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Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Remembering Ronald Reagan

Today we remember President Ronald Reagan, who passed away on this day nine years ago at his home in Bel Air, California. The Miller Center houses a robust collection of Reagan oral histories. As the website explains:

In August 2001, with the cooperation of the Reagan Library, the Miller Center began an oral history of key figures in the political life of Ronald Reagan to capture for posterity the words of these individuals who knew Reagan most intimately. Nancy Reagan has observed that the Miller Center "has become a valuable part of our lives as it works closely with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to create a definitive oral history of the Reagan presidency."

The project is now completed and includes some forty-five interviews with those most closely involved in Reagan's political career, including Cabinet members, White House staff, and campaign advisors. Among those who have been interviewed are Richard Allen, Frank Carlucci, James Miller, George Shultz, William Webster, and Caspar Weinberger.

As a special supplement to the Reagan Oral History, the Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis, including Jeane Kirkpatrick and Caspar Weinberger.

Cleared transcripts were released to the public on January 29, 2006 and are available online. Hard copies of the transcripts are housed at the Miller Center's Scripps Library and Multimedia Archive, and at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. You can read the interviews here.

Friday Feature: Nancy and Ronald Reagan Not Riding a Tiger

Photo Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library, c. 1982. Taken at Rancho Del Cielo, Santa Barbara, CA.

Here on the east coast things have started heating up… could it be true? Is summer on the way?

In honor of the shifting seasons, here are the Reagans doing what many of us are starting to do this time of year (though not quite in the way we normally do it): mowing the grass. The mower was an anniversary present. 

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

The Iron Lady, Reagan and Bush

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David

Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan at Camp David, 22 December 1984. White House Photo, PD.

This morning former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died from a stroke at the age of 87. Serving as the first female Prime Minister in the U.K., Thatcher won three general elections for the Conservative Party and shaped British politics for a generation. We culled through the archives of the Miller Center's Oral History Projects and present in this post key excerpts from the interviews in which former administration officials recollect the relationships between Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and “The Iron Lady.”

Reagan Administration Officials on How the Falklands War Affected America’s Reputation

Argentine prisoners of war - Port Stanley.

Argentine prisoners of war at Port Stanley, June 17, 1982. By Griffiths911. PD.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war. The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.

This week marks the 31st anniversary of Falklands War. On April 2, 1982, Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland-Malvinas Islands, as part of a protracted historical dispute over the sovereignty of the islands. Argentina claims that the islands have been part of the country since the 19th century and Britain lays claim to islands based on colonial negotiations with Spain in 1770. The 74-day war cost 649 Argentine and 255 British lives.

The Reagan administration played a key role shuttling between the parties leading up to and during the war.  In 2003, the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program conducted the "Falklands Roundtable" in conjunction with the Institute of Contemporary British History (ICBH).  The Falklands Roundtable was designed to capture the recollections of key participants from the Reagan administration who were involved in the Falklands crisis. Participants included former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; David Gompert, a key member of Alexander Haig's mediation team who served as the Deputy to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs; Lawrence Eagleburger; Harry Shlaudeman, U.S. Ambassador to Argentina; Edward Streator, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Court of St. James; General Paul Gorman, who was Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time of the Falklands crisis; Admiral Thomas Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations from 1978-1982; and Admiral Harry Train, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command and the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

In this post, we highlight some excerpts from the "Falklands Roundtable" transcripts regarding the role of the United States in the conflict and how the conflict influenced America’s reputation in the region.

This Week in History: Reagan Targeted in Assassination Attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt

Photograph of President Reagan waving to crowds immediately before being shot in an assassination attempt, Washington Hilton Hotel, March 30, 1981. Photo Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

On March 30, 1981, barely two months into his presidency, President Ronald Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt, which left him and three others seriously wounded. Press Secretary James Brady suffered a gunshot wound to the head that would leave him permanently injured, while Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the chest and Washington, DC police officer Thomas Delahanty was hit near the spine. As Reagan was rushed to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery, administration aides downplayed the severity of the injuries. However, inside the operating room, the situation was anything but humorous as Reagan lost nearly half his blood supply and had to endure hours of surgery to remove a bullet lodged less than an inch from his heart.

The Reagan Oral History Project examined this event with each participant that was in the administration at the time of the shooting. Read on for excerpts of these officials' reactions to the assassination attempt and how each responded to the early phase of the crisis.

This Day in History: Reagan Delivers “Evil Empire” Speech

President Ronald Rean delivers “Evil Empire” Speech, March 8, 1983

Thirty years ago today, Ronald Reagan delivered one of his most influential addresses to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, referring to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and calling the Soviets “the focus of evil in the modern world.” In the decades before his presidency, Reagan had read and thought deeply about American foreign policy and brought with him to the White House a number of strong convictions. He regarded Communism as an immoral and destructive ideology and believed that the Soviet Union was bent on world domination. Reagan told the audience on March 8, 1983:

They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world....

Reagan used the speech to lobby the evangelical group to support the administration’s peace through strength approach to negotiating with the Soviet Union and to oppose a “nuclear freeze” that Congress was debating at the time. The Congressional resolution in support of a "nuclear freeze” would have prevented the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II Missiles in Europe. Reagan made the case for deploying NATO nuclear-armed missiles in Western Europe as a response to the Soviets installing new nuclear-armed missiles in Eastern Europe.

Using the bully pulpit of the presidency, Reagan told the crowd:

The truth is that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength…

So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

This Day in History: Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra

President Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on Iran-Contra, March 4, 1987

In a March 4, 1987 broadcast, President Ronald Reagan addressed the American people from the Oval Office, promising to tell the nation the truth regarding the Iran-Contra scandal, and admitting he had made mistakes. Reagan told the nation:

A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.

In the address, Regan also promised to go beyond the recommendations of the Tower Commission’s recommendations by taking action in three basic areas: personnel, national security policy, and the process for making sure that the system works. Various inquiries into the affair had revealed lax management and enormous detachment on Reagan's part, as well as appalling conduct by members of the National Security Council staff. The president announced new national security personnel, including former Senator Howard Baker as Chief of Staff, Frank Carlucci as national security adviser, and William Webster as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He also announced a comprehensive review of covert operations and new processes to ensure the integrity of future national security decisions.

The Iran-Contra Affair actually involved two separate initiatives. The first was the clandestine sale of U.S. military equipment to Iran, which had the support of the Israeli government, in contradiction of the Reagan administration's public policy of remaining neutral in the Iran-Iraq War. In exchange for the arms sales, American hostages being held by terrorists in Lebanon were released. The second was the attempt by a small group of National Security Council staff members and former military men to funnel proceeds from the sale of these weapons to the Contra rebels opposing the Nicaraguan government. While President Reagan attached great importance during this period to the success of the contra effort, he insisted he had no knowledge of the diversion of funds to the Contras. However, he wrote in his diary and eventually acknowledged to the American people that he authorized the Iran arms sales.

This Day in History: Ronald Reagan Addresses Nation on the Challenger Disaster

Ronald Reagan Addresses the Nation on the Challenger Disaster, January 28, 1986

Today marks the anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster when the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. Watch this video of President Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation on January 28, 1986 from the Oval Office. President Reagan was originally scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address that evening. Challenger was supposed to be the first mission to put a civilian into space. Reagan reminds the country of the bravery and dedication of those who were killed on the shuttle. The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission appointed by President Reagan to investigate the accident.

Reagan Wanted to Announce Conclusion of the Iran Hostage Crisis in his Inaugural

Vice President George Bush and other VIP's wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home.

Vice President George Bush and other VIP’s wait to welcome the former hostages to Iran home. Andrews Air Force Base, 27 January 1981. Photo by Templeton. PD.

January 20th marks not only the anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration as president of the United States in 1981, but also the release of 52 American hostages who were held in Iran for 444 days.

President Reagan had hoped to make announcement regarding the release of hostages in his inaugural address and, in fact, wrote an insert of his own for that contingency. If the hostages were released on Inauguration Day, he was going to get a signal, and then he was going to announce to the country that the hostages were released. Ken Khachigian, Reagan’s chief speechwriter, argued with him about making the announcement during the inaugural. According to Khachigian, who gave his account of the matter during a Miller Center symposium:

I said it would interrupt the historical quality of the speech, that he could easily do something about that after the speech. It wouldn’t fit into the nature of the inaugural address. But had they been released during that speech and had he gotten that signal, he would have read that insert.

Of course the hostages were released shortly after Reagan took the Oath of Office on the day Jimmy Carter departed, but not early enough for Reagan to receive the signal and include the announcement in his inaugural address.

In short diary entries in the days following the Inauguration, Reagan wrote about the conclusion of the crisis:  

Hostages will arrive in country tomorrow. It seems some of them had tough questions for Carter in Germany as to why they were there so long and why there were there to begin with.

Ceremony on S. Lawn to welcome hostages home. Thousands of people in attendance. Met the familys [sic] earlier. Now we had in addition the familys [sic] of the 8 men who lost their lives in the rescue attempt. One couple lost their only son. His widow was also here. I’ve had a lump in my throat all day.

Check out these interviews conducted for the Miller Center's Jimmy Carter Oral History Project, which offer insights into not only how the President and his team handled the hostage crisis for the U.S. government, but also how the crisis crippled Carter's 1980 re-election campaign. Interviews for the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project also shed light on how Reagan's team viewed the situation, and how they approached it even before the nation's 40th President was inaugurated.

Friday Feature: Reagans Riding the Yuletide Tiger

Ronald Reagan, who is clad in a full Santa Claus suit, holds a smiling Nancy Reagan in his lap.

In the spirit of Nancy Reagan and whoever might be under that beard, best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.

Friday Feature: Ronald Reagan in Santa Claus Land

Is it holiday time already? Young Ronald Reagan looks surprised by it too in this photo from 1955. He is pictured visiting Santa Claus Land (now Holiday World  Splashin' Safari) in Santa Claus, Indiana. Santa Jim Yellig is on the left, Louis Koch, founder of the park, is on the right.

Stay tuned! Every Friday we'll highlight an interesting item from presidential history.