Useful idiots: An update

When Ronald Reagan set out to bring down the Soviet Union, he built up America’s nuclear arsenal while deploying short-range nuclear warheads in Europe and undertaking a widely derided missile defense program. Reagan’s build-up took place over the massive worldwide opposition of the left, much of it orchestrated by the Soviet Union under the auspices of one or another of its “peace offensives.”

Reagan’s efforts induced a kind of mass hysteria. ABC brought us The Day After, the documentary-style film portraying a fictional nuclear war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalated into a full-scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The film graphically displayed the effects of the war on Lawrence, Kansas. Nuclear war was a bitch, of course, and the film served as a timely warning against the nightmare toward which Reagan’s policies would deliver us.

in Useful Idiots Mona Charen also recalls that public television brought us Testament (1983), “a moving film about a family in Washington State slowly dying of radiation poisoning after a nuclear war.” Not to be outdone, Charen adds, NBC “broadcast its own scaremongering documentary called Facing Up To the Bomb (1982).”

In 1983 protesters formed a 14-mile anti-nuclear “human chain” in Berkshire, England. When Reagan visited London for an economic summit the following year, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament turned out somewhere between 80,000 (police count) and 200,000 (CND count) protesters marching from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to greet him. Reagan modestly allowed that he didn’t “take credit for all of the demonstrators being there for me…”

Nowhere was the hysteria greater than on college campuses. It manifested itself in intense hostility to the military, to national defense and security, and to every aspect of the Reagan defense build-up. The college crowd hated Reagan’s opposition to Communism, wherever applied.

This past Sunday the New York Times reported that in 1983, as a Columbia undergraduate, Barack Obama was among the useful idiots expressing high-minded disparagement of Reagan’s defense policies. That’s not exactly how the Times puts it, because reporters William Broad and David Sanger fail to supply the missing historical context that Charen’s book provides, and perhaps because the Times itself figures prominently among the useful idiots chronicled by Charen.

The Times article reports on Obama’s 1983 article “Breaking the war mentality.” The Times notes that in the article Obama railed against discussions of “first-versus second-strike capabilities” that “suit the military-industrial interests” with their “billion-dollar erector sets,” and agitated for the elimination of global arsenals holding tens of thousands of deadly warheads.

The Times chooses to portray Obama’s 1983 article as the early expression of his continuing pursuit of “a nuclear free world.” While others may hope that Obama has outgrown his youthful radicalism, the Times suggests that he is fulfilling it. Unfortunately, that’s true too.


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