions extend to the ends of the earth”
warW.W.II came about without provocation. Firmness based on strong defense capability is not provocative. Weakness can be provocative simply because it is tempting to a nation whose imperialist ambitions extend to the ends of the earth.
We find ourselves increasingly in a position of dangerous isolation. Our allies are losing confidence in us, and our adversaries no longer respect us.
There is an alternative path for America which offers a more realistic hope for peace. We must regain that margin of safety I spoke of both in conventional arms & the deployment of troops. And we must allow no weakness in our nuclear deterrent.
There is something else. We must remember our heritage, who we are & WHAT WE ARE, and how this nation, this island of freedom, came into being. And we must make it unmistakably plain to all the world that we have
the willno intention of comprising our principles, our beliefsbeliefs or our freedom. That we have the will & the determination to do as a young Pres. said in his inaugural address 20 years ago, “bear any burden, pay any price.” Our reward will be world peace; there is no other way to have it.
For more than a decade, we have sought detente. The word means relaxation. We don’t talk about a detente with our allies; there is no tension there that needs relaxing. We seek to relax tensions where there are tensions–with potential enemies. And if those potential enemies are well armed and have shown a willingness to use
actionarmed force to gain their ends (ends that are different than ours), then relaxing tensions is a delicate & dangerous business.
Detente has meaning only if both sides take positive actions to relax the tensions. When one side relaxes while the other carries out the greatest military buildup in the history of mankind, the cause of peace has not been advanced.
Arms control negotiation can often help improve stability but not when (like with detente) the negotiations are one-sided. And they obviously have been one-sided and will continue to be so if we lack steadiness and determination in keeping up our defenses.
…The American people must be given a better understanding of the threat
confrontinghanging over us and of the need for effort &, yes, sacrifice to turn the situation around. Our govt. must stop pretending that it has a choice between promoting the general welfare & providing for the common defense. Today they are one & the same.
Let our people be aware of the
various ways that threat hanging over us could can be implemented byseveral objectives of the Soviets in this decade AND THE THREAT THEY ARE TO CONTINUED PEACE. An attempt will be made to separate our NATONATO allies from the U.S. Nations like W. Germany & France are already being approached by the Soviets, carrot & stick in hand. Another I’ve already mentioned is an increase of Soviet influence in the Persian Gulf–(the Arabs preferwould rather we call it the Arabian gulf).
Not much attention has been given to a 3rd move, and that is the encirclement and neutralizing of Communist China. Much closer to home is Soviet-inspired trouble in the Caribbean.
There is Cuba of course and nowSubversion & Cuban-trained guerrilla bands are targeted on Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, & Guatemala. Leftist regimes have already taken over in Nicaragua & Grenada. And of course the Soviet U.
A central concern of the Kremlin will always be
theirthe Soviet ability to handle a direct confrontation with our military forces. Paul Nitze[I]n a recent address, [Paul Nitze] said; “The Kremlin leaders do not want war; they want the world.” For that reason, they have put much of their mil. effort into strategic nuclear programs. Here the balance has been moving against us & will continue to do so if we continue onFOLLOW the course set by this admin.
The Soviets want peace & victory. We must understand this and what it means to us. They seek a superiority in nuclear strength that, in the event of a confrontation, would leave us with
thea choice betweenof surrender or die. We could have the peace of aSurrender would give us peace allright; the peace of a Czechoslovakia or an Afghanistan. or peace on our termsBut if we have the will & the determination to build a deterrent capability of such strengthwe can have a real peace because we will never be faced with a Soviet ultimatum. Indeed, the men in the Kremlin could in the face of such determination decide that true arms limitation makes sense.
For a nation such as ours, arms are
onlyimportant only to prevent others from conquering us or our allies. We are not a belligerent people. Our purpose is not to prepare for a war or wish harm to others. When we had the great strength atin the years following W.W.II, we didn’t use itthat strength for territorial gain. Our foreign policy thenshould be ourTO SHOW BY example ofthe greatness of our system and the strength of American ideals. The truth is we would like nothing better than to see the Russian people living in freedom & dignity instead of being trapped in a backwash of history as they are. The greatest fallacy of the Lenin-Marxist philosophy is that it is the “wave of the future.” Everything about it is as primitive as tribal rule; compulsion in place of free initiative; coercion in place of law; piracy in place of trade, and empire building for the benefit of a chosen few at the expense of the many. We have seen nothing like it since FEUDALISM.
Where have people given a choice freely chosen Communism? What other system in the world has to build walls to keep its people in?
Recently Academician Andrei Sakharov, one of Russia’s great scientists [and] presently under house arrest, smuggled a statement out of the “Gulag”–the prison which is the Soviet U. It turned up in the N.Y. Times Magazine of June 8. Sakharov wrote: “I consider the United States the historically determined leader of the movement toward a pluralist & free society, vital to mankind.”
He is right.
of course. We have strayed off course many times [and] been careless with the machinery of freedom bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers, but, somehow, it has survivedmanaged to survive our frailties. One of those Founding Fathers spoke the truth when he said, “God intended America to be free.”
We have been a refuge for the persecuted & down-trodden from every corner of the world for 200 yrs…I don’t believe we should turn them away.
…But let’s do a better job of exporting Americanism. Let’s meet our responsibility to keep the peace at the same time we maintain without compromise our principles & ideals.
Let it be our destiny to strive for a world in which people can live in freedom in their own homeland without
I believe it is our pre-ordained destiny to show all mankind that they, too, can be free without having to leave their native shore.