Ronald Wilson Reagan
, the 40th President of the United States, was born on this day, January 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois.
I never had the opportunity to vote for President Reagan, since I was only 7 years old when he was first elected to the presidency in 1980. One of the few things I remember about that election is that one day at school, one of my teachers asked the class who we would vote for if we were eligible. She took a show of hands, and I proudly raised mine for Jimmy Carter, marking the first and last time I supported a Democrat for President.
The Assassination Attempt
"May I have your attention, please...may I have your attention, please." Those familiar words rang out from the intercom in my mom's classroom on the afternoon of Monday, March 30, 1981. Classes were already out and most students had gone home, but since my mom taught at my school, I was still around to hear the principal's announcement that day - President Reagan had been shot. I believe that the announcement was followed by a moment of silence...maybe even a prayer. (I guess people weren't so easily offended by such things back then.) Later, as news reports trickled in, we learned that President Reagan had spoken to Nancy and said, "Honey, I forgot to duck." From that moment on, the nation knew the true character of Ronald Reagan.
Sometime during the summer of 1984, I wrote a letter to President Reagan. I don't remember exactly why I did it. Maybe a teacher had suggested it, or maybe I had heard that the President already had a pen pal
, and might be looking for one more. How cool would that be?
The topic of my letter was world peace. I just couldn't understand why we had to live in fear of a war that would destroy the world as we knew it. My family and I had watched a movie called The Day After
on ABC-TV in November of 1983. It depicted the aftermath of a nuclear war in a town (Lawrence, Kansas) not too much different than the place I grew up. The thought that my little corner of Alabama might be incinerated by a few nuclear bombs was terrifying. So, I waited anxiously for the President to write back. Finally, a letter came with the return address of "The White House - Washington." Here's what it said:
September 6, 1984
On behalf of President Reagan, I want to thank you for writing about your deep concern for peace.
While the President would like to respond personally to all the letters he receives, the volume of correspondence makes it impossible. However, in September of 1983 the President answered a letter from an American who, like yourself, questioned why our country had to have a military force and a defense program. I hope that it will answer your questions and give you an understanding of the problems that we face today.
President Reagan is working daily to maintain peace at home and to bring a lasting peace to our troubled world.
With the President's best wishes,
Special Assistant to the President and Director of Correspondence
Enclosure: Text of 9/6/83 Presidential Letter
The following is the text of a letter sent by the President on September 6, 1983:
I was deeply touched by your letter. I know how fervently you desire peace and how much you long for a world free of the threat of nuclear war. I know just how you feel.
To understand where we are it is necessary to understand where we have been. After the Second World War there were high hopes among the Western Democracies that the Soviet Union would become a partner in building a peaceful world. Many concessions were made to the Soviet Union to demonstrate Western goodwill. For example, they were given three votes in the UN General Assembly. Also, the USSR was the only nation that added to its national territory in the wake of World War II. While Western nations were granting their former colonies independence, the Soviet Union grabbed large chunks of Finland and Poland. Soon it became clear that the Soviets were determined to ignore all the promises about free elections and national self-determination as the Red Army helped to reduce countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania to mere satellites.
The Soviet Union again showed its colors when it attempted to starve Berlin into surrender. We broke the Berlin blockade with a historic airlift, and the Kremlin backed down. They launched a proxy war against South Korea, an aggression condemned by the UN. As tens of thousands of East Germans fled into West Germany to escape the oppressive communist rule, the Soviet puppet government erected the ugly Berlin Wall, making their nation a prison. The Soviet Union supplied and supported the North Vietnamese communist government in its war to conquer South Vietnam. The Soviet Union, with the collusion of Fidel Castro, turned Cuba into a forward base for threats against this country and further expansion into this hemisphere.
President Kennedy had to resort to a massive naval quarantine and strong warning of further sanctions in order to get Khrushchev to remove those missiles. Soviet forces crushed bids for freedom in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Then there's Soviet-Cuban involvement in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. Today tens of thousands of Soviet troops are warring against the people of Afghanistan. These, of course, are just some of the highlights.
As the USSR began to show its true aggressive colors, the United States and the nations of Western Europe understood that its prime target would be the free nations of Europe with their advanced industrial base and large, highly skilled populations. And so NATO was formed, a collective security alliance designed to deter further Soviet advances in Europe. After the USSR acquired nuclear weapons and delivery systems, it was felt necessary to offset those weapons by creating and deploying an arsenal which would be able to deliver such a powerful counterstrike - even after a Soviet first strike - that such a first strike would never be attempted. When the USSR began to deploy intermediate range missiles in East Europe, aimed at West European targets, it was our West European allies who requested the United States to deploy medium range missiles in West Europe to neutralize this threat.
We are negotiating in the hope that the Kremlin will be willing to agree to mutual, balanced, and verifiable arms limitation agreements. We have made several goodwill offers, all of which have been rejected at this point. But we are still trying. In the meantime, we believe a one-sided cutback on our part would do nothing to enhance the chances for mutual disarmament. It would further tip the balance in favor of the Soviet Union and give them no reason to make any concessions. It would move us closer to war. It would do nothing to preserve the peace. But I believe we must go beyond the present posture of nuclear threat and counterthreat. It is true that this "balance of terror" has been effective in preventing nuclear war for almost 40 years, but a more fundamental and stable solution, I believe, lies in the development of a genuine defense against nuclear missiles. I believe this is within the realm of technological possibility, and we are moving in this direction. If we succeed, we will have lifted from the brow of all mankind the terrible fear of nuclear holocaust.
I understand the deep and sincere feelings of many of those who take part in "peace demonstrations." I would be leading the march if I thought this would help to avert nuclear war. But marching for peace, shouting slogans for peace, and waving placards for peace will not bring peace. In fact, to the extent that such activities may weaken the will of the free countries and influence them to drop their guard, they could make war more likely.
We are working for peace and praying for peace. I hope we will have your support and your prayers. God bless you.
A lot has changed in the world since President Reagan wrote that letter in 1983. The Soviet Union is no more...the Berlin Wall fell...the captive nations of Eastern Europe are free. Reagan was right.
Like most of his admirers, I never had the chance to meet President Reagan. But, I made it to Washington, D.C. on June 10, 2004 - just one among thousands who came from every state in the Union to pay their last respects to a man whose message of hope and optimism had changed the world - all saying, "Thank you, President Reagan, for all you did."