“There was one vital factor in the ending of the Cold War. It was Ronald Reagan’s decision to go ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative.” Margaret Thatcher
March of 1983 was a very bad month for the Kremlin. On the eighth of March President Reagan gave his famous “Evil Empire” speech, which clarified the moral issues of the Cold War and undermined support for the Nuclear Freeze movement the Soviets had been nurturing. On the twenty-third of the month Reagan gave another speech, in which he called for a Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI, to shield the American people from the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack.
Most conservatives credit Reagan with leading the Free World to victory in the Cold War, and cite the Strategic Defense Initiative as the most important single factor in achieving that victory. There is ample evidence to support this view.
Unfortunately for Reagan, conservatives don’t get to write college history books.
Left-leaning college professors resented Reagan’s rough treatment of the Soviet Union in 1983, and they still do today. The liberal bias that prevails among most history faculties is so strong that textbooks portray Reagan’s SDI program not as the coup de grace that brought down the Soviet Union, but as a wrong-headed and pointless waste of taxpayer’s money.
What Really Happened
When President Reagan gave his SDI speech, the Soviet leadership understood right away that it was likely to turn the tide of the Cold War against them. If the USSR was to continue expanding its empire, it would need to retain its ability to intimidate the leaders of the United States and the rest of the free world. SDI threatened that ability. Unless leftists in the United States could put a stop to Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, the days of an ever-expanding Soviet empire would be over.
Herb Meyer, who served as the Special Assistant to the Director of the CIA during the Reagan years, has testified to the impact Reagan’s speech had in Moscow: “The intelligence coming in the morning of March 24 – literally hours after the President’s SDI speech – was different from anything we’d seen before. The Soviet Union’s top military officials had understood instantly that President Reagan had found a way to win the Cold War.”1
Anatoly Dobrynin, who had been the Soviet ambassador to the United States during most of Reagan’s presidency, later admitted that the Kremlin had viewed SDI with alarm because “our leadership was convinced that the great technical potential of the US had scored again.”2
Andrei Gromyko, who served in the 1980’s as the USSR’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, complained at the time that “behind all this lies the clear calculation that the USSR will exhaust its material resources, and therefore will finally be forced to surrender.”3
After the Soviet Union fell, former Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh admitted that the SDI speech “made us realize we were in a very dangerous place,” and that it “accelerated the decline of the Soviet Union.”4
Genrikh Trofimenko was the head of the Kremlin’s leading foreign policy think tank5 in the 1980’s, and he later told an American audience that “Ninety-nine percent of Russian people believe that you won the Cold War because of your President’s insistence on SDI.”
Yuri Andropov, the Soviet General Secretary when Reagan gave the SDI speech, complained that SDI was “a bid to disarm the Soviet Union.”6
According to a 1984 study by the US Government’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, eighty percent of Soviet funded propaganda worldwide was focused on opposition to the SDI program.7
Gorbachev and SDI
When Mikhail Gorbachev took over as General Secretary in March of 1985, he made opposition to SDI his top foreign policy priority. Foreign minister Bessmertnykh said that it was Gorbachev’s “number-one preoccupation.” “When we were talking about SDI,” said Bessmertnykh, “just the feeling that if we get involved in this SDI arms race, trying to do something like the US was going to do with space-based programs, looked like a horror to Gorbachev.”8
Dobrynin stated in his 1995 book In confidence that Gorbachev’s “principle goal” at the 1985 arms control talks in Geneva was to get Reagan to give up SDI.9
In a letter to President Reagan later that year, Gorbachev stated “The USSR simply cannot and will not accept the situation of the US realization of the SDI program and then to reduce nuclear weapons.”10
Two years after that, at the Reykjavik arms talks, Gorbachev strung Reagan along by offering unprecedented reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal, and even offered to reduce the conventional forces that threatened Western Europe. Just as Reagan was ready to shake hands on the deal, Gorbachev told him that the whole thing was contingent upon America giving up its missile defense program. Reagan refused, and the negotiations ended in anger and recriminations. Gorbachev clearly understood, as did everyone else in the Kremlin, that the SDI program was a way for America to win the Cold War.
What College Professors Say Happened
Most history professors manage not to know, or at least pretend not to know, any of this history. Most mainstream history textbooks depict SDI as a crazy idea dreamed up by a foolish old man. For example: “One of the president’s (sic) favorite programs was the Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI. Nicknamed ‘Star Wars’ after a popular science fiction film, it spent billions of dollars trying to establish a space-based defense system. Most scientists contended that the project was a fantastic as the movie.”11
Another freshman textbook teaches that “All of the technologies were untested; some existed only in the imagination. Few scientists thought that SDI could work.”12 Still another claims that “The idea was not remotely feasible technologically, and, if deployed, it would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.”13
Perhaps the most damning (and dishonest) portrayal of SDI is found in the famous and widely used textbook A People’s History of the United States. The author, Professor Howard Zinn, was secretly a member of the Communist Party USA when he wrote the book. Dr. Zinn depicts the SDI program not just as a failure, but as a fraud:
One of the favorite military programs of the of the Reagan administration was the Star Wars program, in which billions were spent, supposedly to build a shield in space to stop enemy nuclear missiles in midair. But the first three tests of the technology failed. A fourth test was undertaken, with government funding for the program at stake. There was another failure, but Reagan’s Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, approved the faking of results to show that the test had succeeded.14
“Star Wars” in Real Life
The truth, of course, is very different from the propaganda that campus leftists are feeding their students in their classrooms and textbooks. The SDI program was instrumental in sending the Soviet Union to the ash-heap of history, and it deserves a more positive portrayal in history books for that reason alone. That much was achieved while SDI was still in the preliminary research stage, before any kind of an American anti-missile system was actually ready for deployment.
But today America’s missile defense system is a reality. Progress was slowed by the budget cuts that followed the fall of the USSR, but the current state of things is that a missile defense system is in place, and is being strengthened and expanded on an on-going basis. America has even offered to use SDI technology to shield Europe from attack, much to the chagrin of the current Russian government.
While the US military maintains and upgrades a missile shield that defends Americans from attack, tendentious history professors continue to claim that the whole concept of a missile defense is “not remotely feasible technologically.” This is just one more example of the triumph of politics over truth in American classrooms.
1Paul Kengor, Dupes, ISI Books, p. 401
2 Dinesh D’Souza, Ronald Reagan, Simon & Schuster, p.179
4Dupes, p. 402
5Genrikh Trofimenko, D. Sc. (Hist.), was Head of the Department of US Foreign Policy Problems, Institute of the USA and Canada, USSR Academy of Sciences.
6Ronald Reagan, p. 175
7Dupes, p. 413
8Ibid., p. 402
9 Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence, Random House, 1995, p. 591
10Ronald Reagan, An American Life, Simon & Schuster POCKET BOOKS, 1990, p. 647
11Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, & Stoff; Nation of Nations (Volume II, 2006 edition) p. 952
12Goldfield, Abbott, Anderson, Argersinger, Argersinger, Barney, & Weir; American Journey (Volume II,2007 edition) p. 960
13Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty (Volume II, 2006 edition) p. 922
14Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (2003 edition) p. 584