The Corner

Re: Reagan and Prejudice

Rick: As I noted in an earlier posting, Ronald Reagan seems to have had an

especially strong aversion to racial discrimination from an early age. I am

sure that was in part the result of his parents’ influence. That still does

not make tenable the proposition that “bigotry and prejudice are the worst

things a person could be guilty of.”

What the Reagan remark signals to me is not the tremendous awfulness of

“bigotry and prejudice” in the middle 20th century, but the innocence and

serenity of America at that time. This is not a sentiment that would have

occurred to the average peasant in, say, the China or Poland of 1920. And

if that peasant had heard it, he would have laughed out loud.

Nor, I must confess, am I quite convinced that Americans of that time

regarded the Civil War as having been fought against “bigotry and

prejudice.” I am sure that some Americans felt that way. To many

others — as to, I believe, Abraham Lincoln — the war was fought to

preserve the Union.

Your case is even weaker for WW2. I grew up among people who fought in that

war, and I can’t say that any of them gave me the impression of having

believed they were fighting against “bigotry and prejudice.” To be sure,

those were English people. We had Americans stationed in the country, too,

though, and I heard all the stories about them. Prominent were stories

about how the black and white servicemen had to be kept apart, as if they

were allowed to mix, a fight would invariably break out….

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