Current Issue

Back Issues

Contact Us



Support Us


About Us



by Bill Weinberg

What a tsunami of bullshit (TM Christopher Hitchens on the passing of Mother Theresa) has been unleashed by the demise of Ronald Wilson Reagan, architect of the conservative revolution we still suffer under today. The media blitz occasioned by the near-simultaneous presidential passing (June 5) and the 60th anniversary of D-Day (June 6) has been a boon to the sitting president, himself the spawn of a dynasty that rode the Reagan revolution to power. America gets a time-out from the Iraq horror show to feel good about itself and celebrate past militaristic glories. It almost makes you wonder if news of the death wasn't withheld awhile to coordinate the spectacle.

The hideous irony of the implicit media linking of Reagan and D-Day is that Reagan's "revolution" was undoing the legacy of FDR--the "welfare state" was dismantled in favor of "Reaganomics": radical corporate deregulation and tax cuts for the rich, with the hallucinatory sugar-coating that wealth would spontaneously "trickle down." It didn't, and as the ranks of the urban homeless swelled dramatically under his rule, '30s-style Hoovervilles popped up all over the inner cities. Playing to nostalgia for an America that never really was, Reagan plunged the country back into horrors that had been all too real.

Simultaneously, the Reagan White House backed fascism abroad. The massively US-funded-and-directed bloodbath in El Salvador in the Reagan years claimed some 50,000 lives by the UN Truth Commission's estimate--and double that by many rights observers. The genocide of Maya Indians in neighboring Guatemala, with the US aid more covert and the Israelis serving as proxies, claimed similar numbers--while Reagan advocated restoring overt aid to the military dictatorship, claiming it had received a "bum rap." Reagan called Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt, author of the genocide, "a man of great personal integrity and commitment... I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice." The Carter-era notion of "human rights" was replaced by "national security" as the cornerstone of US foreign policy. Reagan's UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick theorized on the distinction between the mere "authoritarianism" of anti-communist regimes such as Augusto Pinochet's in Chile (at least 3,000 killed or "disappeared") and the intolerable "totalitarianism" of those such as Fidel Castro's. Reagan's VE Day 1985 visit to Germany's Bitburg cemetery, where officers of Hitler's SS are buried, illustrated the historical and ideological shift.

"No Pasaran!"--they shall not pass!--the slogan of the Spanish Loyalists who resisted the Nazi-backed fascist forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in the prelude to World War II, was resurrected by Nicaraguan loyalists who similarly defended an elected government against the Reagan-backed "contra" guerillas. In 1984, the World Court ruled in favor of little Nicaragua, finding US support for the contras--"terrorists" by any single-standard definition, openly seeking to destabilize Nicaragua's first freely elected government by attacking its civilian supporters--was illegal. Reagan refused to recognize the Court's ruling. And when Congress cut off funds to the contras following reports of rights abuses, Reagan turned to a private spy network and kickbacks from secret arms deals with Iran to keep the insurgency alive. In an Oct. 25, 1984 Scripps-Howard interview, Reagan justified US mercenaries fighting for the contras by pointing out that "nothing was done legally about the formation of a brigade of Americans in the Spanish Civil War"--a reference to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, that fought against Franco--and added that they had been "in the opinions of most Americans, fighting on the wrong side." If anyone doubts that Reagan was really pro-fascist, the Great Communicator's own words speak eloquently for themselves. Meanwhile, a Salvadoran death squad resurrected the name "Falange"--after the Fascist party and paramilitary movement of the Spanish war. One such group was in the habit of leaving the following note on mutilated corpses: "With Reagan we will eliminate the miscreants and subversives from El Salvador and Central America."

Of course Reagan did all this in the name of "protecting democracy," and few today seem to grasp the irony, as he is now portrayed as the savior of the Free World. The vastly cynical Reagan slogan "government off the backs of the American people"--really a euphemism for unleashing corporate power from public oversight--has similarly been accepted uncritically. Even the New York Times headline on his death hailed him as an icon of "limited government." This of the man who oversaw a hypertrophy of the prison system, the federal-led expansion and militarization of police forces, the reign of urine-tests in the workplace, saturation propaganda against illegal drugs, a thrust to put prayer in public schools and to ban abortion. The mind boggles! A further irony is that the slashing of social programs was carried out in the name of "fiscal responsibility," while Reaganomics combined with the unprecedented post-war bloating of Pentagon budgets opened huge deficits. And the man who made much of his support for the Solidarity union in Communist Poland was a union-buster at home: when 11,000 air-traffic controllers went on strike for a better contract in 1981, Reagan fired every last one of them. Wrote Juan Gonzalez in the June 8 NY Daily News (one of the few commentators out there who doesn't have his head down an Orwellian Memory Hole): "It was the signal to every corporate chief in America that it was open season on unions."

The savior-of-the-Free-World jazz is based in the notion that Reagan precipitated the Soviet collapse, and there is some truth to that--but the way the grim, amoral struggle of contending military-industrial empires is being glorified now is sickening. In the current atmosphere of official amnesia I guess we aren't supposed to talk about how everybody was scared shitless of nuclear holocaust back in the early '80s. At an August 11, 1984 press conference, Reagan quipped during the microphone check: "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." It wasn't just a joke. Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig suggested exploding a nuclear "warning shot" over Eastern Europe to intimidate the Soviets. The hypertrophy of nuclear weapons production reached such a breakneck pace that safety corner-cutting resulted in a wave of cancers near the Energy Department's plutonium plant at Hanford, WA. Despite massive protests, the Cruise and Pershing missiles were installed in Europe, as the Soviets placed their own SS-20 missiles in East Germany and Czechoslovakia--bringing the interval between launch time and Einstein's feared "unparalleled catastrophe" to a mere ten minutes. The "Star Wars" program was launched, with the US abandoning its commitment to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty--although sheer technical hubris has kept the scheme an empty dream, even in its current down-sized version. Nobody has even pointed out how the title of the current Hollywood climate-destabilization thriller "The Day After Tomorrow" recalls that of the 1983 TV movie "The Day After," depicting nuclear war. The pic was sanitized and mediocre, but the fact that it was made (and received much hoopla) indicates the apocalyptic zeitgeist of the Reagan era. In 1984, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its symbolic "Doomsday Clock" to three minutes of midnight--the closest since 1953, when the Soviets developed the H-bomb.

We are also apparently not supposed to talk about what an objective disaster the restoration of capitalism in the post-communist world has been in simple human terms. The bloodlettings in the Balkans and the Caucasus loan credence to Cornelius Castoriadis' juxtaposition of "socialism or barbarism." Even where ethnic warfare and neo-fascism have not followed the communist collapse, the results have been horrific--the plummeting of Russian life expectancy, the implosion of agriculture, the virtual abandonment of controls on toxic industries, the plunder of Siberia's forests, the sinister black market in Soviet nuclear materials. And the pro-democracy dissidents aided by Reagan's CIA in the Communist world (along with unsavory fascism-nostalgists) would be radically sidelined by Bush pere in favor of Western-trained technocrats once the collapse arrived and they had outlived their usefulness--assuring that the vision of socialism with a human face (long opposed by both superpowers) would not be realized. Today it has been nearly erased from historical memory. If the Stalin-nostalgia now inevitably emerging in Russia is perverse, equally so is the American consensus that celebrates the Soviet collapse as an unequivocal victory for human freedom.

The Reagan-era nuclear arms race was one leg of a strategic gambit to force the Soviet Union into collapse--through morally and even legally criminal methods. The other leg was the Mujahedeen insurgency against the Soviet army in Afghanistan. The Reagan era was the high noon of covert proxy wars. Nicaragua and Afghanistan were the most celebrated cases, but there was also CIA aid and direction of the brutal Jonas Savimbi insurgency in Angola, and (via South African proxies) the even more brutal Renamo guerillas in Mozambique. (Again in the name of the anti-Communist crusade, Reagan helped shore up white supremacy in South Africa, opposing sanctions against the apartheid state in favor of "constructive engagement.")

US streets were flooded with crack and smack as a direct "blowback" from the secret wars in Central America and Afghanistan; the contras merged the CIA arms pipeline with cocaine smuggling networks to augment their war chest, and the Mujahedeen similarly turned to the "Golden Crescent" heroin trade. Paradoxically (and not coincidentally) this CIA-greased profusion in the availability of deadly street drugs came just as the Drug War orthodoxy was reaching a fever pitch.

But the even more disastrous blowback became dramatically evident on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was under Reagan's watch that the US began training, arming and funding Osama bin Laden. In Reagan's Cold War end-game, Islamist extremism was cultivated as a pawn against the rival superpower--despite the obvious reality that the jihadis saw in godless communism an enemy second only to godless capitalism, and would inevitably turn their new-found prowess against their erstwhile underwriters. So the end of the Cold War only presaged a new, in many ways even more terrifying dualistic global conflict--this time, the West against "Islamic terrorism." And while the Soviet "Evil Empire" (as Reagan dubbed it, characteristically taking a cue from Hollywood) was at least a centralized monolith, the new enemy is hydra-headed, molecularized, everywhere and nowhere. The stage is set for a war that could last generations, centuries. This is Reagan's grimmest legacy.

For good measure, it was also under Reagan that the US began supporting Saddam Hussein with military sales and intelligence in his war with Iran. In March 1988, Reagan's final year in office, Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own populace, instantly killing 5,000 in the gassing of the Kurdish city of Halabja. A bill to impose sanctions against Iraq in response to the attack was opposed by the White House and never got out of Congress.

Then there were Reagan's actual direct military interventions--most notably the 1983 expedition to Lebanon and invasion of Grenada--which tested public tolerance for post-Vietnam Syndrome adventures, again paving the way for the current paroxysm of ultra-imperialism. On July 3, 1988, a US warship in the Persian Gulf "mistakenly" shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 onboard. Libya's Col. Moammar Qaddafi reacted to Reagan's passing by expressing his "deep regret" that Ronnie had died before being brought to a war crimes tribunal for the 1986 US air-strikes on Tripoli that killed Qaddafi's adopted daughter and 36 others (in retaliation for an anonymous Berlin disco bombing that killed three, including two US soldiers). (AP, June 7) One hates to agree with so unsavory a character, but I am with the colonel on this one.

Ronald Reagan did more to move America and the world in the wrong direction than just about anyone else in the second half of the twentieth century. The current official hagiography is historical revisionism of the lowest order. Do not eat this vomit.

Fuck Ronald Reagan.


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, June 10, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.