The Savior of Nuclear Disarmament

New Reagan Book Chronicles the Battle to Prevent Nuclear War

Posted July 6, 2009 at 3:09pm

The financial crisis that has wreaked havoc across the country has given plenty of ammunition to detractors of Ronald Reagan’s economic plans, drawing a critical eye toward the former president’s policy decisions and potentially tarnishing the Gipper’s legacy. But a new book by two Reagan White House officials brings the attention back to what the actor-turned-president considered his highest cause: nuclear disarmament.

In “Reagan’s Secret War,— Martin and Annelise Anderson use thousands of previously unreleased documents to chronicle Reagan’s personal battle to reduce the threat of nuclear war. The authors pull directly from official transcripts and notes written by Reagan himself, using the former president’s own words to demonstrate his competence and dedication to his goal.

The book is written with the authority and clarity of people who were familiar with Reagan and the other players in his administration, but the authors also include large blocks of dialogue that allow Reagan to make the case for himself.

There is a common misconception, both Andersons said, that Reagan was pleasant and friendly but not exceptionally intelligent. Because of that, people often assume that he was not actually the one making important decisions about national security.

“Some people think he was maybe not so bright,— Martin Anderson said in an interview. “That’s simply not true.—

They set out to prove their case early on in “Reagan’s Secret War.— During a meeting with national security advisers at the beginning of his presidency, Reagan apparently laid out his strategy for dealing with pressing security issues.

“In the Cabinet meetings … I use a system in which I want to hear what everybody wants to say honestly. I want the decision made on what is right or wrong, what is good or bad for the people of this country. I encourage all the input I can get,— the authors quote him as saying. “And then when I’ve heard all that I need to make a decision, I don’t take a vote. I make the decision.—

Asked whether increasing criticism of Reaganomics would in fact damage Reagan’s image in history, the authors noted that nuclear disarmament was always his first priority, although he knew the country needed him to take action on the economy.

“He knew that to get missile defense, he had to do the economy first,— Martin Anderson said.

Martin Anderson worked as an economic policy adviser to Reagan, and Annelise Anderson was a senior policy adviser on the presidential campaign and an associate director in the Office of Management and Budget. They have written three other books about Reagan: “Reagan, In His Own Hand,— “Reagan: A Life in Letters— and “Reagan’s Path to Victory.— They use their former boss’s words to demonstrate his commitment and passion.

Some of the most interesting aspects of their new book are excerpts from recently declassified documents, including ones regarding discussions with the Vatican about nuclear disarmament and human rights.

The Andersons acknowledged that despite Reagan’s seemingly friendly and open persona, he was extremely private and was only really close to his wife, Nancy. But, they added, he and Pope John Paul II developed a close relationship because of their shared goals, adding more significance to the chapters detailing Reagan’s secret meetings with the late pontiff’s representatives.

The most notorious issues of Reagan’s presidency, including his ongoing efforts dealing with the Soviet Union and the controversial Iran-Contra scandal, have been covered extensively. But the Andersons provide a fresh, intimate look at these and other situations by giving readers a chance to read Reagan’s own words, from personal notes in his diary to transcripts of meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Reagan’s Secret War— is worth reading not only for new historical insights but also for its present-day relevance. When President Barack Obama gave a speech in Prague in April declaring, “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,— he sounded more like the 40th president than many people likely would have expected.

As the country faces the prospect of a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear Iran, and even as Obama commits to a path toward nuclear disarmament, “Reagan’s Secret War— offers insight on where the United States was 20 years ago, how far we’ve come, and how much is left to be done.