To try and write about the 40th President of the United States is a truly daunting and overwhelming task, but to do it on his 100th birthday and succinctly is even more intimidating. Reagan’s presidency is arguably one of the most paramount of the 20th century, and as I sat to write this piece, my thoughts drew to three principles that defined both Reagan the President and Reagan the man: his sense of virtue, his sense of compassion and his sense of perception. Reagan maintained these three principles which changed the world forever.
First, President Reagan was a man who had an incredible amount of virtue. There is no doubt that he truly saw the world in terms of good vs. evil. He was famously noted for his condemnation of the evil empire and pursuing ways that would place it on the “ash heaps of history.” On March 3, 1983 whilst delivering a speech in Florida, President Reagan said:
“To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding is to remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
Reagan was deeply discouraged and worried about an aggressive Soviet Union that loyally believed in the words of Lenin, who said “wouldn’t matter if three quarters of the human race perished; the important thing is that one quarter be communist.” Whilst many prophesied an uneasy bi-polar world on the brink of nuclear war, President Reagan pursued a policy that would dismantle a totalitarian regime and build a lasting democracy. In the book Reagan, In His Own Hand, he wrote “that a dictatorship was based on fear, but a democracy was built on virtue and when that is dissolved democracy ceases to exist.”
Not only did Reagan’s virtue inspire the free world during his administration, but it left a lasting mark on future policy makers. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has often attributed President Reagan’s “moral vision for America and the world” as a reason why she joined the Republican Party and pursued similar foreign policy goals.
His second undeniable attribute was his sense of compassion. During his eulogy, Lady Thatcher said that Reagan sought to free the slaves of communism and to invite enemies out of their fortresses and to become friends. Reagan realized that value of basic human rights in and was often critical of the Carter and Ford administrations for being too weak and one sided with the Soviet Union. He said that you couldn’t treat the Soviet Union as a “normal country” because their draconian practices of denying basic human rights to their citizenry set them apart as true example of tyranny, therefore policies of appeasement wouldn’t stop their aggression.
Reagan spoke out harshly against regimes in Cambodia, China, and Cuba. He saw the moral imperative the free world had in delivering people basic norms such as freedom of religion and the right to own property. He was particularly critical of the double standard in U.S. politics toward human rights when he condemned President Ford’s ratification of the Helsinki Accords on August 1, 1975. Reagan believed that it did nothing stop the human rights abuses of the USSR or commit the Soviets to honour their promises.
Finally, President Reagan had a gift of perception. He understood the precarious nature of the world he lived in and understood the true danger if the West continued in decline whilst the East and Soviet Union grew in influence and strength. He was an adamant believer in the “domino theory” and recognized the power that it had in undermining Western interests and values. He frequently used the correlation of Chamberlain and Hitler to show the necessity of why the U.S. had to continue to support allies and stand in solidarity against communism.
His perception was also reaffirmed in his great judge of character. Upon meeting Lady Thatcher for the first time he remarked that he "couldn’t be happier with England’s new prime minister, if anyone can remind England of the greatness she knew it will be the Prime Minister England had nicknamed Maggie.” There is no hesitation that she felt the same way as she strongly supported the “special-relationship” and her friend Ronnie with whom she worked closely and enacted decisions that changed the course of history forever.
I am sure by this point many people reading this will either be incredibly cynical or perhaps think I am just a naive American who has nostalgia for a time and place that is over and isn’t coming back. However, I believe President Reagan’s legacy will live on for generations to come because of his resolute principles and beliefs. It is because of Reagan’s values that celebrations are occurring around the world from Washington to Prague.
Whilst I know the 21st century is a different era and is a century filled with unprecedented challenges and causes for concern, I still believe that President Reagan made the world a better place and ultimately delivered a world dominated by fear and tyranny to a world of greater liberty and freedom. That is why today my generation, the Western world, and its leaders must hold to his principles that I have just listed and reject the policies of appeasement and isolationism, which we know from history, have been detrimental to the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy today.