The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 marked THE crucial turning point in winning the Cold War with Russia-dominated Communism, the USSR.
Reagan’s rise to national prominence began with the surge in communist insurgencies and revolutions worldwide that began after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, and all South Vietnam to the communists. After 58,000 American lives and trillions in treasure lost over the tenures of five American Presidents, the United States left the Vietnam War and South Vietnam to the communists.
Communist North Vietnam in league with fellow communist governments in Russia and China accurately saw the weakening of a new American President, Gerald Ford, and a new ‘anti-war’ Congress as a result of the ‘Watergate’ scandal and President Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation. In the minds of the communists, it was a signal opportunity to forcibly “unify,” read invade, the non-communist South with magnum force, armed to the teeth by both the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. President Nixon’s Secret Letter to South Vietnamese President Thieu pledging all-out support of U.S. air and naval power if the communists broke the Paris Peace Agreement and invaded was irrelevant as Nixon was gone. With the communist invasion beginning, seventy-four new members of Congress, all anti-war Democrats guaranteed the ”No” vote on the Ford Administration’s Bill to provide $800 million for ammunition and fuel to the South Vietnamese military to roll their tanks and fly their planes. That Bill lost in Congress by only one vote. The fate of South Vietnam was sealed. The people of South Vietnam, in what seemed then like an instant, were abandoned by their close American ally of some 20 years. Picture that.
Picture the ignominy of it all. Helicopters rescuing Americans and some chosen Vietnamese from rooftops while U.S. Marines staved off the desperate South Vietnamese who had worked with us for decades. Picture Vietnamese people clinging to helicopter skids and airplane landing gears in desperation, falling to their death as these aircraft ascended. Picture drivers of South Vietnamese tanks and pilots of fighter planes not able to engage for want of fuel. Picture famous South Vietnamese Generals committing suicide rather than face certain torture and death in Re-Education Camps, read Gulags with propaganda lessons. Picture perhaps hundreds of thousands of “Boat People,” having launched near anything that floated to escape the wrath of their conquerors, at the bottom of the South China Sea. Picture horrific genocide in Cambodia where Pol Pot and his henchmen murdered nearly one-third of the population to establish communism… and through it all, the West, led by the United States, stayed away.
Leonid Brezhvnev, Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and his Politburo colleagues could picture it… all of it. The Cold War was about to get hot.
The fall of the non-communist government in South Vietnam and the election of President Jimmy Carter was followed by an American military and intelligence services-emasculating U.S. Congress. Many in the Democratic Party took the side of the insurgents. I remember well, Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa claiming that the Sandinista Communists (in Nicaragua) were more like “overzealous Boy Scouts” than hardened Communists. Amazing.
Global communism with the USSR in the lead and America in retreat, was on the march.
In just a few years, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, repressive communist-totalitarian regimes had been foisted on the respective peoples by small numbers of ideologically committed, well-trained and well-armed (by the Soviet Union) insurgencies. “Wars of national liberation” and intensive Soviet subversion raged around the world. Think Angola and Southern Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. Think the Middle East and the Philippines, Malaysia and Afghanistan (there a full-throated Red Army invasion) in Asia.
Think Central America in our own hemisphere and Nicaragua where the USSR and their right hand in the hemisphere, communist Cuba, took charge along with a relatively few committed Marxist-Leninist Nicaraguans, backed by Cuba and the Soviet Union, even creating a Soviet-style Politburo and Central Committee! On one my several trips to the region, I personally met with Tomas Borge, the Stalinist leader of the Nicaraguan Communist Party and his colleagues. Total Bolsheviks. To make things even more dangerous for the United States, these wars of national liberation were also ongoing in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
A gigantic airfield that could land Soviet jumbo transports was being completed under the Grenadian communist government of Maurice Bishop. Warehouses with vast storage capacity for weapons to fuel insurgency in Latin America were built. I personally witnessed these facilities and found the diary of one leading Politburo official, Liam James, who was on the payroll of the Soviet Embassy at the time. They all were but he, being the Treasurer of the government, actually wrote it down! These newly-minted communist countries and other ongoing insurgencies, with Marxist-Leninist values in direct opposition to human freedom and interests of the West, were being funded and activated by Soviet intelligence agencies, largely the KGB and were supplied by the economies of the Soviet Union and their Warsaw Pact empire in Eastern and Central Europe. Many leaders of these so-called “Third World” countries were on Moscow’s payroll.
In the words of one KGB General, “The world was going our way.” Richard Andrew, ‘The KGB and the Battle for the Third World’ (based on the Mitrokhin archives). These so-called wars of national liberation didn’t fully end until some ten years later, when the weapons and supplies from the Soviet Union dried up as the Soviet Empire began to disintegrate, thanks to a new U.S. President who led the way during the 1980s.
Enter Ronald Wilson Reagan. To the chagrin of the Soviet communists and their followers worldwide, it was the beginning of the end of their glory days when in January of 1981, Ronald Reagan, having beaten the incumbent President, Jimmy Carter, in November, was sworn in as President of the United States. Ronald Reagan was no novice in the subject matter. President Reagan had been an outspoken critic of communism over three decades. He had written and given speeches on communism and the genuinely evil nature of the Soviet Union. He was a committed lover of human freedom, human rights and free markets. As Governor of California, he had gained executive experience in a large bureaucracy and during that time had connected with a contingent of likeminded political and academic conservatives. The mainstream media was ruthless with him, characterizing him as an intellectual dolt and warmonger who would bring on World War III. He would prove his detractors so wrong. He would prove to be the ultimate Cold Warrior, yet a sweet man with an iron fist when needed.
When his first National Security Advisor, Richard Allen, asked the new President Reagan about his vision of the Cold War, Reagan’s response was, “We win, they lose.” Rare moral clarity rarely enunciated.
To the end of his presidency, he continued to be disparaged by the mainstream media, although less aggressively. However, the American people grew to appreciate and even love the man as he and his team, more than anyone would be responsible for winning the Cold War and bringing down a truly “Evil Empire.” Just ask those who suffered most, the Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Rumanian, Baltic, and yes, the Russian people, themselves. To this very day, his name is revered by those who suffered and still suffer under the yoke of communism.
Personally, I have often pondered that had Ronald Reagan not been elected President of the United States in 1980, the communist behemoth USSR would be standing strong today and the Cold War ended with communism, the victor.
The Honorable Don Ritter, Sc. D., served seven terms in the U.S. Congress from Pennsylvania including both terms of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Dr. Ritter speaks fluent Russian and lived in the USSR for a year as a Nation Academy of Sciences post-doctoral Fellow during Leonid Brezhnev’s time. He served in Congress as Ranking Member of the Congressional Helsinki Commission and was a leader in Congress in opposition to the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.
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