Thursday, March 3, 2011

Author Interview: Professor Paul Kengor on ‘The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism’

Paul Kengor teaches foreign policy and twentieth century history in the department of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He is the author, most recently, of DUPES: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, a history of the relationship between the Soviet Communist Party and the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) from World War I to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Paul Kengor at CPAC, February 2011
Kengor also wrote The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, which examines how Ronald Reagan planned for and stimulated that collapse.

At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Kengor spoke to me about The Crusader and how he came to write that book.

The process of researching and writing The Crusader “began when I realized that a lot of people in academia – and, really, generally -- didn’t realize, didn’t know, didn’t understand that Ronald Reagan actually intended to undermine the Soviet Empire,” Kengor said.

In a sense, he explained, “they knew from his rhetoric and his speeches,” such as the June 1982 Westminster address, the May 1981 Notre Dame speech, and the so-called “Evil Empire” speech before the religious broadcasters in March 1983 that “he thought that Soviet Communism was evil. They knew that he predicted it would end up on the ash heap of history.”

At the same time, however, these observers “thought that might have been rhetoric” rather than an expression of intention.

“What they didn’t realize,” Kengor went on, “is that behind all of that was a very specific campaign on multiple fronts, probably about a dozen to maybe two dozen different things, where Reagan actually intended to peacefully undermine the USSR.”

To back up his thesis, Kengor looked directly at recently declassified government documents, particularly NSDDs, or national security decision directives.

He contrasted his research with that of other academics who have not availed themselves of these documents.

“If academics are going to be scholars,” he complained, “they need to read primary sources, like they tell their students to do. But they don’t. They read each other and they cite each other. They don’t learn anything.”

The proof of Reagan’s intentions is in these documents, Kengor said.

“All this information has been declassified. You look at NSDD 32, NSDD 66, NSDD 75, and you see here a clear intent to roll back, undermine, and as one of the documents says, bring political pluralism – [it] actually uses that word, pluralism – to the Soviet Union.”

The collapse of the Soviet empire, Kengor asserts, “was intended and there’s a paper trail to prove it.”

His research did not end with the documents, however.

“Beyond the paper trail,” he explained, “all the people who were involved in this are either still alive or died in the last 10 years” and were available to tell the story.

“I’ve interviewed all of those people,” he said. “I mean everybody that I could find: Bill Clark, Cap Weinberger, George Shultz, Richard V. Allen,” naming, respectively, the director of the CIA, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor of the Reagan administration.

Those people, he noted, “will tell you this, that [undermining the Soviet system] was the intention.”

The title of the book, The Crusader, emerged from research Kengor did in the Soviet archives.

As Kengor was reading the Soviet documents, he explained, such as Pravda, Izvestia, and transcripts of a TV program called Studio 9 (“the Moscow version of 60 Minutes”), and memoirs of Soviet officials like Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, he discovered “they called Reagan ‘the crusader.’”

The Soviets, he said, “understood better than American liberal academics that Reagan, beginning in the 1950s, had signed up for groups like General Lucius Clay’s Crusade for Freedom [and] Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade.”

Reagan himself, Kengor noted, “had been using that word. He didn’t mean it in a religious sense, although Reagan was religiously inspired to undermine this viciously atheistic empire. (As Gorbachev said, the Soviets pursued a war on religion.) But Reagan meant the word crusade in the sense of crusade for freedom, a crusade to undermine” the USSR.

The now-declassified documents that Kengor used in his research were not kept hidden from the Soviets during the 1980s.

“They were classified at the time,” he explained, “but there was some leaking. I think it might have been intentional leaks, to get out some of the NSDDs” into the Soviets’ conversation.

According to interviews released a few years ago, NSDD 75, which was written by Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes while he served on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House, was intentionally but only partially leaked.

“When the Soviets heard that that was out, they were apoplectic. They wanted to find out, what’s in that document? They badly wanted to know what was in that document because the Soviets knew that Reagan had drawn crosshairs on their empire. They were in the crosshairs of the crusader,” Kengor said.

The Soviets, he continued, “were hungry to find out what specifically the Reagan administration was doing and they knew that Reagan was coming at them from multiple angles,” something that became clear to Kengor through interviews with former Soviet officials.

Beyond the history analyzed in his book, Kengor said, he wanted to express a criticism about scholarship.

“I would tell young people, in particular,” he said, that “if you run into a liberal professor who denies that Reagan had anything to do with the Soviet Union [collapse], that professor needs to know that the Soviets disagree with him, that the Poles disagree with him, that the people behind the former Iron Curtain disagree with him.”

That professor, he pointed out, “needs to know he is in a very tiny minority and doesn’t have evidence for his assertions.”

Kengor offered the theory that “maybe that’s why they avoid the primary source documents. They’re afraid that it will dispel a lot of their sacred cows about how Reagan allegedly had nothing to do with” the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

(This blog post has been adapted from two articles previously published on on February 23, 2011.)

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