National Security & Defense

The Corner

Nukes, Reagan, and Us

On the homepage, I have a piece entitled “No Nukes, They Say.” It’s about the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, given to ICAN, i.e., the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. This year’s award furnishes much, much food for thought.

I do some walking down Memory Lane — to the Reagan years. I’m not sure it’s broadly remembered now, but Reagan scared the hell out of a lot of conservatives, where nukes were concerned. (I remember the days of Reykjavik, in particular.) He sometimes seemed a nuclear utopian.

Some conservatives thought he was naïve — overinfluenced by religion. Some conservatives thought he was just kidding — that the anti-nuclear stuff was just for show.

In 2005, Paul Lettow wrote about all this in his book Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

When this year’s Nobel was announced, the executive director of ICAN said the following: “This prize is a tribute to the tireless efforts of many millions of campaigners and concerned citizens worldwide who, ever since the dawn of the atomic age, have loudly protested nuclear weapons, insisting that they can serve no legitimate purpose and must be forever banished from the face of our earth.”

You know who often sounded a lot like that? The Gipper. I quote him in my piece today, and will again here. Reagan said, “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.” This was not some offhand remark. He said it in an inaugural address (1985).

Listen to him speak extemporaneously (and he will allude, of course, to the U.S. and the Soviet Union):

“I can’t believe that this world can go on beyond our generation and on down to succeeding generations with this kind of weapon on both sides poised at each other without someday some fool or some maniac or some accident triggering the kind of war that is the end of the line for all of us. And I just think of what a sigh of relief would go up from everyone on this earth if someday — and this is what I have — my hope, way in the back of my head — is that if we start down the road to reduction, maybe one day in doing that, somebody will say, ‘Why not all the way? Let’s get rid of all these things.’”

On top of everything else, I’m struck by Reagan’s feel for language: the end of the line for all of us; my hope, way in the back of my head.

Here is one more quote from the Gipper: “It is my fervent goal and hope that we will some day no longer have to rely on nuclear weapons to deter aggression and assure world peace.”

But that day is not here yet. And it may never be. In the meantime, we should go all-out, in my view, for missile defense. It ought to be a national cause, a matter of urgency, a veritable crusade — more important than the moonshot, frankly.

I wish I could scream this from rooftops …

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