Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism [NOOK Book]

Overview

Reagan?s War is the story of Ronald Reagan?s personal and political journey as an anti-communist, from his early days as an actor to his years in the White House. Challenging popular misconceptions of Reagan as an empty suit who played only a passive role in the demise of the Soviet Union, Peter Schweizer details Reagan?s decades-long battle against communism.

Bringing to light previously secret information obtained from archives in the United...
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Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism

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Overview

Reagan’s War is the story of Ronald Reagan’s personal and political journey as an anti-communist, from his early days as an actor to his years in the White House. Challenging popular misconceptions of Reagan as an empty suit who played only a passive role in the demise of the Soviet Union, Peter Schweizer details Reagan’s decades-long battle against communism.

Bringing to light previously secret information obtained from archives in the United States, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Russia—including Reagan’s KGB file—Schweizer offers a compelling case that Reagan personally mapped out and directed his war against communism, often disagreeing with experts and advisers. An essential book for understanding the Cold War, Reagan’s War should be read by open-minded readers across the political spectrum.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Hoover Institute fellow Peter Schweizer traces Ron Reagan's extended crusade against communism from his Hollywood days to the last days of his presidency. He argues that Reagan's anti-détente doctrines were responsible for the Soviet Union's eventual collapse. Partisan; opinionated; informative.
Forbes
This is the tenth year I've shared my summer reading with our readers. My reading, of course, goes on all year, but it is somehow different in summer. Knowing it will result in a column means the going is a bit slower; I take more time to appreciate and understand the author's intentions, skills and achievements--or lack thereof. Winter reading, for me, is what in school we used to call "pleasure reading." Here then are reviews of some of the books I read during this summer of 2002.

The first covers a hitherto-neglected aspect of President Ronald Reagan's career. It is Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, by Peter Schweizer (Doubleday, $26, available Oct. 15). Schweizer is an old friend and is one of the foremost historians of the Reagan era. He begins his work, appropriately, with negative comments about Reagan by such intellectual giants as Clark Clifford. Schweizer traces in great detail Reagan's struggle against the communist infiltration and domination of Hollywood in the 1940s, as well as its effect on Reagan's presidency in the 1980s.

The monumental achievement of Reagan's lonely, lifelong struggle against communism was his final victory in the Cold War. And make no mistake, it was Reagan's victory. Schweizer's summation tells all: "Those virtues that Reagan so admired--courage and character--are what the nearly half-century battle against communism required most of him. Sometimes his strong views brought physical threats against his life and family. More often, they would prompt ridicule or denunciation of him as a dangerous ignoramus. In either case, Reagan unflinchingly pressed on, opposed by old friends,cabinet officers, and sometimes even members of his own family."

As Ronald Reagan said: "We must be guided not by fear, but by courage and moral clarity." This is precisely what we most need today. We are fortunate to have in President Bush a leader who knows and follows the same beck-oning light.

Another Cold War warrior, William F. Buckley Jr., has once again turned his exceptional, indeed Renaissance-like, skills to writing a novel about a pivotal historic event. Nuremberg: The Reckoning (Harcourt, $25) brings to life the complex tale of the victorious Allies' attempts to bring to justice the surviving perpetrators of the Nazi horror. Through his great skills of storytelling and character development, Buckley blends fictional characters and actual his-tory and makes the reader feel he is a participant.

Buckley has used this device before in his books on Joseph McCarthy; James Angleton, the CIA operative; and, oddly enough, Elvis Presley. Nuremberg is Buckley's 15th novel and is one of his best. It is so masterfully written that you are compelled to go back to some of the original source material to verify that such things really hap-pened.

Lady Margaret Thatcher's two-volume memoir was a huge bestseller in Europe and here. In it she wrote of her constant struggle against the conventional wisdom, her determination to change the world and her ultimate successes. She is one of the few people whose strong presence on the stage of history has changed and improved that history. Along with President Reagan, and perhaps one or two others, Lady Thatcher should be given credit for bringing the thrall of communism to an end and for restoring capitalism, freedom and democracy.

Margaret Thatcher's newest book, Statecraft (HarperCollins, $34.95), is about the future, and should be read for what it is: the wise counsel of a supremely successful stateswoman and Britain's greatest peacetime leader. Statecraft relays how the West won the Cold War and "created the basis for today's freedom and prosperity." To give permanency to these achievements, we must remain "vigilant and strong," and Lady Thatcher details how this can and must be done. Her ideas are rightly and persuasively argued--and lead the reader to the famous Thatcher conclusion: "There is no alternative." Those who object to such polemicism should recall how often Margaret Thatcher was right and be grateful for her unambiguous and unnuanced conclusions and advice. Hers is the kind of guidance we urgently need. And the more it is followed, the better off we will all be.

Double Lives: Stories of Extraordinary Achievement, by David Heenan (Davies-Black Publishing, $24.95), tells the story of ten remarkable people who, not satisfied with their own extraordinary "day jobs," carved out second vocations equally, if not more, fulfilling. Winston Churchill is Heenan's prime example. In addition to being a statesman, Churchill was an author, painter and orator--and excelled at all. Theodore Roosevelt was likewise a great statesman, but he was also a historian and scientist. Another example: pediatrician and poet Dr. William Carlos Wil-liams.

Heenan describes the common characteristics of these doubly (and sometimes triply) endowed people as appar-ently boundless energy, firm independence and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. He himself exemplifies the multifaceted qualities he has found in his subjects: He is a university teacher, writer and trustee of the fabulous James Campbell Estate in Hawaii. Double Lives may make some readers envious, but it will stimulate others to do more every day.
—Caspar Weinberger

Publishers Weekly
The Cold War rhetoric of the subtitle is completely apropos to this hagiography, which gives the Gipper full credit for bringing down the Soviet Union. Schweizer is a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and coauthor, with Caspar Weinberger (Reagan's secretary of defense) of The Next War. Using Reagan's own files and papers, and other newly released material, Schweizer demonstrates Reagan's development as a critic and determined opponent of communism and of the Stalinist Soviet Union. Schweizer depicts Reagan, from the beginning, regarding tactics and realpolitik as more important than ideas; in the process, the author does not carefully distinguish (as Reagan and most others of the era did not) Stalinism and what came after from communism as an ideal. Reflection, study and conviction led Reagan to the belief that steady pressure systematically applied would eventually bring down a Soviet Union whose legitimacy rested ultimately on force. He remained committed to this vision as his status rose in a Republican Party itself increasingly committed to a detente that Reagan argued both weakened the West and prolonged the survival of its rival power. Schweizer takes pains to establish the widespread belief in the West by 1980 that the balance of economic, military, and political forces had irrevocably shifted in favor of the U.S.S.R. On assuming the presidency, Reagan brought about a huge change in U.S. policy, abandoning defensive counterpunching and actively prosecuting a Cold War the U.S.S.R. had never ceased to wage. Schweizer argues that Reagan spent as much time convincing his own lieutenants to abandon the defensive as he did confronting the Russians. It's a story that is clearly and stirringly told, but without seriously entertaining dissenting views on its iconic subject. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Schweizer argues that Ronald Reagan came into the White House determined to implement revolutionary changes in American Cold War policy — a shift, as conservatives always had sought, that would move beyond containment to the defeat of the Soviet superpower. Schweizer does a masterful job at tracing the connections between Reagan's policies as president and the beliefs, values, and proposals that marked his 40-year career in the public eye. From his anticommunist struggles in Hollywood to his political career in Sacramento and Washington, Reagan continually returned to a handful of themes and ideas. Schweizer makes a strong case that as president, Reagan consistently acted to implement this anticommunist agenda, overruling the qualms of cautious advisers and persisting unswervingly, despite worldwide criticism and a lack of domestic political support. After Schweizer, even inveterate Reagan-haters will have to abandon the picture of an amiable dunce drifting passively while a handful of advisers set the agenda. What remains open to debate is how important Reagan's foreign policy was to the fall of the Soviet Union. Did Reagan's wholehearted embrace of an arms race force the Soviet leadership to acknowledge their system's bankruptcy and thus embark on reform? Or was the decay of the Soviet system so far advanced that U.S. policy had only limited effects on its internal politics? How much credit goes to 40 years of containment versus 8 years of rollback? Schweizer does not answer these questions definitively, but his book is likely to have a lasting influence on the historiography of the Reagan years.
Library Journal
Ronald Reagan remains a polarizing figure. Critics have dismissed him as an "amiable dunce," while supporters see him as an underappreciated political genius. This book falls squarely into the latter camp, arguing that Ronald Reagan "won the Cold War." The consensus among experts is that credit for our Cold War victory is widely shared by Harry Truman and the policies he developed after World War II; the American people who suffered and died to protect freedom; our allies, who were part of the decades-long effort; Mikhail Gorbachev for his efforts to open up the Soviet Union; and finally Reagan for his policies toward what he called "the evil empire." Few serious analysts, however, would go as far as Schweizer (Disney: The Mouse Betrayed) does in attributing victory almost solely to Reagan. The strength of this book is found in the early chapters, where the author traces the development of Reagan's anticommunism from his days as head of the Hollywood Screen Actors Guild to his entry into politics in California. It demonstrates Reagan's consistent view over time and how his commitment to freedom animated his actions. The book's weakness is in its political bias, which unfairly dismisses the efforts by several generations and other Presidents to stem, then turn, the tide of communism. Suitable for large and university libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/02.]-Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Tendentious and extremely partisan account of how the 40th president, disguised as a mild-mannered former actor, fought a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

In a volume that reads as if it were written by an author genetically engineered with DNA from Tom Clancy, George Will, Nancy Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, and a dollop of Joseph McCarthy, Schweizer (Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1994, etc.) raises hagiography to new heights. With unmatched courage and fierce determination, Saint Ronald brought the Evil Empire to its knees pretty much by himself. The author compares Reagan with Lincoln and Churchill, with unnamed cowboys (they were bold and independent too), and with various additional historical luminaries who saw what others refused to see and had the fortitude to act. Schweizer begins with Reagan’s fierce firefights with Hollywood Commies (though he opposed blacklists, of course), continues with his uneasy relationship with Nixon, and describes how the future president subtly attacked pinkos on General Electric Theater. We follow Reagan from the California governor’s mansion to the White House. And those who opposed Reagan, his military build-up, his confrontational postures with the USSR? Who favored disarmament over SDI? Commie dupes, plain and simple. Sure, many of the protesters were sincere, but they brought comfort to the enemy nonetheless. The Kennedys and Carter were Soft on Communism. So were Humphrey, McGovern, and Mondale. Oddly, Schweizer says nothing about his hero’s response to the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. Nothing about Reagan and the CivilRights movement (no Commie involvement there?). Nothing about Bitburg. Nothing about Reagan’s offer to "share" SDI technology with the Soviets. Nothing about Alzheimer’s. Iran-Contra gets two pages. The guilty party in that one, declares Schweizer boldly, was . . . "someone."

This obsessive effort to fashion a faultless hero will remind readers of an earlier attempt to do the same—by Victor Frankenstein.

From the Publisher
"A rousing and compelling case that Reagan's personal and political odyssey...was central to bringing down the 'evil empire.'" —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"On the big picture, Schweizer is correct: Reagan had it right." —Newsweek

"Masterful. . . . After Schweizer, even inveterate Reagan-haters will have to abandon the picture of an amiable dunce drifting passively while a handful of advisers set the agenda." —Foreign Affairs

“A fascinating, well-written, useful and important look at one of the three or four most important American political leaders of the 20th century. No serious assessment of the 40th president of the United States can ignore the central importance of anti-communism in his career; after Schweizer, none will.” —The Washington Post Book World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400075560
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/21/2003
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 483,814
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Schweizer is a fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. His previous books include The Fall of the Wall: Reassessing the Causes and Consequences of the End of the Cold War, The Next War, coauthored with Casper Weinberger, Victory, and Friendly Spies. He lives in Florida with his wife and children.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

chapter I

ONE-MAN BATTALION

Tall, tanned, and dark-haired, Ronald Reagan was often seen driving his Cadillac convertible on the open boulevards of Hollywood in late September 1946. He had been in pictures for almost ten years now. Superstardom had eluded him, but he was a star nonetheless. Only a few years earlier, a Gallup poll had ranked him with Laurence Olivier in terms of popularity among filmgoers.

Reagan knew that superstardom would probably never come, openly admitting to friends, "I'm no [Errol] Flynn or [Charles] Boyer." But life was comfortable. In August of 1945 he had signed a long-term, million-dollar contract with Warner Brothers. He was making more than $52,000 a picture and would take home the princely sum of $169,000 in 1946--and there were inviting projects on the horizon. Jack Warner, the pugnacious studio head, had offered him the lead in a film adaptation of John Van Druten's successful play The Voice of the Turtle. It was Reagan's first chance to play the romantic lead in a major A picture, and Warner was paying the playwright the unheard-of sum of $500,000 plus 15 percent of the gross for the story, so he clearly cared about the project. Reagan was also about to begin production on Night Unto Night, a dramatization of a successful Philip Wylie book.

In addition, Reagan had a wife and two little kids to go home to. Jane Wyman was a beautiful blonde from the Midwest whose own acting career was beginning to take off. Along with their children Michael and Maureen, Ron and Jane lived in a beautiful home with a pool on Cordell Drive. He owned a splendid ranch near Riverside, and when he and Jane weren't at the studio lot, they could be found playing golf at the prestigious Hillcrest Country Club with Jack Benny and George Burns. At night they often dined at the trendy Beverly Club.

It was without a doubt far more than the son of a salesman from Dixon, Illinois, had ever expected out of life. But on September 27, 1946, Reagan's celluloid dreamland would be disrupted forever.

In the early-morning hours, even before the sun peeked over the east hills, thousands of picketers showed up at Warner Brothers. They were vocal and angry. Hollywood had seen strikes before, but nothing quite like this.

The strike had been called by a ruddy-faced ex-boxer named Herb Sorrell, head of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), who was prepared to get rough. "There may be men hurt, there may be men killed before this is over, but we are in no mood to be pushed around anymore," he warned. For good measure, he had brought dozens of tough guys ("sluggers," he called them) in from San Francisco, just in case.

Herb Sorrell had come up the hard way, beginning work at the age of twelve, laboring in an Oakland sewer pipe factory for eleven hours a day. He had cut his teeth in the Bay Area labor movement under the leadership of Harry Bridges, the wiry leader of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Bridges, according to Soviet archives, was also a secret member of the Communist Party and a regular contact for Soviet intelligence.

Sorrell had joined the party in the 1930s, and under Bridges's guidance he had led two violent strikes in the Bay Area. Both strikes, he later admitted, were secretly funded by the Communists, and this time he was secretly receiving money from the National Executive Council of the Communist Party. Sorrell was a member of more than twenty Communist Party front organizations and had pushed hard for the American Federation of Labor to affiliate with the Soviet-run World Federation of Trade Unions. (AFL leaders refused on the grounds that it was simply a front group.2)

The studio strike Sorrell organized in 1946 was no ordinary labor action. It was ostensibly called because of worker concerns, but Sorrell saw it as an opportunity to gain control over all the major unions in Hollywood. As he bragged in the early days of the action, "When it ends up, there'll be only one man running labor in Hollywood, and that man will be me!"

The stakes were high. If Sorrell succeeded, the Communists believed, they could run Hollywood. As the party newspaper the People's Daily World put it candidly, "Hollywood is often called the land of Make-Believe, but there is nothing make believe about the Battle of Hollywood being waged today. In the front lines of this battle, at the studio gates, stand the thousands of locked out film workers; behind the studio gates sit the overlords of Hollywood, who refuse even to negotiate with the workers. . . . The prize will be the complete control of the greatest medium of communication in history." To underscore the value of this victory, the paper quoted Lenin: "Of all the arts, the cinema is the most important."

The Communist Party had been active in Hollywood since 1935, when a secret directive was issued by CPUSA (Communist Party of the U.S.A.) headquarters in New York calling for the capture of Hollywood's labor unions. The party believed that by doing so they could influence the type of pictures being produced. The directive also instructed party members to take leadership positions in the so-called intellectual groups in Hollywood, which were composed of directors, writers, and performers.

To carry out the plan, CPUSA sent party activist Stanley Lawrence, a tall, bespectacled ex-cabdriver. Quietly and methodically he began developing secret cells that included Hollywood performers, writers, and technicians. His actions were handled with great sensitivity. Lawrence reported directly to party headquarters in New York, which in turn reported its activities to officials in Moscow. There, Comintern boss Willie Muenzenberg declared, "One of the most pressing tasks confronting the Communist Party in the field of propaganda is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them."

By the end of the Second World War, party membership in Hollywood was close to six hundred and boasted several industry heavyweights. Actors Lloyd Bridges, Edward G. Robinson, and Fredric March were members, as were half a dozen producers and about as many directors. Some had joined the party because they thought it might be fun. Actor Lionel Stander encouraged his friends to become members because "you will make out more with the dames." Others who were perhaps interested in the ideas of Marx and Lenin were nonetheless gentle in their advocacy.

"Please explain Marxism to me," Sam Goldwyn once asked Communist Ella Winter at a dinner party.

"Oh, not over this lovely steak."

But many of the party members were militants, and through hard work they had managed to take over leadership positions in the Screenwriters Guild, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and various intellectual and cultural groups. Their level of control and influence far outweighed their numbers. It was a classic case of hard work and determined organizing.

"All over town the industrious Communist tail wagged the lazy liberal dog," declared director Philip Dunne, whose credits included Count of Monte Cristo, Last of the Mohicans, and Three Brave Men.

That industriousness came out of a militancy that stunned many in Hollywood. Screenwriter John Howard Lawson had a booming voice and could often be seen berating those who might oppose the party by smashing his fist into his open palm. The natural reaction of many was to simply be quiet and avoid being throttled.

"The important thing is that you should not argue with them," said writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent time in Hollywood writing for movies such as Winter Carnival. "Whatever you say they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind, 'Fascist,' 'Liberal,' 'Trotskyist,' and disparage you both intellectually and personally in the process."

Reagan had his first taste of this a few months before the strike, when he was serving on the executive committee of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP), which he had joined in 1944. The group boasted a membership roll including Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, and Katharine Hepburn. It was what they called a "brainy group," too, with Albert Einstein and Max Weber lending their name to the organization. It was the usual liberal/left Hollywood cultural group, concerned about atomic weapons, the resurgence of fascism, and the burgeoning Cold War. But some were concerned by what they saw as its regular and consistent support for the Soviet position on international issues. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. declared in Life magazine that he believed it was a communist front, an organization in which "its celebrities maintained their membership but not their vigilance."

Stung by this criticism, a small group within HICCASP, including RKO executive Dore Schary, actress Olivia de Havilland, and FDR's son James Roosevelt, decided to put their fellow members to the test. At the July 2, 1946, meeting, Roosevelt noted that HICCASP had many times issued statements denouncing fascism. Why not issue a statement repudiating communism? Surely that would demonstrate that the organization was wholly liberal and not at all communist.

Reagan rose quickly and offered his support for the resolution, and a furious verbal battle quickly erupted. Musician Artie Shaw stood up and declared that the Soviet Union was more democratic than the United States and offered to recite the Soviet constitution to prove it. Writer Dalton Trumbo stood up and denounced the resolution as wicked. When Reagan tried to respond, John Howard Lawson waved a menacing finger in his face and told him to watch it. Reagan and the others in his group resigned from the organization.

Sorrell gathered his resources for the fight. Along with financial support from the Communist Party, he also could count on help from Vincente Lombardo Toledano, head of Mexico's largest union and described in Soviet intelligence files as an agent. The slender, well-dressed, and poised young lawyer was one of Moscow's most trusted agents in Mexico, regularly given assignments by Lt. General Pavel Fitin of Soviet intelligence. Toledano immediately put his resources behind Sorrell, providing money while pressuring Mexican film industry executives not to process any film from Hollywood as a show of solidarity. He also appeared at a rally in Hollywood to encourage the strikers.

Herb Sorrell had promised violence if he didn't get his way in the studio strike, and it didn't take him long to deliver. Led by his "sluggers," strikers smashed windshields on passing trains and threw rocks at the police. One studio employee went to the hospital after acid was thrown in his face. When the police tried to break up the melee, things got even worse. As actor Kirk Douglas remembered it, "Thousands of people fought in the middle of the street with knives, clubs, battery cables, brass knuckles, and chains."

Sorrell and his allies wanted to shut down the studios entirely, so anyone who crossed the picket line became a target of violence. Jack Warner insisted on keeping up production and the studio remained open. To avoid injury, workers, including stars who were shooting movies, were forced to sneak into the studio lot through a storm drain that led from the Los Angeles River.

Reagan, getting ready to start production on Night Unto Night, was furious about the violence. And unlike his approach to the little battle with the Communists in HICCASP, he was not in a mood to retreat.

Blaney Matthews, the giant-sized head of security at Warner Brothers, had seen this sort of violent strike before. He advised Reagan and other stars to use the storm drain to get onto the lot safely. Reagan flat out refused. If he was going to cross the picket line, he was going to cross the picket line, he told Matthews.

Matthews then arranged for buses to shuttle Reagan and a few others through the human gauntlet outside the studio gate. But he offered a bit of advice: Lie down on the floor, or you might get hit by a flying Coke bottle or rock. Again Reagan refused. Over the next several days, as he went to the studio lot to attend preproduction meetings, a bus would pass through the human throng of violent picketers, with a solitary figure seated upright inside.

Reagan was no doubt acting on his convictions and his determination not to be intimidated by the strikers. But he may also have seen it as an opportunity to demonstrate his courage. He had missed the action in the Second World War only a few years earlier. When he had reported for duty at Fort Mason in 1942, his medical exam had revealed poor eyesight.

"If we sent you overseas, you'd shoot a general," one doctor had told him.

"Yes," said the other. "And you'd miss him."

So instead of going off to war and serving bravely in the Army Air Corps like his friend Jimmy Stewart, Reagan was consigned to service in the First Motion Picture Unit, based just outside of Los Angeles.

Not bowing to violence was Reagan's first act of defiance. Another came when Sorrell tried to get the Screen Actors Guild to fall into line and support the strike. Reagan was a SAG board member, having joined with his wife's help in 1937. (Jane Wyman was already on the board.)

SAG had a quick vote after the strike began and elected to cross the picket line. But there were Sorrell supporters and Communist Party members among the SAG leadership, and they suggested that the guild try to arbitrate some kind of solution. A small group was asked to handle the matter. Reagan was among them.

By taking the assignment, Reagan was stepping foursquare into the middle of a testy labor dispute. It was the sort of thing he had been warned against before. Spencer Tracy had always advised his fellow actors to steer clear of politics. It was bad for your career and could get you into trouble, Tracy said. "Remember who shot Lincoln," he told them.

But Reagan, along with Gene Kelly and Katharine Hepburn, stepped into the breach. They met with labor officials and even with Sorrell himself. Matters were at an impasse.

Filming began on Night Unto Night at a dreary beach house just up the coast from Hollywood. Reagan was the lead in a story about a widow who believed her dead husband was communicating with her. The picture costarred Viveca Lindfors, an accomplished stage actress from Sweden.

After one take of a beach scene, Reagan was summoned to the telephone. When he picked up the receiver, a voice he didn't recognize threatened to see to it that he never made films again. If he continued to oppose the CSU strike, the caller said, "a squad" would disfigure his face with acid.

It was the first of many threats as the CSU and their Communist Party allies grew desperate to force SAG into line. Reagan hired guards to watch his kids. "I have been looking over my shoulder when I go down the street," he told a SAG meeting.

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

chapter I

ONE-MAN BATTALION

Tall, tanned, and dark-haired, Ronald Reagan was often seen driving his Cadillac convertible on the open boulevards of Hollywood in late September 1946. He had been in pictures for almost ten years now. Superstardom had eluded him, but he was a star nonetheless. Only a few years earlier, a Gallup poll had ranked him with Laurence Olivier in terms of popularity among filmgoers.

Reagan knew that superstardom would probably never come, openly admitting to friends, "I'm no [Errol] Flynn or [Charles] Boyer." But life was comfortable. In August of 1945 he had signed a long-term, million-dollar contract with Warner Brothers. He was making more than $52,000 a picture and would take home the princely sum of $169,000 in 1946--and there were inviting projects on the horizon. Jack Warner, the pugnacious studio head, had offered him the lead in a film adaptation of John Van Druten's successful play The Voice of the Turtle. It was Reagan's first chance to play the romantic lead in a major A picture, and Warner was paying the playwright the unheard-of sum of $500,000 plus 15 percent of the gross for the story, so he clearly cared about the project. Reagan was also about to begin production on Night Unto Night, a dramatization of a successful Philip Wylie book.

In addition, Reagan had a wife and two little kids to go home to. Jane Wyman was a beautiful blonde from the Midwest whose own acting career was beginning to take off. Along with their children Michael and Maureen, Ron and Jane lived in a beautiful home with a pool on Cordell Drive. He owned a splendid ranch near Riverside, and when he and Jane weren't at the studio lot, they could befound playing golf at the prestigious Hillcrest Country Club with Jack Benny and George Burns. At night they often dined at the trendy Beverly Club.

It was without a doubt far more than the son of a salesman from Dixon, Illinois, had ever expected out of life. But on September 27, 1946, Reagan's celluloid dreamland would be disrupted forever.

In the early-morning hours, even before the sun peeked over the east hills, thousands of picketers showed up at Warner Brothers. They were vocal and angry. Hollywood had seen strikes before, but nothing quite like this.

The strike had been called by a ruddy-faced ex-boxer named Herb Sorrell, head of the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU), who was prepared to get rough. "There may be men hurt, there may be men killed before this is over, but we are in no mood to be pushed around anymore," he warned. For good measure, he had brought dozens of tough guys ("sluggers," he called them) in from San Francisco, just in case.

Herb Sorrell had come up the hard way, beginning work at the age of twelve, laboring in an Oakland sewer pipe factory for eleven hours a day. He had cut his teeth in the Bay Area labor movement under the leadership of Harry Bridges, the wiry leader of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Bridges, according to Soviet archives, was also a secret member of the Communist Party and a regular contact for Soviet intelligence.

Sorrell had joined the party in the 1930s, and under Bridges's guidance he had led two violent strikes in the Bay Area. Both strikes, he later admitted, were secretly funded by the Communists, and this time he was secretly receiving money from the National Executive Council of the Communist Party. Sorrell was a member of more than twenty Communist Party front organizations and had pushed hard for the American Federation of Labor to affiliate with the Soviet-run World Federation of Trade Unions. (AFL leaders refused on the grounds that it was simply a front group.2)

The studio strike Sorrell organized in 1946 was no ordinary labor action. It was ostensibly called because of worker concerns, but Sorrell saw it as an opportunity to gain control over all the major unions in Hollywood. As he bragged in the early days of the action, "When it ends up, there'll be only one man running labor in Hollywood, and that man will be me!"

The stakes were high. If Sorrell succeeded, the Communists believed, they could run Hollywood. As the party newspaper the People's Daily World put it candidly, "Hollywood is often called the land of Make-Believe, but there is nothing make believe about the Battle of Hollywood being waged today. In the front lines of this battle, at the studio gates, stand the thousands of locked out film workers; behind the studio gates sit the overlords of Hollywood, who refuse even to negotiate with the workers. . . . The prize will be the complete control of the greatest medium of communication in history." To underscore the value of this victory, the paper quoted Lenin: "Of all the arts, the cinema is the most important."

The Communist Party had been active in Hollywood since 1935, when a secret directive was issued by CPUSA (Communist Party of the U.S.A.) headquarters in New York calling for the capture of Hollywood's labor unions. The party believed that by doing so they could influence the type of pictures being produced. The directive also instructed party members to take leadership positions in the so-called intellectual groups in Hollywood, which were composed of directors, writers, and performers.

To carry out the plan, CPUSA sent party activist Stanley Lawrence, a tall, bespectacled ex-cabdriver. Quietly and methodically he began developing secret cells that included Hollywood performers, writers, and technicians. His actions were handled with great sensitivity. Lawrence reported directly to party headquarters in New York, which in turn reported its activities to officials in Moscow. There, Comintern boss Willie Muenzenberg declared, "One of the most pressing tasks confronting the Communist Party in the field of propaganda is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them."

By the end of the Second World War, party membership in Hollywood was close to six hundred and boasted several industry heavyweights. Actors Lloyd Bridges, Edward G. Robinson, and Fredric March were members, as were half a dozen producers and about as many directors. Some had joined the party because they thought it might be fun. Actor Lionel Stander encouraged his friends to become members because "you will make out more with the dames." Others who were perhaps interested in the ideas of Marx and Lenin were nonetheless gentle in their advocacy.

"Please explain Marxism to me," Sam Goldwyn once asked Communist Ella Winter at a dinner party.

"Oh, not over this lovely steak."

But many of the party members were militants, and through hard work they had managed to take over leadership positions in the Screenwriters Guild, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and various intellectual and cultural groups. Their level of control and influence far outweighed their numbers. It was a classic case of hard work and determined organizing.

"All over town the industrious Communist tail wagged the lazy liberal dog," declared director Philip Dunne, whose credits included Count of Monte Cristo, Last of the Mohicans, and Three Brave Men.

That industriousness came out of a militancy that stunned many in Hollywood. Screenwriter John Howard Lawson had a booming voice and could often be seen berating those who might oppose the party by smashing his fist into his open palm. The natural reaction of many was to simply be quiet and avoid being throttled.

"The important thing is that you should not argue with them," said writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent time in Hollywood writing for movies such as Winter Carnival. "Whatever you say they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind, 'Fascist,' 'Liberal,' 'Trotskyist,' and disparage you both intellectually and personally in the process."

Reagan had his first taste of this a few months before the strike, when he was serving on the executive committee of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences, and Professions (HICCASP), which he had joined in 1944. The group boasted a membership roll including Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, and Katharine Hepburn. It was what they called a "brainy group," too, with Albert Einstein and Max Weber lending their name to the organization. It was the usual liberal/left Hollywood cultural group, concerned about atomic weapons, the resurgence of fascism, and the burgeoning Cold War. But some were concerned by what they saw as its regular and consistent support for the Soviet position on international issues. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. declared in Life magazine that he believed it was a communist front, an organization in which "its celebrities maintained their membership but not their vigilance."

Stung by this criticism, a small group within HICCASP, including RKO executive Dore Schary, actress Olivia de Havilland, and FDR's son James Roosevelt, decided to put their fellow members to the test. At the July 2, 1946, meeting, Roosevelt noted that HICCASP had many times issued statements denouncing fascism. Why not issue a statement repudiating communism? Surely that would demonstrate that the organization was wholly liberal and not at all communist.

Reagan rose quickly and offered his support for the resolution, and a furious verbal battle quickly erupted. Musician Artie Shaw stood up and declared that the Soviet Union was more democratic than the United States and offered to recite the Soviet constitution to prove it. Writer Dalton Trumbo stood up and denounced the resolution as wicked. When Reagan tried to respond, John Howard Lawson waved a menacing finger in his face and told him to watch it. Reagan and the others in his group resigned from the organization.

Sorrell gathered his resources for the fight. Along with financial support from the Communist Party, he also could count on help from Vincente Lombardo Toledano, head of Mexico's largest union and described in Soviet intelligence files as an agent. The slender, well-dressed, and poised young lawyer was one of Moscow's most trusted agents in Mexico, regularly given assignments by Lt. General Pavel Fitin of Soviet intelligence. Toledano immediately put his resources behind Sorrell, providing money while pressuring Mexican film industry executives not to process any film from Hollywood as a show of solidarity. He also appeared at a rally in Hollywood to encourage the strikers.

Herb Sorrell had promised violence if he didn't get his way in the studio strike, and it didn't take him long to deliver. Led by his "sluggers," strikers smashed windshields on passing trains and threw rocks at the police. One studio employee went to the hospital after acid was thrown in his face. When the police tried to break up the melee, things got even worse. As actor Kirk Douglas remembered it, "Thousands of people fought in the middle of the street with knives, clubs, battery cables, brass knuckles, and chains."

Sorrell and his allies wanted to shut down the studios entirely, so anyone who crossed the picket line became a target of violence. Jack Warner insisted on keeping up production and the studio remained open. To avoid injury, workers, including stars who were shooting movies, were forced to sneak into the studio lot through a storm drain that led from the Los Angeles River.

Reagan, getting ready to start production on Night Unto Night, was furious about the violence. And unlike his approach to the little battle with the Communists in HICCASP, he was not in a mood to retreat.

Blaney Matthews, the giant-sized head of security at Warner Brothers, had seen this sort of violent strike before. He advised Reagan and other stars to use the storm drain to get onto the lot safely. Reagan flat out refused. If he was going to cross the picket line, he was going to cross the picket line, he told Matthews.

Matthews then arranged for buses to shuttle Reagan and a few others through the human gauntlet outside the studio gate. But he offered a bit of advice: Lie down on the floor, or you might get hit by a flying Coke bottle or rock. Again Reagan refused. Over the next several days, as he went to the studio lot to attend preproduction meetings, a bus would pass through the human throng of violent picketers, with a solitary figure seated upright inside.

Reagan was no doubt acting on his convictions and his determination not to be intimidated by the strikers. But he may also have seen it as an opportunity to demonstrate his courage. He had missed the action in the Second World War only a few years earlier. When he had reported for duty at Fort Mason in 1942, his medical exam had revealed poor eyesight.

"If we sent you overseas, you'd shoot a general," one doctor had told him.

"Yes," said the other. "And you'd miss him."

So instead of going off to war and serving bravely in the Army Air Corps like his friend Jimmy Stewart, Reagan was consigned to service in the First Motion Picture Unit, based just outside of Los Angeles.

Not bowing to violence was Reagan's first act of defiance. Another came when Sorrell tried to get the Screen Actors Guild to fall into line and support the strike. Reagan was a SAG board member, having joined with his wife's help in 1937. (Jane Wyman was already on the board.)

SAG had a quick vote after the strike began and elected to cross the picket line. But there were Sorrell supporters and Communist Party members among the SAG leadership, and they suggested that the guild try to arbitrate some kind of solution. A small group was asked to handle the matter. Reagan was among them.

By taking the assignment, Reagan was stepping foursquare into the middle of a testy labor dispute. It was the sort of thing he had been warned against before. Spencer Tracy had always advised his fellow actors to steer clear of politics. It was bad for your career and could get you into trouble, Tracy said. "Remember who shot Lincoln," he told them.

But Reagan, along with Gene Kelly and Katharine Hepburn, stepped into the breach. They met with labor officials and even with Sorrell himself. Matters were at an impasse.

Filming began on Night Unto Night at a dreary beach house just up the coast from Hollywood. Reagan was the lead in a story about a widow who believed her dead husband was communicating with her. The picture costarred Viveca Lindfors, an accomplished stage actress from Sweden.

After one take of a beach scene, Reagan was summoned to the telephone. When he picked up the receiver, a voice he didn't recognize threatened to see to it that he never made films again. If he continued to oppose the CSU strike, the caller said, "a squad" would disfigure his face with acid.

It was the first of many threats as the CSU and their Communist Party allies grew desperate to force SAG into line. Reagan hired guards to watch his kids. "I have been looking over my shoulder when I go down the street," he told a SAG meeting.
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  • Posted December 15, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    So much information!  If you want to know why Ronald Reagan will

    So much information!  If you want to know why Ronald Reagan will go down in history as one of the greatest US presidents, this is the book to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004

    Incredible account - hits the nail on the head

    Reagan's War is an absolutely incredible account of how Reagan had the determination to do what is right in the face of bitter criticism. From his nearly-unilateral decision to impose sanctions against Communist Poland after it imposed martial law (and how his decision and action is credited with saving the Polish Solidarity movement which eventually caused the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and eventually the Soviet Union itself), to his decision to invade Grenada and the subsequent decision of dictators backing down from their threats to the west.<BR><BR> Reagan's War captures the heart of Ronald Reagan, and how his heart felt when he saw the effects of communism. One of the best examples is given in the book when the leader of Communist Poland thought that American movies were propaganda because they showed factory workers driving to work in their own automobiles, because 'you want us poor Poles to believe that factory workers really drive to work in their own cars in the United States?'. Ronald Reagan was disgusted by Communism, and this book very accurately describes how he systematically destroyed the idea of Communism.

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