Ronald Reagan, the son of John Reagan and Nellie Wilson, was born above the general store in Tampico, Illinois, on 6th February, 1911. Later the family moved to Dixon, a small town a hundred miles west of Chicago. His father became a partner in a shoe store. He held left of centre political views and bravely spoke out against the activities of the Ku Klux Klan.
During the Great Depression his father was forced to close down his shoe store. He found a new job as a result of the New Deal. This resulted in both father and son becoming passionate supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.
At high school Reagan developed a strong interest in sport and in 1928 won an athletic scholarship which enabled him to gain a place at Eureka College. Reagan studied economics and sociology but it was as a football player and swimmer that he excelled. After leaving college Reagan was able to find work as a sports announcer for the Davenport radio station, WOC. In 1933 Reagan moved to the WHO radio station in Des Moines and over the next four years became one of the most popular sports commentators in the region. In 1937 Reagan moved to California and after a screen test with Warner Brothers was given a seven-year contract.
The authors of Radical Hollywood (2002) argue that Reagan held left-wing views and applied to join the American Communist Party. According to one FBI informant "Reagan was turned down... for being too dumb." Joan LaCour Scott, the wife of film producer, Adrian Scott, commented: "I have never met a more limited man - to put it politely. He was stupid. He was an actor who made a good speaker, but talking with him before and after events, this was a man who simply was not well informed, not very knowledgeable. He was a kind of personable performer."
Reagan appeared in a series of undistinguished films including Hollywood Hotel (1937), Love is on the Air (1937), Accidents Will Happen (1938), Boy Meets Girl (1938), Brother Rat (1938), Cowboy From Brooklyn (1938), Sergeant Murphy (1938), Angels Wash Their Faces (1939), An Angel from Texas (1940) and The Santa Fe Trial (1940).
When the United States entered the Second World War Reagan joined the Army Air Corps and made training films for pilots. Discharged in December, 1945, as a captain, he resumed his film career. This included Stallion Road (1947), The Hagan Girl (1947) and The Voice of the Turtle (1947). After the war Reagan joined the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee for the Arts, Sciences and the Professions (HICCASP), a left-wing pressure group. Anthony Summers argues in Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993) Reagan became "Confidential Informant F-10".
Reagan was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and in 1947 he was elected president of the organization. According to the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991): "A confidential informant for the FBI since 1943, Reagan had spied on the activities of members of the Screen Actors Guild while serving as the union's president."
On 20th October, 1947, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by J. Parnell Thomas, opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The chief investigator for the committee was Robert E. Stripling. One of those interviewed was Reagan. Stripling asked him: "As a member of the board of directors, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and as an active member, have you at any time observed or noted within the organization a clique of either Communists or Fascists who were attempting to exert influence or pressure on the guild?" Reagan replied: "There has been a small group within the Screen Actors Guild which has consistently opposed the policy of the guild board and officers of the guild, as evidenced by the vote on various issues. That small clique referred to has been suspected of more or less following the tactics that we associate with the Communist Party."
Reagan also told the HUAC: "Ninety-nine per cent of us are pretty well aware of what is going on and I think we have done a pretty good job in our business of keeping those people's activities curtailed...I do not believe the Communists have ever at any time been able to use the motion picture screen as a sounding board for their philosophy or ideology."
Reagan, along with Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Jack L. Warner, Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Thomas Leo McCarey and George L. Murphy attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". These people named several possible members of the American Communist Party. During their interviews they named nineteen people who they accused of holding left-wing views.
One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.
Over the next few years FBI agents working with the House of Un-American Activities Committee and the Hollywood Motion Picture Producers, got 320 people blacklisted from the entertainment industry. As president of the Screen Actors Guild Reagan refused to support those actors such as Larry Parks, Joseph Bromberg, Charlie Chaplin, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Gale Sondergaard, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee and Paul Robeson who were on this list.
Reagan's support of McCarthyism enabled him to continue working in Hollywood but his films continued to appear in mediocre films such as Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), The Last Outpost (1951), The Winning Team (1952), Law and Order (1953), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Tennessee's Partner (1955) and Hellcats in the Navy (1957). Between 1954 and 1962 Reagan also worked for General Electric as host of the company's weekly half-hour dramas for television.
In the 1930s and 40s Reagan had been a loyal supporter of the Democratic Party. However, he switched to the Republican Party after the war and supported Dwight Eisenhower (1952 and 1956) and Richard Nixon (1960). In 1964 Reagan became a national political figure. This was as a result of a televised speech in support of Barry Goldwater. It did not help Goldwater win the election (he was seen by most people in America as a dangerous, right-wing extremist). However, it did convince members of the Californian business community that here was a man with the charm to sell right-wing extremism. Reagan was approached about becoming the Republican Party candidate as Governor of California. With the help of a smear campaign against Pat Brown and promises of tax cuts he won an easy victory.
As governor Reagan quickly established himself as one of the country's leading conservative political figures. This included dramatic budget cuts and a hiring freeze for state agencies. He also put up student fees and when they complained he sent state troopers to deal with their protest meetings.
Re-elected with 52 per cent of the vote in 1970, Reagan introduced a series of welfare reforms during his second term in office. This included tightening eligibility requirements for welfare aid and requiring the able to seek work rather than receiving benefits. However, the tax cuts never came, in fact, he presided over the largest tax increase any state had ever demanded in American history.
Reagan rejected two officers of cabinet posts from President Gerald Ford and in 1975 announced he intended to challenge him as the Republican Party presidential candidate. However, he was defeated by Ford in the contest for the nomination.
Michael K. Deaver worked for Ronald Reagan when he had been governor of California. He now took charge of Reagan's campaign to become president. Deaver co-founded the public relations company, Deaver and Hannaford in 1975. The company "booked Reagan's public appearances, research and sell his radio program, and ghost-write his syndicated column." Peter Dale Scott claims that "all this was arranged with an eye to Reagan's presidential aspirations, which Deaver and Hannaford helped organize from the outset".
In 1977 Deaver and Hannaford registered with the Justice Department as foreign agents receiving $5,000 a month from the government of Taiwan. It also received $11,000 a month from a group called Amigos del Pais (Friends of the Country) in Guatemala. The head of Amigos del Pais was Roberto Alejos Arzu. He was the principal organizer of Guatemala's "Reagan for President" organization. Arzu was a CIA asset who in 1960 allowed his plantation to be used to train Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Peter Dale Scott has argued that Michael K. Deaver began raising money for Ronald Reagan and his presidential campaign from some of his Guatemalan clients. This included Amigos del Pais. One BBC report estimated that this money amounted to around ten million dollars. Francisco Villgarán Kramer claimed that several members of this organization were "directly linked with organized terror".
Deaver and Hannaford also began to get work from military dictatorships that wanted to improve its image in Washington. According to Jonathan Marshall, Deaver was also connected to Mario Sandoval Alarcon and John K. Singlaub of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL). In the book, The Iran-Contra Connection (1987) he wrote: "The activities of Singlaub and Sandoval chiefly involved three WACL countries, Guatemala, Argentina, and Taiwan, that would later emerge as prominent backers of the contras.... these three countries shared one lobbying firm, that of Deaver and Hannaford."
In 1979 Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote an article for Commentary, entitled Entitled Dictatorships and Double Standards. The article argued that right-wing “authoritarian” governments, such as those in Argentina, Chile and South Africa, suited American interests better than left-wing regimes. She criticized the emphasis placed on human rights by Jimmy Carter and blamed it for undermining right-wing governments in Nicaragua and Iran. She went onto argue that right-wing dictatorships were reliably pro-American. She therefore proposed that the US government should treat authoritarian regimes much more favourably than other governments. Kirkpatrick added: "liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism and need not be incompatible with the defence of freedom and the national interest".
As Bill Van Auken has pointed out (Social Democrat to Champion of Death Squads): "The policy implications of Kirkpatrick’s thesis were unmistakable. Washington should seek to keep in power right-wing dictatorships, so long as they suppressed the threat of revolution and supported “American interests and policies.” Moreover, the limits placed by the Carter administration on relations with regimes that had carried out wholesale political killings and torture, as in Chile and Argentina, for example, should be cast aside."
In December, 1979, John K. Singlaub had a meeting with Guatemalan President Fernando Romeo Lucas García. According to someone who was at this meeting Singlaub told Garcia: "Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done". On his return, Singlaub called for "sympathetic understanding of the death squads".
Another one of Deaver's clients was Argentina's military junta. A regime that had murdered up to 15,000 of its political opponents. Deaver arranged for José Alfredo Martinez de Hoz, the economy minister, to visit the United States. In one of Reagan's radio broadcasts, he claimed "that in the process of bringing stability to a terrorized nation of 25 million, a small number, were caught in the cross-fire, amongst them a few innocents".
Peter Dale Scott argues that funds from military dictatorships "helped pay for the Deaver and Hannaford offices, which became Reagan's initial campaign headquarters in Beverly Hills and his Washington office." This resulted in Ronald Reagan developing the catch-phrase: "No more Taiwans, no more Vietnams, no more betrayals." He also argued that if he was elected as president he "would re-establish official relations between the United States Government and Taiwan".
What Deaver's clients, Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina wanted most of all were American armaments. Under President Jimmy Carter, arms sales to Taiwan had been reduced for diplomatic reasons, and had been completely cut off to Guatemala and Argentina because of human rights violations.
An article published in Time Magazine (8th September, 1980) claimed that Deaver was playing an important role in Reagan's campaign to be nominated as the Republican presidential candidate, whereas people like Campaign Director William J. Casey were outsiders have "valuable experience but exercise less influence over the candidate."
Reagan's main problem was that he was now sixty-eight and his opponents claimed he was too old for the job. He overcame this problem by campaigning aggressively and despite his tendency to make silly factual mistakes in interviews, he generally performed well. During his campaign he promised a "patriotic crusade" to reduce the size and scope of government, to rebuild American military power and self-respect and to restore traditional values".
During the campaign Ronald Reagan was informed that Jimmy Carter was attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran to get the American hostages released. This was disastrous news for the Reagan campaign. If Carter got the hostages out before the election, the public perception of the man might change and he might be elected for a second-term. As Deaver later told the New York Times: "One of the things we had concluded early on was that a Reagan victory would be nearly impossible if the hostages were released before the election... There is no doubt in my mind that the euphoria of a hostage release would have rolled over the land like a tidal wave. Carter would have been a hero, and many of the complaints against him forgotten. He would have won."
According to Barbara Honegger, a researcher and policy analyst with the 1980 Reagan/Bush campaign, William J. Casey and other representatives of the Reagan presidential campaign made a deal at two sets of meetings in July and August at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid with Iranians to delay the release of Americans held hostage in Iran until after the November 1980 presidential elections. Reagan’s aides promised that they would get a better deal if they waited until Carter was defeated.
On 22nd September, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. The Iranian government was now in desperate need of spare parts and equipment for its armed forces. Jimmy Carter proposed that the US would be willing to hand over supplies in return for the hostages.
Once again, the Central Intelligence Agency leaked this information to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. This attempted deal was also passed to the media. On 11th October, the Washington Post reported rumors of a “secret deal that would see the hostages released in exchange for the American made military spare parts Iran needs to continue its fight against Iraq”.
A couple of days before the election Barry Goldwater was reported as saying that he had information that “two air force C-5 transports were being loaded with spare parts for Iran”. This was not true. However, this publicity had made it impossible for Carter to do a deal. Ronald Reagan on the other hand, had promised the Iranian government that he would arrange for them to get all the arms they needed in exchange for the hostages.
In the election Reagan easily defeated Jimmy Carter by 44 million votes to 35 million. The Republican Party also won control of the Senate for the first time in 26 years. According to Mansur Rafizadeh, the former U.S. station chief of SAVAK, the Iranian secret police, CIA agents had persuaded Khomeini not to release the American hostages until Reagan was sworn in. In fact, they were released twenty minutes after his inaugural address.
Reagan appointed William J. Casey as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In this position he was able to arrange the delivery of arms to Iran. These were delivered via Israel. By the end of 1982 all Regan’s promises to Iran had been made. With the deal completed, Iran was free to resort to acts of terrorism against the United States. In 1983, Iranian-backed terrorists blew up 241 marines in the CIA Middle-East headquarters.
After his election as president, Ronald Reagan, appointed Michael Deaver as Deputy White House Chief of Staff under James Baker III. He took up his post in January 1981. Soon afterwards, Deaver's clients, Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina, began to receive their payback. On 19th March, 1981, Reagan asked Congress to lift the embargo on arms sales to Argentina. General Roberto Viola, one of the junta members responsible for the death squads, was invited to Washington. In return, the Argentine government agreed to expand its support and training for the Contras. According to John Ranelagh (The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA): "Aid and training were provided to the Contras through the Argentinean defence forces in exchange for other forms of aid from the U.S. to Argentina."
Reagan had more difficulty persuading Congress to provide arms to Guatemala. During a 4th May, 1981, session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it was announced that the Guatemalan death squads had murdered 76 leaders of the moderate Christian Democratic Party including its leader, Alberto Fuentes Mohr. As Peter Dale Scott pointed out in the Iran-Contra Connection: "When Congress balked at certifying that Guatemala was not violating human rights, the administration acted unilaterally, by simply taking the items Guatemala wanted off the restricted list."
Reagan and Deaver also helped Guatemala in other ways. Alejandro Dabat and Luis Lorenzano (Argentina: The Malvinas and the End of Military Rule) pointed out that the Ronald Reagan administration arranged for "the training of more than 200 Guatemalan officers in interrogation techniques (torture) and repressive methods".
Reagan's first Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, resigned on 25th June, 1982, as a result of the administration's foreign policy. He also complained that his attempts to help Britain in its conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, was being undermined by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and some above her in the White House. In his book, Gambling With History: Ronald Reagan in the White House, Laurence I. Barrett argued that this person from the White House was Michael Deaver: "At an NSC session... Haig had observed Kirkpatrick passing Deaver a note. Concluding that Kirkpatrick was using Deaver to prime Reagan... Haig told Clark that a 'conspiracy' was afoot to outflank him."
Another of Deaver's clients, Taiwan, benefited from Reagan's support. Although George H. W. Bush promised China in August, 1982, that the United States would reduce its weapons sales to Taiwan, the reverse happened. Arms sales to Taiwan in fact increased to $530m in 1983 and $1,085 million in 1984.
Reagan took a firm stance against communism and described the Soviet Union as the "evil empire". Although he avoided direct conflict with major communist countries such as China, he did send paratroopers against Bernard Coard, when he overthrew the elected government of Maurice Bishop in Grenada in October, 1983. However, it was not made clear at the time that Bishop was himself a Marxist.
Michael Deaver officially worked primarily on media management. One of his great successes was the presentation of the Grenada invasion. As Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber pointed out in their book Toxic Sludge is Good For You (1995): "Following their (Michael Deaver and Craig Fuller) advice, Reagan ordered a complete press blackout surrounding the Grenada invasion. By the time reporters were allowed on the scene, soldiers were engaged in "mop-up" actions, and the American public was treated to an antiseptic military victory minus any scenes of killing, destruction or incompetence." Later, it was discovered that of the 18 American servicemen killed during the operation, 14 died in friendly fire or in accidents."
Although there was a federal deficit of over $100 billion, Reagan managed to persuade Congress in 1981 to pass a plan for a three-year reduction in income tax rates. This was followed by cuts in domestic spending. During the 1980s Reagan's policy of reducing income taxes and federal domestic budgets became known as Reaganomics. These tax changes and the cuts in the welfare system widened the gap between rich and poor. It also caused a deep recession.
Reagan also funded anti-communist groups in Nicaragua who were fighting the elected government of Daniel Ortega. His government's power also suffered from economic sanctions imposed by Reagan. It was later discovered that the United States had attempted to damage the economy by the mining of Nicaragua's harbours. Reagan also funded death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980s. He also backed the Guatemalan government that killed an estimated 100,000 Mayan Indians during this period.
In 1981 Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld, his Middle East envoy, to Iraq. This resulted in Reagan selling Saddam Hussein "dual-use" items, including helicopters and chemicals. He also armed the Mojahedin in Afghanistan that eventually evolved into the Taliban.
In early 1981, Leopoldo Galtieri visited the United States and was warmly received by members of the Ronald Reagan administration. Richard V. Allen, who Reagan had appointed as his National Security Advisor, described Galtiera as a "majestic general." With the help of the CIA, Galtieri replaced President Roberto Viola in December 1981. Galtieri attempted to improve the economy by cutting public spending and selling off government-owned industries. He also imposed a pay freeze. These policies were unpopular and demonstrations took place demanding a return to democracy.
Despite the support of the Reagan administration, Galtieri, faced the possibility of being ousted from power. He therefore decided to gain public support by appealing to nationalist sentiment. In April, 1982, Galtieri's forces invaded the weakly-defended British Falkland Islands and he declared the "Malvinas" a province of Argentina. The anti-junta demonstrations were replaced by patriotic demonstrations in support of Galtieri.
Margaret Thatcher appealed to Ronald Reagan for help in removing Galtieri from the Falklands. This caused problems for Reagan as Galtieri was seen as a key aspect of the foreign policy advocated by Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard V. Allen. Kirkpatrick argued that America should not jeopardize relations with Latin America by backing Britain. She later explained that "I thought a policy of neutrality in that war made sense from the point of view of US interests".
However, in reality, Jeane Kirkpatrick was not arguing for neutrality. According to The Times newspaper: "Only hours after the 1982 invasion of the Falklands she notoriously attended as guest of honour a reception at the Argentine Embassy in Washington. She then went on television to assert that if the islands rightly belonged to Argentina its action could not be considered as “armed aggression”.
Reagan's Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, took the side of the British government. He argued that Kirkpatrick was “mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking clearly on this issue because of her close links with the Latins”. Reagan forced Haig to resign on 25th June, 1982. He later complaining that his attempts to help Britain in its conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands, was being undermined by Kirkpatrick and some above her in the White House.
Reagan eventually rejected Kirkpatrick's advice and as The Times pointed out: "Had Kirkpatrick prevailed, Britain would have been deprived of American fuel, Sidewinder missiles and other arms, and the vital US satellite intelligence that enabled it to win the war. And Galtieri and his junta would not have been replaced by a freely elected government."
In the 1984 presidential election the Democratic Party selected Walter Mondale as its candidate. Despite upsetting people on the left in American politics, Reagan remained popular with the electorate and easily defeated Mondale by winning 525 of the 538 electoral votes.
Reagan was unwilling to criticize anti-Communist governments and refused to support economic sanctions against the undemocratic government in South Africa. He vetoed a series of UN resolutions that attempted to punish the South African government. Reagan also tried to veto the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that Congress passed in 1986.
As well as Guatemala, Taiwan and Argentina, Deaver also worked closely with South Korea. He arranged for President Chun Doo Hwan to meet Reagan in the White House. It was Deaver's involvement with the Ambassador in Seoul, Richard L. Walker, a member of the World Anti-Communist League (WACL) that eventually led to his demise. Deaver resigned from the White House staff in May 1985 under investigation for corruption. It seems that Deaver had charged the Taiwan government $150,000 for arranging the meeting with Reagan. Deaver was eventually charged with perjury rather than violations of the 1978 Ethics in Government Act and was fined $100,000.
Reagan had considerable problems trying to balance the budget during his second term in office. This was because he had increased defence spending by 35%. This included expensive military programs such as the MX missile and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). In 1985 he supported the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act that enabled large annual budget cuts to be made but it had little impact before being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1986.
In late 1986 Reagan became embroiled in in what became known as the Irangate Scandal. It was discovered that the Reagan administration had been selling arms to the Islamic fundamentalist government in Iran in order to gain the release of American hostages in the Lebanon. The profits of the deal were then used to supply the anti-Marxist Contra guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua.
The scandal was damaging to Reagan because he had told the American public he would never "yield to terrorist blackmail". As a result of the scandal, the White House chief of staff, Donald Regan and his National Security Adviser, John Poindexter, were forced to resign. Reagan survived but the case damaged his image and gave the impression that he was not in full-control of his administration.
In 1987 Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev and signed the Immediate Nuclear Forces (INF) abolition treaty. Gorbachev also made it clear he would no longer interfere in the domestic policies of other countries in Eastern Europe and in 1989 announced the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Aware that Gorbachev would not send in Soviet tanks there were demonstrations against communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Over the next few months the communists were ousted from power in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. All these events took place while Reagan was president and he therefore got the credit for the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Reagan retired from office at the end of his second-term in 1989. He spent his time establishing the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, but in 1994 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.