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The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism

The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism

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by Paul Kengor

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Based on extraordinary research: a major reassessment of Ronald Reagan's lifelong crusade to dismantle the Soviet Empire–including shocking revelations about the liberal American politician who tried to collude with USSR to counter Reagan's efforts

Paul Kengor's God and Ronald Reagan made presidential historian Paul Kengor's name as one of the premier


Based on extraordinary research: a major reassessment of Ronald Reagan's lifelong crusade to dismantle the Soviet Empire–including shocking revelations about the liberal American politician who tried to collude with USSR to counter Reagan's efforts

Paul Kengor's God and Ronald Reagan made presidential historian Paul Kengor's name as one of the premier chroniclers of the life and career of the 40th president. Now, with The Crusader, Kengor returns with the one book about Reagan that has not been written: The story of his lifelong crusade against communism, and of his dogged–and ultimately triumphant–effort to overthrow the Soviet Union.

Drawing upon reams of newly declassified presidential papers, as well as untapped Soviet media archives and new interviews with key players, Kengor traces Reagan's efforts to target the Soviet Union from his days as governor of California to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of what he famously dubbed the "Evil Empire." The result is a major revision and enhancement of what historians are only beginning to realize: That Reagan not only wished for the collapse of communism, but had a deep and specific understanding of what it would take––and effected dozens of policy shifts that brought the USSR to its heels within a decade of his presidency.

The Crusader makes use of key sources from behind the Iron Curtain, including one key memo that implicates a major American liberal politician–still in office today–in a scheme to enlist Soviet premier Yuri Andropov to help defeat Reagan's 1984 reelection bid. Such new finds make The Crusader not just a work of extraordinary history, but a work of explosive revelation that will be debated as hotly in 2006 as Reagan's policies were in the 1980s.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this hagiographic account, political scientist Kengor (God and Ronald Reagan) makes the familiar case (made most recently by John Lewis Gaddis in The Cold War) that Reagan played a decisive role in ending the Cold War. Reagan was troubled by communism well before he arrived at the White House. As a young man in Hollywood, he railed against the red threat, and as early as 1967, he called for the destruction of the Berlin Wall. As president, Reagan engaged in "economic warfare," invaded Grenada and proved that the Soviets couldn't win an arms race against the U.S. Though "those enslaved by the Soviet Communist state" didn't find freedom until after the Reagan administration, Dutch gets the credit. And what of other major figures who contributed to the Cold War's end? Gorbachev, of course, figures prominently, and John Paul II makes significant appearances Kengor credits the pope with helping turn Reagan's attention to Poland. Ted Kennedy, on the other hand, emerges as a sneak and a dupe, willing to undermine U.S. foreign policy and make nice with the Russians. The book's structure is somewhat stilted each chapter is broken up into short chunks, so it feels as though one is reading not a sweeping narrative, but an annotated time line of Reagan's presidency. While the book is workmanlike, the chronology is useful and the footnotes reveal an impressive amount of research. (Oct. 17) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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The Crusader

Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism
By Paul Kengor

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Kengor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0061136905

Chapter One

Rock River Rescuer

Stepping out of his house the morning of August 2, 1928, Ronald "Dutch" Reagan was expecting another scorcher. As he walked across the street to the Graybills' to catch his ride to the river, he noticed that it was yet another muggy Thursday in Dixon, Illinois. It was a typical midsummer afternoon in the Midwest, humid beyond any reasonable expectation, and with the advent of air-conditioning still years in the distance, the best form of escape could be found in a Ford automobile with windows open amid a breezy drive to the river at Lowell Park.

At Lowell, there were shady trees, cool water, and people, all kept under the watchful eye of seventeen-year-old Dutch Reagan. Already tall, he hovered above the swimmers in a ten-foot-high chair perched on the grassy banks, making himself a beacon for all to see. His height was emblematic of his swimming prowess, and a key factor in his swimming successes. At the YMCA in January, Reagan had sprinted to victory in the 110-yard freestyle by a half-length of the pool. When competing in the annual Water Carnival at the Rock River on Labor Day, he took first in the longest competition--the 220-yard River Swim.1 He still holds the record for swimming fastest from the park entrance to the river's farthest bank and back. So adept were hisswimming skills that he was allegedly approached by an Olympic scout who invited him to work out with the team preparing for the 1932 games--an offer Reagan said he refused because he could not give up his summer pay.2

On this August day, the river's rough waters and undertows were particularly active. Scattered throughout the choppy waters were hundreds of swimmers, and through the spectacles that rested atop his nose, Dutch gazed at the clusters of people, aware that he could not slack off for a moment. Reagan's regular pattern for patrolling the waters was tested on such a chaotic summer afternoon. According to the Dixon Telegraph, on a day like this Ronald Reagan often single-handedly watched over 1,000 bathers at a time, with no assistant.3

His most difficult concerns were toddlers who ventured too far out (there were legions of them) and adults cocky enough to think they could conquer the depths of the treacherous river. Toddlers that failed to listen were an easy nab for Reagan, who was vigilant in pulling them back right away before they disappeared into the murky water. Dutch always followed with a quick lesson to the child about wandering out.

Unfortunately, the adult swimmers were not as easy. They were bigger and stronger. If not secured in the right position, they tended to pull and grab, putting the lifeguard's own life in peril. A panicky six-foot-frame was the worst foe. Among them, the end of the summer brought brawny farm boys to the water, just finished with the annual harvest; they invariably underestimated the river, not giving it the respect Reagan learned to grant it. Once in the death grip of a current, they became exhausted, went vertical, and began struggling and clawing frantically. On more than one occasion, Dutch belted them with a right cross to the jaw in order to facilitate a safe rescue.4 The unorthodox method was effective: Reagan never lost one.5

On occasion, there was another type of swimmer, a more unusual "rescue"--young girls who "accidentally" found themselves in peril to try and catch Dutch's eye.6 "I had a friend who nearly drowned herself trying to get him to save her!" said one woman, recalling an occurrence that was not infrequent. "He was everyone's hero," said a Reagan schoolmate. "Every girl was in love with him. He was a handsome young man, built like Mr. Perfection, tanned to the hilt."7

On afternoons like this August 2, Reagan felt like the burning sun would never set. Mercifully, it finally obliged, quickly growing dark until the swimming section, which was surrounded by tall, full trees and lush, thick hills was covered in shadow. This meant that the area Dutch surveyed got darker quicker than the rest of flat, open Illinois.

With nighttime upon the beach, it was now officially after-hours. A party of four, two girls and two boys, were looking to have some fun. They giggled as they surreptitiously slipped into their bathing suits down shore. They entered the beach area from the side and quietly made their way into the deceptively gentle surf, in defiance of beach rules. Among them was Dixonite James Raider, who was not the proficient swimmer he figured.

It was 9:30 PM, the end of another very long day, and Dutch and Mr. Graybill were closing up the bathhouse when they heard splashing in deep water: James Raider had been sucked under. Another member of his group tried to save him but could not and was forced to abandon efforts when he, too, almost drowned in the swift current.

Dutch sprinted to the water and dove into the darkness. With only the stars to light the way, Reagan relied on himself, on his inner eye, the one that knew the way better than anyone else. There was a major struggle in the black water. Witnesses recall noisy splashing, some yelling, and arms flailing in the air. Suddenly, a mass of human appendages began moving in their direction. The lifeguard wrapped one arm under the victim's arms and dug water profusely with the other, kicking his feet under the current as rapidly as he could. Raider was brought ashore. Young Ronald dragged him onto the grass.

Artificial respiration was started. The party was no longer in a partying mood; the festive tone had been muted by a sense of horror. They watched, hoped, and probably prayed. Raider responded, and there was a collective sigh of relief. An exhausted Raider was transported to his home with an unexpected new lease on life. Ronald Reagan headed home as well. When his parents, Jack and Nelle, asked about his day, he might have shrugged that it was not especially unusual. It was, after all, the second near drowning in two weeks.


Excerpted from The Crusader by Paul Kengor Copyright © 2006 by Paul Kengor. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Paul Kengor is the author of the New York Times extended-list bestseller God and Ronald Reagan as well as God and George W. Bush and The Crusader. He is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. He lives with his wife and children in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

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Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Triumph over Communism 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Deseres no stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
A few years back, I was having an argument with a (rather liberal) friend of mine about the collapse of European communism. We are both from Europe, but we grew up on different sides of the East-West divide. His was what I came to understand the conventional view of people on the left: the communism collapsed due to its internal contradictions, because it was not the "real" communism, and a string of similar sorts of nonsense. As with many other issues that we argued about, I could not have disagreed more. Indeed, communism had enough of the internal problems that its eventual demise was inevitable, however left to its own devices, the eventual collapse would surely taken many more years, or even decades if not longer to unravel, with incalculable cost in human misery that would have engendered. Those of us who have had the luck to avoid that misery are grateful for all the external pressures exercised on that political system that hastened its demise, in particular the pressure that United States has exercised during all those decades of the Cold War, culminating with the final strong push by president Ronald Reagan and his administration. This book is a valuable record of what motivated Reagan to see the communism for what it really was - an evil system bent on repressing its own citizens. The book documents Reagan's anti-communist stand from his earliest political days, all the way through his years in the office. It gives an invaluable event-by-event chronology of all the systematic and relentless effort that Reagan put into dismantling the communist influence everywhere in the world that culminated in the final collapse of the Soviet Union and its many Eastern European satellite-states. If there is one criticism that I would have against this book, it would be that it sometimes portrays Reagan too one-dimensionally. The reader gets the impression that anti-communism was the only motivator behind this great American president. Nevertheless, this is a great andextremely well researched book and it is extremely valuable to anyone with interest in either Ronald Reagan or the Cold War.