THE MORE THINGS STAY THE SAME
As I watch some of the coverage of Reagan's death (somewhat emotionally I have to admit), I am struck by how perceptions of him have changed over time. Pundits who predicted that he would blow up da world back then have the stones to get on TV now and talk about his kind nature and his great sense of humor.
People who are younger don't remember what the world was like in the sixties and seventies. There was a real fear, bordering on paranoia, of a nuclear holocost. I spoke at lunch today with a friend my age who remembered the "duck and cover" drills we practiced in elementary school. The alarm rang and you walked out of the classroom and into the hall, got down on your knees, put your head to the floor and folded your hands over the back of your head (the drill didn't include the final act which we all eventually figured out we'd have to perform - kissing our sweet asses goodbye). It was hard not to worry about it when you practised those drills and when every public building and church had one of those big yellow and black signs advertising that it had a Fallout Shelter in the basement.
During this time the conservative anti-communists made the argument that the stalemated MAD mode that the world was locked in was insane and immoral. First Goldwater, Reagan, Buckley and others believed that communism was evil and that any national strategy other than the eventual defeat of communism was immoral because it would consign the millions of people trapped in communist dicatatorships around the world to continued enslavement. The reward for espousing a philosophy of liberation of the oppressed, of the expansion of liberty was for the leaders of the conservative movement to be branded as dangerous bomb throwers who would BLOW UP DA WORLD.
Goldwater was portrayed by LBJ hatchet-man Bill Moyers as a lunatic who would bring about the end of mankind in the infamous "Daisy" commercial in the 1964 campaign (although the commercial never mentioned Goldwater by name). Reagan was plagued by the Nuclear Freeze movement (which even his own daughter supported) which sought to undermine the scheduled deployment of Pershing missles to NATO - a deployment that was the reaction of the Soviet introduction of medium ranged SS-20s into the theater. I remember the protests in Europe, the burning effigies of Reagan during that period.
Yet time has proven their positions correct. Goldwater was ridiculed for his stirring words from is nomination acceptance speech: "Those who do not care for our cause we do not expect to enter our ranks in any case. I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" Reagan was ridiculed for calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and demanding that "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall".
Kennedy had talked about the evils of a world that was only half free and that we must "...pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty." But a few years later these sentiments expressed in other words by politicians of another party would be viewed as dangerously inflammatory by the national media.
History is repeating. George Bush talks about the evils of Islamofascism in the same blunt way that Ronald Reagan spoke about Communism. When Bush characterised Iran, Iraq and North Korea as constituting an "axis of evil" he was criticised as being too inflammatory and simplistic. But they do. The only thing he should have been criticised for is not including Syria, Sudan and Pakistan (where the nexus of a nuclear arms smuggling ring was subsequently discovered).
Communism and Islamofascism have many parallels. They both are ultra-nationalist religions - Communism with its god as the state (and Lenin) and Islamism with the bloodthirsty Mohammed as its prophet. They work clandestinely to subvert hostile governments from within using both political and terrorist tactics - think of post-war Greece, Turkey, South America and later Cuba, Angola and Nicaragua as parallels to Indonesia (Bali, hence Australia), Phillipines, India (Kashmir), Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Islamism is a worldwide political/social/religious movement just as Communism was. It is the heir.
The biggest difference is that since Communism had the Soviet Union at its core its advance could be deterred by a credible military threat. The USSR could not use its nuclear arsenal to its political advantage because its leaders were convinced that we would use our deterrent force if required to prevent it.
The fanatical Islamists have no real state for us to target the missles of our arsenal (if we wish not to simply indiscriminately kill Muslims, therefore the concept of deterrence is much weaker. Hence, the risk of the use of WMD is greater now (although the risk of an event that terminates all terrestrial life is less) than it was during the Cold War. Yet none of use feels a sense of urgency as we did during the Sixties. And some still question whether we are really at war.
Reagan was reviled by the left much as Bush is today. Reagan was right about what needed to be done and stuck to his prinicples. Let's hope President Bush can do the same.