Friday, June 11, 2004

Can We Please Hear Some Truth about Reagan?

Let me not be charitable towards Ronald Reagan. So many are doing this for him now, and so undeservedly. Yes, it is fine to mourn the passing of another consciousness, though in this case much of that was gone or at least disastrously altered. But to engage in the wholly uncritical historical revisionism that has been going on is wholly repugnant. Even so-called liberal commentators seem to forget that this was a man that stood against everything they themselves stand for and, in the process, against human decency.

For those who would point out that Reagan started out his political career as a labor leader, let us examine his most important actions within the Screen Actors Guild, of which he was indeed president. His most important activity within SAG was to denounce fellow union members and others in the film industry as Communists during the McCarthy era, destroying careers and lives in the name of a hysterical political witch hunt that even conservatives now invoke as a black spot on our history.

This is the man who, as governor of California (beware Californians becoming Presidents), called out a violent National Guard against free speech protestors. This was the man who vetoed a state bill to allow farmworkers to have the simple right of collective bargaining.

This was the man whose people, in order to put him over the top in a tight race for the presidency, arranged for Iran to prolong the holding of US hostages until after the elections so as to further damage his opponent, Jimmy Carter. It is no coincidence that the hostages finally were released on the day of Reagan's inauguration.

Let us not forget, in this time of war on Iraq, that Reagan's administration actively supported the regime of Saddam Hussein, selling him weapons, including the chemical variety. Many of the weapons used against US troops in 1991 and even today had and have US serial numbers on them. The chemical weapons that we helped provide were not only used against Iranian troops during the Iran-Iraq War, in clear contravention of international treaties. They were also used against Kurds during the infamous episode that has been hauled out repeatedly in order to vilify Saddam and justify our waging war on the Iraqi people.

Reagan is most celebrated by his proponents for his supposed victory against Communism and the fall of the Soviet empire. Oh, how we forget about Mikhail Gorbachev and the people of the Soviet bloc! It was the people themselves, without our help, that made change in the Soviet bloc. Let us not forget how surprised our own government, including the CIA (whose track record suggests the "I" should simply be dropped from its name), was when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union shortly thereafter.

Yes, Reagan did actively fight communism, or what he perceived to be communism. But where did this take place?

In the case of Nicaragua, Reagan's administration violated the very laws of Congress in order to support the Contras, a band of murderous thugs who worked to bring down a democratically elected government. Reagan's "freedom fighters" rarely engaged Nicaragua's military, preferring instead to target civilians in their villages, destroying fields and hospitals and killing hundreds in the process. This strategy was undertaken not only with the blessings of Reagan's administration cronies, but at their urging. And how did we fund the Contras? Ah, yes — with drug money, and arms sales to Iran.

In the name of quashing the communist threat in the rest of Central America, Reagan propped up regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Hundreds of thousands of people died in these tiny countries at the hands of US-trained death squads.

Reagan even conducted an out-and-out invasion of a country in order to supplant a democratically-elected government. As if Grenada would have ever posed a "threat" to the US. And as if it even wished to. Basically, in this case people were killed for a publicity moment, to show that we were big and tough and nobody should mess with us. Especially if they were from small, poor, defenseless countries.

While he didn't seem to like democratically elected regimes, Reagan's record elsewhere suggests he never met a righ-wing dictator he didn't like. From Marcos to Suharto to Pinochet, he and his administration made sure that these blights upon humanity had the backing of the United States of America.

His love of dictatorships extended to the race dictatorship, otherwise known as apartheid, of South Africa. Reagan was not only vocal in his support for the apartheid regime, he actually vetoed a bill to place sanctions upon South Africa. Much to The Great Vetoer's chagrin, and our relief, his veto in this case was overridden. And let us remember he labeled Nelson Mandela — yes, the Nelson Mandela — a notorious terrorist, along with the ANC, which now rules South Africa. Reagan's policies served to lengthen the time apartheid held sway, and he himself is therefore responsible for the prolongation of death and suffering in that country.

Not that Reagan wasn't active on the home front. Of course he was. Why, under Reagan the homeless population in this country rose from relative negligibility to two million. How's that for making an impression? Reagan also has the distinction of being the president under who the US for the first time became a debtor nation. The massive amounts he spent on weapons, including the nuclear kind, surely aided in that. How ironic it is that vocally "small-government" Republican administrations these past decades have been the ones who have been the most profligate in their spending! Reagan is at the root of this pattern.

This is also the president who took the unprecedented action of firing all of this country's air traffic controllers who had gone on strike. This was not only a blow to the right of working people in the US to organize, but also left our skies much more dangerous by bringing in, en masse, a whole cadre of barely-trained controllers to manage the air lanes.

This is the man who consistently attacked civil rights, and then affirmative action, from the time he was president of SAG to the time he was president of the USA. He even began his 1980 presidential campaign in the infamous Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists ahd been murdered in the 1960s, without so much as acknowledging the incident.

So as people remember Ronald Reagan, we should not only remember the cheerful face, but remember that this face masked a combination of bullheaded ignorance and outright malevolence. Let's remember that this is the man who nearly brought us to the brink of nuclear annihilation with his funny little aside that he had outlawed the Soviet Union and bombing would commence in five minutes. His personal charm masked a hateful boorishness that is reenacted now, more baldfacedly, by George W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan, go away and leave us in peace. And take George with you.


At 11:03 PM, Paul Guffin said...

Hey Bascom, take a look at the "Boondocks" comic strip for Sunday, July 4.

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