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Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Paperback – February 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The growing body of affirmative revisionist scholarship on Ronald Reagan and his presidency is enhanced by this comprehensively researched, well-crafted monograph. Independent scholar Lettow uses recently declassified archival material to establish Reagan's determination to abolish nuclear weapons as a focal point of his presidency. Reagan believed that the U.S. should use the arms race to bankrupt the Soviet Union, and that the development of an effective defense against ballistic missiles would then render all nuclear weapons negotiable and foster discussion of their abolition; the U.S. would then share the system with the U.S.S.R. and other countries, ensuring the safety of an eventually nuclear-free world. Lettow presents Reagan as a thoughtful leader, who developed his radical challenge to both liberal and conservative conventional wisdom on the Cold War independently. His unwavering belief that missile defense was possible reflected his intellectual conviction that the U.S. could solve the technical challenges involved. Lettow shows Reagan's advisers were on the whole significantly skeptical at the prospect of actually abolishing nuclear weapons. Reagan, meanwhile, successfully negotiated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty and established the matrix for the START treaty. The U.S. and Russia have made additional drastic cuts in their nuclear arsenals; plans for a ballistic missile defense continue in the U.S.; Reagan's ideas and methods, in short, continue to shape the world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

When then-president Ronald Reagan first proposed his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars" initiative), the Soviets and critics in Europe and America lambasted it; at best it threatened to destabilize the nuclear equilibrium, and at worst it provided the U.S. with a first-strike capability. But it was Reagan, in conjunction with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who succeeded in eliminating an entire class of nuclear weapons. Lettow presents a strong case that Reagan's prime motivation in promoting SDI was a long-standing aversion to nuclear weapons and to the MAD^B (Mutually Assured Destruction) doctrine; which kept the Soviets and the U.S. from pushing the button. Lettow, in tracing Reagan's early life, reminds us that, as a Roosevelt Democrat, Reagan flirted with pacifism and he actively supported international control over nuclear weapons in the aftermath of Hiroshima. Lettow is an unabashed admirer of Reagan, so he may be a bit credulous in accepting assertions by Reagan and his supporters. Still, this is a well-done, informative study, which adds to the still-evolving understanding of Reagan and his presidency. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812973267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973266
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,855,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Marvin D. Pipher on July 17, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
While reading this book, I had the distinct impression that it was actually a dissertation aimed at proving to a doctoral committee that beyond any shadow of doubt Ronald Reagan's primary mission in life, particularly during his presidency, was to abolish nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. Few would have believed that in the 1980s, but the author of this book more than proves it. He does so by thoroughly researching his subject and then meticulously analyzing Reagan's thoughts as distilled from his writings, interviews, broadcasts, speeches, and actions from the early 1960s through his presidency. In the process, he also clearly demonstrates that Ronald Reagan's thinking was so far beyond that of his contemporaries that even his closest advisors had difficulty understanding him or even taking his ideas seriously. Who, in the 1960s-70s, for example, seriously believed that by stepping up the arms race you could bring the Soviets to the negotiating table, let along get them to negotiate in good faith? But Reagan did.

The one fault which I found with this book was that by concentrating on his one theme, almost to the exclusion of everything else, the author presents a somewhat one sided view of what was really taking place during Reagan's presidency. For example, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), although the most powerful tool, wasn't the only tool being used by President Reagan to bring about the demise of the Soviet Union. He also supported subversion within the Eastern Block, supplied arms to those fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, pressured the Saudi's to bring down the price of oil so as to starve the Soviet economy, and curtailed technical and monetary support to the USSR to slow its economy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on May 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Paul Lettow's "Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons" is an important scholarly account of Reagan's aims for his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) - perhaps better known - if incorrectly - as "Star Wars" and his strongly felt desire to abolish nuclear weaponry. It is a scholarly account which deserves to be read by a wide readership, since it demonstrates convincingly what Reagan actually thought of nuclear weaponry. Lettow observes that Reagan's keen interest in the abolition of nuclear weaponry is one that isn't widely known, even today, and that this interest arose immediately from the 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lettow not only does an admirable job in exploring Reagan's interest in the abolition of nuclear weaponry, but also makes a persuasive case as to why Reagan may be the most visionary leader of the late 20th Century, having created the world which we still live in.

Using both recently declassified documents from the National Archives and extensive interviews with former Reagan Administration officials and Reagan historians, Lettow makes a very compelling case for asserting that Reagan's quest to abolish nuclear weapons was the key underlying theme of his foreign policy with the Soviet Union, especially with respect to nuclear arms control. It was an issue Reagan was personally involved with, often overriding strenuous objections from key aides like National Security Adviser Robert "Bud" McFarlane, who thought that Reagan was quite naive in his advocacy of eventual abolition of nuclear weapons.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Eric J. Lindblom PhD on August 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Leadership against the bomb (WMD) including the Reykjavik summit and Gorbachev defined SDI policy review shifts. "The soviet policy review group submitted the dreaft decision directive to the NSC in early December 1982." (p. 77) The center of the book inquires deeply into the results of that start. It was aimed toward Soviet imperialism. It was anti-elitist. That defined Reagan and ultimately undermined his constituency. Gorbachev pressured Reagan. It didn't work well. The President stood. There was START and INF, ABM and NSDD. It was a tangle. Reagan provided leadership. He stood his ground more sucessful with the Soviets than the U.S. Eric J. Lindblom PhD Harvard
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brent Budowsky on July 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This brilliant book about Ronald Reagan's greatnessshould be read by President Bush, leaders in both parties and heads of state around the world. Lettow shows through diligent research and first person sources that Ronald Reagan throughout his life aimed at nothing less than the abolition of nuclear weapons and combined true vision and hard headed pragmatism to achieve enormous and historically profound successes that will be remembered in a thousand years. I remember those years well, for a good part of Reagan's Presidency I servedwith the Democratic leadership in Congress and have written myself about how Reagan deserves a special place in history for the same reasons that Lettow documents so thoroughly. From the first use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, Reagan set himself on a determined lifetime course to eliminate nuclear weapons. Throughout his life, as both liberal and conservative, Reagan steadfastly pursued this noble and visionary goal that remained constant through his shifting ideology and political parties. As Lettow documents, Reagan understood more than his contemporaries on the left or right that national security is protected not by war without diplomacy, or diplomacy without military strength, but by building enormous military strength for leverage, then applying that strength diplomatically to achieve visionary goals. Lettow traces the history of nuclear weapons spreading alongside the history of Ronald Reagans evolution, and demonstrates how Reagan employed combinations of vision, ideology, pragmatism, boldness and the negotiaing skill natural in a former President of the Screen Actors Guild.Read more ›
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