Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes


Question for Discussion: How did President
Reagan's preparations for the United States
to fight and win protracted nuclear wars in
the 1980s affect American society and
culture?

Reading: Reagan "Evil Empire speech" (web);
Reagan speech on the evil nature of the Soviets (web) ;
Reagan "Strategic Defense Initiative" (web);
Reagan's Campaign for a Winnable Nuclear War (web);
Soviets Prepare for Threat of U.S. Attack (web)

Video: Terminator: Judgement Day (1991) ,
The Day After (1982)

Daily Class Web Links

The United State Prepares for Nuclear War in the 1980s

President Reagan and Drift towards Nuclear War in the 1980s

The Anti-Nuclear Response to Reagan'sPreparations for
Nuclear War

The Costs of Preparing for Nuclear War

Nuclear War and the Legacy of the Cold War

Daily Class Outline

1. The Drift toward Nuclear War
in the early 1980s

2. Americans Challenge the Drift towards Nuclear War

3. The Costs of Preparing for Nuclear War



Daily Class Questions

1. Do you agree with Jonathan Schell that the threat to wage global nuclear war is, in fact, a threat to cause the extinction of humanity?

2.  According to Schell, how does the threat to cause the extinction of humanity undermine human morality?

3. According to Schell, how does the threat of global nuclear war and human extinction affect the human future?

4. Does Schell believe that we have the right to threaten to destroy the human future and future human generations?

5. Why is President Reagan against the nuclear freeze proposal?

6. Why does Reagan think "old Screwtape"--the Devil"--is influencing the opponents of his nuclear build-up and American plans to fight and win a global nuclear war?

7. Do you think it is appropriate for President Reagan to argue that his supporters are followers of God and his opponents are followers of the Devil?

8. What does Reagan mean when he ends his speech with this quote from the Bible: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with winds as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary"



Daily Class Notes

The Following quotes describe the American drift towards nuclear war in the 1980s:


In 1973, President told a group of visiting Senators if the Senate didn't lay off on the Watergate thing, he could go into his office and pick up the phone and kill hundreds of millions of people. As a result of this veiled threat, Secretary of Defense Schlessinger ordered that the Military no longer take direct commands from the President and Congress held a secret hearing on what to do in the event the President goes insane!

In 1973, according to Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, during the Egypt-Israeli war when the Russians threatened to intervene to prevent the Israelis from wiping-out their ally, Egypt, Kissinger and Presidential Chief of Staff Al Haig ordered that the American nuclear forces be put on full alert and told the Soviets if they intervened it would mean full-scale nuclear war. Kissinger said that he and Haig were forced to do this because Nixon was drunk out of his mind! Both Haig and Kissinger were unelected officials taking it upon themselves to decide the fate of humankind.


When asked how do you win in a nuclear exchange? Vice-President Bush said:

"You have a survivability of command and control, survivability of industrial potential, protection of a percentage of your citizens, and you have the capability that inflicts more damage on the opposition than it can inflict upon you. That's the way you can have a winner...."
____Interview with Robert Scheer, 1980


"Yes, there could be a limited nuclear war in Europe."
___President Reagan, 1981

"We have contingency plans to fire a [nuclear] warning shot at the Soviet Union, warning of U.S. intentions to begin a nuclear war."
__Secretary of State Haig, 1981

Responding the United States announcement that it had plans to fire a "nuclear warning shot," Soviet leader Brezhnev said: "Even the use of one nuclear bomb would inevitably lead to an all-out nuclear exchange."


In late 1981, President Reagan approved a National Security Decision Document committing the United States to fight and win a global nuclear war.
___New York Times, Spring 1982


"There is no alternative to war with the Soviet Union if the Russians do not abandon communism."
___Richard Pipes, Top Reagan adviser, 1981

"The probability of nuclear war is 40 percent...and our strategy is winnable nuclear war."
_Richard Pipes, Top Reagan adviser, 1982


"During the 1950s and 1960s we had a first-strike capability. This was one of the strongest preservatives of peace, and that was lost. Now we have got to regain it."
_Secretary of Defense Weinberger, 1981


In the early 1980s, President Reagan's civil defense plans called for losing no more than 20 percent of the population in a full-scale nuclear war. The Federal government planned to evacuate American cities a week before the start of a nuclear war. This was called Crisis Relocation Planning.


Asked whether the United States could recover from a nuclear war, Deputy undersecretary of Defense, T.K. Jones said:

"The United States could recover form an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union in just two to four years...Nuclear war is not nearly as devastating as we have been led to believe. If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it. Dig a hole in the ground, cover with with a couple of doors, and then cover the doors with three feet of dirt. It's the dirt that does it."
_Interview with Robert Scheer, Fall 1981



When asked if he thought the human race could survive a full-scale nuclear war, Arms Control Agency head Eugene Rostow said: "The human race is very resilient. Some estimates predict that in a limited nuclear war as many as 10 million people might perish on one side and 100 million on the other. But that is not the whole of the population."
Arms Control Agency head, Rostow, 1981



In March 1982, the Reagan Whitehouse engaged in a simulated worldwide nuclear war game. The game ended with a full-scale nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Reagan had news of this game and its result given the the press "to make sure the Soviets knew the U.S. was ready."
New York Times, Spring 1982


"People are talking as if nuclear war would be the end of the world, when, in fact, only 500 million people would be killed."
Navy Captain discussing nuclear war, 1982


Harvard student: Do you believe the world is going to end, and, if you do, do you think it will be by an act of God or an act of man?

Secretary of Defense Weinberger: I have read the Book of Revelations and, yes, I believe that the world is going to end--by an act of God, I hope--but every day I think that time is running out.

Harvard student: Are you scared?

Weinberger: I worry that we will not have enough time to get strong enough to prevent nuclear war. I think of World War II and how long it took to prepare for it, to convince people that rearmament for war was needed. I fear we will not be ready. I think time is running out....but I have faith.

__New York Times, Aug. 1982


When asked how many nuclear weapons the United States needed, Secretary of State George Schultz said:

"You need enough warheads to be capable of supporting controlled nuclear counterattacks over a protracted period while maintaining a reserve of nuclear forces sufficient for trans- and post-attack protection and coercion."
___Secretary of State Schultz, 1982


"The MX missile is a peacemaker because it has prompt hard-target kill capability."
_Secretary of Defense Weinberger, 1982


In May 1982, the New York Times revealed that President Reagan had committed the United States to fighting a protracted nuclear war--lasting up to six months. "A war in which the U.S. could prevail and force the Soviet Union to seek earliest termination of hostilities on terms favorable to the United States."
_New York Times, May 1982


In 1982 President Reagan called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire" and described his "plan and hope for the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history."
__President Reagan, June 1981


"We could wage and win a Cuban missile crisis today."
__Arms Control Agency head, Rostow, 1983


"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."
__President Reagan on live radio, August 1984


When asked during the Presidential debates if he believed in Armageddon, President Reagan said: "Yes, Armageddon could come the day after tomorrow." During his 1980s Presidential campaign, Reagan told Fundamentalist Christian groups that he believed in the Biblical prophecy of Armageddon and that this could be the generation that sees Armageddon.
_President Reagan, Oct. 1984

Responding to President Reagan's belief in Armageddon, 100 American religious leaders signed a statement saying that they "find President Reagan's belief in the imminence of Armageddon profoundly disturbing."
_100 Christian Ministers, Oct. 1984


In May 1981, in response to President Reagan's aggressive talk about nuclear war, the Soviet Union instituted the RYAN (Nuclear-Rocket Attack) program, which created a "heightened state of intelligence alert, instructing all foreign stations to conduct a constant watch for tell-tale signs of the buildup to a Western nuclear strike."

In 1983 the RYAN program and Soviet paranoia over an American nuclear attack reached a new peak with the Soviet shooting-down of a Korean airliner that strayed into Soviet airspace over a top-secret missile warning installation in early September 1983. The shooting down of this commercial airliner was in part caused by increasing Soviet anxiety over what they considered an "imminent American nuclear attack." The Soviets believed that the November 1983 NATO exercise, Able Archer 83, designed to practice "command coordination" for a NATO nuclear attack, was in fact not an exercise at all but an actual Western nuclear strike against the Soviet Union.   During this NATO exercise in November, the Soviets put their military forces on alert and prepared for a Western attack.  Few Americans at the time realized how President Reagan's loose talk about fighting and winning nuclear war had frightened the Soviets and pushed the world toward the brink of nuclear war.

           See Martin Walker, The Cold War (pp. 274-75)


The larger question we need to explore is whether the massive American arms buildup in the 1980s, costing over 3 trillion dollars, was the primary cause of the United States winning the Cold War. Today, the United States still spends about 270 billion dollars a year on defense, almost as much as it did during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. Politicians and the American military argue that we need to continue to spend vast sums of money developing and supporting a global American military presence. They argue that because of America's massive arms buildup in the 1980s, and its dominant global military power throughout the Cold War, the United States was able to keep the peace and protect our national security. But what if this massive American global arsenal was not the primary cause of American victory in the Cold War? Do we then need to continue wasting billions and trillions of dollars building a global military capability that we will never use? If there are no longer any real challenges to American military power, why do we need to continue to spend vast sums of money to protect ourselves? We can begin to answer these questions by looking at the American military build-up, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The first question we must answer is why the United States spent more than three trillion dollars on a massive military build-up in the 1980s. This spending helped cause our national debt to go from 970 billion dollars in 1980 to more than 5.4 trillion in 1997. In order to understand this American military build-up we need to look back to the Cuban Missile crisis. In 1962, the Soviet Union put medium-range nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States. The Soviets wanted to make the United States feel the same way they did, because America had placed nuclear weapons in countries bordering the Soviet Union. President Kennedy responded to this Soviet challenge by ordering them to take their missiles out of Cuba or the United States would launch a full-scale nuclear war against them. Faced with Kennedy's determination to fight a nuclear war, fearing that the United States was on the verge of blowing them up, the Soviets backed down. The Soviets agreed to take their missiles out of Cuba. One American general said after the missile crisis that the United States had rubbed the Soviets nuclear inferiority in their faces. We had ten times more nuclear weapons than they had and could have destroyed them in a nuclear war. The Soviets were embarrassed as a result of their having to back down to the American nuclear threat. As a result of the Cuban Missile crisis, the Soviet Union began a massive nuclear arms build-up in the 1960s and 1970s, hoping to gain rough parity with the United States in nuclear weapons so that America could never threaten it with nuclear destruction again.

By the mid-1970s, many Americans were beginning to worry that the Soviets had built so many nuclear weapons that they had now "rough parity" with the United States in nuclear arms. Faced with this parity, many American leaders began to worry that the United States could no longer rely on its threat to destroy the Soviet Union in a nuclear war in order to deter Soviet aggression and Soviet challenges to America's global domination. Now, critics charged, if we threatened to destroy the Soviets in a nuclear war that threat would be hollow because even if we destroyed the Soviet Union in a nuclear attack, they would still have enough nuclear weapons left to destroy the United States. Thus, the United States could not afford to threaten the Soviet Union with full-scale nuclear war because doing so would be suicidal. Critics referred to this condition as MAD--mutual assured destruction. Because of MAD, they warned, the United States could no longer successfully deter Soviet aggression and maintain deterrence.

Instead of giving up their reliance on the threat of nuclear war to deter the Soviet Union, American political and military leaders in the 1970s committed the United States to begin a massive nuclear arms build-up. We hoped if we built thousands more nuclear weapons, we could have such an advantage over the Soviets that we could threaten to destroy them in a nuclear war. Rejecting MAD, American leaders called for a NUTS--nuclear utilization target selection--strategy, which called for the United States to have so many nuclear weapons that it could not only destroy the Soviet Union but it could destroy enough of the Soviets nuclear weapons so that the United States could fight and win a full-scale nuclear war. This NUTS strategy was based on what Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger called an "American First Strike" capability, that is, we would have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Soviet Union and destroy its nuclear arsenal with a nuclear first strike that the Soviets would once again fear the American threat to wage full-scale nuclear war to deter Soviet aggression. A NUTS strategy and a first strike capability would once again allow the United States to use its global military power to dominate the Soviet Union and intimidate anyone else who would challenge our global dominance.

In 1979, President Carter committed the United States to fighting and winning limited and protracted nuclear wars when he signed Presidential Directive 59, known as PD 59. So it was, in fact, President Carter who began the massive arms build-up we associate with President Reagan and the 1980s. But Reagan ran for President charging that President Carter was soft on communism and had presided over the decline of American military power. What Reagan really meant was that in the 1970s the United States had lost its nuclear first strike capability, its ability to threaten to destroy the Soviet Union in a full-scale nuclear war.

When he became President, Reagan faced a major challenge: How was he going to convince the American people that we should spend trillions of dollars building thousands more nuclear weapons all in the name of once again allowing the United States to fight and win a global nuclear war? Would the American people accept a nuclear strategy and arms-buildup that would require the United States to be prepared, ready, and willing to fight a full-scale nuclear war? But, in addition to convincing the American people that we needed to be able to fight a nuclear war, Reagan would also have to convince the Soviet Union that the United States was ready and willing to fight a nuclear war. American threats to wage nuclear war would only be seen as bluffs if the Soviets did not believe that we were in fact seriously committed to fighting and winning nuclear wars. Reagan believed that he could convince the Soviets that we were serious about our willingness to fight nuclear wars by spending trillions of dollars on new nuclear weapons systems, publicly pronouncing the United States' intention to fight and win nuclear wars, and preparing the American people for nuclear war. Finally, President Reagan hoped that by spending trillions of dollars on nuclear weapons and threatening the Soviets with nuclear war that the Soviet Union would then be forced to spend trillions of dollars just trying to keep up with the United States nuclear weapons build-up. President Reagan and his top advisors believed that this massive additional Soviet spending would lead to their economic collapse and bankruptcy.

In order to carry out this strategy, President Reagan would first have to convince the Congress and the American people that we should spend trillions on a nuclear weapons build-up. Between 1981 and 1983, President Reagan and his top advisors began a massive lobbying campaign to convince Congress and the American people that we needed to prepare for nuclear war. While campaigning for the Presidency, Reagan charged that the Soviets were "godless monsters" who "have less regard for humanity." He claimed that because the Soviets had all along been preparing to fight and win nuclear wars, the United States must be ready to prevail in a nuclear war. In 1981 and 1982, President Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was an "evil empire" that threatened the world. Because the Soviets were a ruthless, evil, immoral, and monstrous beast, he charged, they accepted the reality and imminence of nuclear war. Reagan and his top advisors concluded that only by preparing for nuclear war and engaging in a massive nuclear arms build-up could the United States stop the Soviets from threatening the world with nuclear war. Of course, as we have seen, this is all a pack of lies. It is the United States, not the Soviet Union, that relies on the threat of full-scale nuclear war!

In late 1981, President Reagan signed a National Security Decision Document committing the United States to fighting and winning global nuclear wars. Reagan and his top advisors believed that if the United States regained nuclear superiority and a first strike capability that we could shape and dominate the global international order, and while doing so bankrupt and defeat the Soviet Union and thus win the Cold War. In order to win support for and defend this nuclear build-up and aggressive nuclear policy towards the Soviets, President Reagan and his top advisors gave speeches throughout the United States and Europe defending their policies. I have listed some of the more dramatic statements President Reagan and his top advisors made during the early 1980s in order to support their aggressive nuclear strategy.

Needless to say, not only did President scare the hell out of the Soviet Union, he scared the hell out of the American people. As a result of Reagan's statements about fighting and winning nuclear wars, American began to fear that we were drifting toward nuclear war. The Reagan administration's efforts to prepare the United States to survive a global nuclear war for many was the last straw. In 1981 and 1982, Reagan ordered government agencies to draw up plans for operating after a nuclear war. The Post Office even announced that it was prepared to deliver mail after a nuclear war. President Reagan asked the mayors of America's largest cities to draw-up emergency evacuation plans in order to evacuate their cities with seven days notice of a nuclear war. Imagine trying to evacuate New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles after the government has told them that we are on the verge of a nuclear war. President Reagan believed that the Mayors could draw up evacuation plans to allow for the calm, orderly, and peaceful movement of millions of people out of America's cities. Needless to say, the mayors of most of these cities refused to do this, arguing that it would be simply impossible for calmly and peacefully evacuate their cities. Besides the residents of the small towns that these millions of people were supposed to evacuate to said they didn't want these people invading their communities.

As a result of President Reagan's loose talk about fighting and winning nuclear wars, millions of American began to protest what they saw as the drift towards nuclear war. In the summer of 1982, one million Americans demonstrated in New York city against nuclear war. By 1982, both in Europe and the United States there was a growing anti-nuclear war movement. Leaders of this peace movement called for a nuclear freeze. Soon their anti-nuclear movement began to be called the Freeze movement. The Nuclear Freeze proposal called for both the United States and the Soviet Union to stop building more nuclear weapons, to freeze their nuclear arsenals at present levels, and declare that no one could win a nuclear war. Leaders of the Freeze movement believed that a nuclear freeze would reduce the growing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union that were leading to nuclear war.

Supporting the Freeze movement in the spring of 1982, Jonathan Schell published his book, The Fate of the Earth, which instantly became a national bestseller. Schell explored the biological and cultural implications of the American drift towards nuclear war. He argued that a global nuclear war would so destroy the environment and our global industrial civilization that it would soon lead to the extinction of the human race. Thus, by threatening to fight and win a full-scale nuclear war, we were threatening to cause our own extinction. Not only were we guilty of killing billions of people, we ourselves would become the victims of our own mass-murder. Schell concluded that even if we didn't have a nuclear war, just the threat to kill the world and the human race would undermine our culture and civilization. How, he wondered, could we live our lives under the threat of destroying ourselves at any moment. Wouldn't this threat undermine the meaning of our present lives and destroy the future for our children? How could people continue to live and grow up in such an insane, violent world, he asked?

Faced with this growing opposition to his nuclear build-up and nuclear threats, President Reagan's advisors told him to tone down his rhetoric; they didn't tell him to change his policies because the American people opposed them, they just told him to not discuss the United States' nuclear strategy in public because it was disturbing the public. One of Reagan's top advisor, Eugene Rostow, worried about the growing peace movement and the "growing participation of the churches, the loyal opposition, and the unpoliticized public" in this movement, told Reagan that they should try to "mobilize opposition" to this growing movement. Instead of respecting the democratic wishes of the American people, President Reagan tried to weaken and neutralize the Freeze movement. In the fall of 1982, President Reagan charged that the peace movement was led by communists. When asked what his source of information that the peace movements was dominated by communists, Reagan said he had read it in The Reader's Digest. By the November 1982 elections, nine states passed Freeze Resolutions and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Freeze Resolution. In fact by the fall of 1982, the Soviet Union was calling for a nuclear freeze, which only led Reagan to conclude that the Freeze movement was a communist plot.

In November 1982, millions of Americans watched the film, The Day After, which vividly described the brutal reality of life in the United States after a full-scale nuclear war. This movie only caused millions of more Americans to worry about nuclear war and oppose President Reagan's aggressive nuclear policies. Instead of mobilizing support for his plan to fight and win nuclear wars, Reagan had only succeeded in causing millions of Americans to now oppose nuclear war.

Faced with this growing opposition to his nuclear build-up and American preparations for fighting and winning nuclear wars, Reagan went on the political offensive in the Spring of 1983. In March 1983, Reagan gave what is now called his "Evil Empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. In this speech he put the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union in terms of God's struggle with the Devil. He argued that Americans didn't understand the true threat and evil the Soviets represented. He charged that the Freeze movement failed to understand the real threat posed by the Soviet Union. Reagan charged that the Cold War struggle with the Soviets was a fight to preserve God, freedom, and Christian civilization. The Soviets, he warned, were "the focus of evil in the modern world." But Reagan didn't stop here.

Reagan now charges that "old Screwtape"--that is, the Devil, was confusing the supporters of the Freeze movement:

"So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride--the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

This Reagan rhetoric reflects his personal belief in the Biblical prophecy of Armageddon, the final battle between God's forces and the Devil's forces. Reagan had said on a number of occasions that he believed that Armageddon could happen in our lifetime. During the 1984 Presidential debates, Reagan actually said that Armageddon could happen tomorrow! In this speech, President Reagan is demonstrating his confusion between his Christian belief in Armageddon and the final days with the Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. Of course this confusion explains why Reagan insisted on referring to the Soviets as godless monsters and an evil empire.

Reagan concludes his speech by reassuring his audience that the Western World's faith in God and in freedom will allow it to triumph over the evil Soviet empire. He even suggests that "communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written." Reagan concludes that if we have faith in God and in our own righteousness, we can defeat this evil empire:

"For in the words of Isaiah: 'He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength...But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary..."

Here Reagan is suggesting that if we only have faith in God, He will protect us from the dangers of nuclear war and allow us to triumph over evil. Needless to say, this speech further terrified Americans that the United States was preparing to fight and win a nuclear war, and somehow Reagan believed we had God's blessing to do so.

Faced to this growing opposition to American preparations for nuclear war, President Reagan gave his famous "Star Wars" speech in March 1983. In this speech he declared that he too feared nuclear war, and he too was concerned about Americans dying in a nuclear war. He then proclaimed that the United States now had the technological capability to create a shield in space around the United States that would prevent nuclear missiles from hitting America. He called this a space shield, which critics later dubbed Star Wars, a not so veiled reference to the popular movie, Star Wars. By committing the United States to build such a shield, he hoped Americans would feel safer and not worry so much about nuclear war. Reagan hoped that Star Wars would derail the Freeze movement because it would convince Americans that their President was committed to protecting them from the danger of nuclear war.

Still trying to defuse the growing opposition to his nuclear arms build-up and now to his Star Wars weapon's system, Reagan gave a speech in April 1983 declaring that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." In addition, Reagan's advisors stopped talking about winning a full-scale nuclear word and began using the term, "credible deterrence," which meant the same thing, but the public didn't know this.

Despite President Reagan's public statements that nuclear wars shouldn't be fought and can't be won, the United States continued to spend trillions of dollars on a nuclear arms build-up and prepare to fight and win nuclear wars. This is a good example of how during the Cold War the United States government lied to the American people. Instead of changing their nuclear policy because the majority of Americans were opposed to it, President Reagan misled the American people into thinking he had changed American policy when he really hadn't. Once again this is a case of the government not trusting the American people to make the right decisions necessary to lead this country and allow us to win the Cold War.

The American people might have been fooled by President Reagan's lies, but the Soviet Union wasn't. The Soviets concluded that Reagan's Star Wars plan was further proof of the American efforts to create a first strike capability. If the Americans had a shield that prevented Soviet nuclear missiles from hitting the United States, they could then threaten to destroy the Soviet Union without fearing nuclear destruction themselves. The Soviets believed this would make the Americans even more aggressive and hostile. In fact, in the fall of 1984, Soviet leaders feared that the United States was preparing to launch a sneak nuclear attack during our so-called nuclear exercises in Europe. When the CIA told American leaders of these Soviet concerns, President Reagan and his top advisors decided not to reassure the Soviets that we weren't planning a sneak attack. Reagan wanted the Soviets to stew in their juices, feeling that the Soviet's fear would keep them in line.

All of these American threats and preparations for nuclear war greatly disturbed and worried the Soviets. They thought Reagan was unstable and unbalanced and capable of actually trying to fight and win a nuclear war. This Soviet fear could have been very dangerous. If they actually thought the United States was preparing to launch a sneak attack to destroy them, they might have launched a nuclear attack of their own before we could destroy them. By increasing Soviet concern and anxiety, President Reagan made nuclear war much more likely. The best example of Reagan's recklessness is his famous radio joke about bombing the Soviet Union in August 1984:

"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."

Upon hearing this Reagan joke, the Soviets put their nuclear forces on alert and tried to determine if the United States was really launching a sneak attack. Reagan's joke and the fear and anxiety it created both in the Soviet Union and the United States is a good example of how the United States preparations for fighting and winning nuclear war in the 1980s threatened world peace and made many believe that a nuclear war was inevitable. It was in this context that activist Helen Caldicott supported the Democratic candidate for President, Walter Mondale, arguing that voting for Reagan would lead to nuclear war and the destruction of the world.


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 2 Dec. 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/nuclear.htm
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