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
Reading: Reagan "Evil Empire
Reagan speech on the evil nature of the Soviets
Reagan "Strategic Defense Initiative"
Reagan's Campaign for a Winnable Nuclear War (web);
Soviets Prepare for Threat of U.S. Attack (web)
Judgement Day (1991) ,
The Day After (1982)
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
The Costs of Preparing for
Nuclear War and the Legacy
of the Cold War
1. The Drift toward Nuclear
in the early 1980s
2. Americans Challenge the Drift towards
3. The Costs of
Preparing for Nuclear War
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
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"
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
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.
"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
_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
fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed
legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in
__President Reagan on live radio, August 1984
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.