All the qualities that made Ronald Reagan one of the most popular presidents in modern American history are reflected in the diaries, to be published this month, that he kept throughout his eight years in office. Here he is, losing his temper with the Soviets (and his son Ron), cracking jokes about Castro, protecting Nancy, holding the weeping mothers of Marines killed in Beirut. An exclusive excerpt, edited and introduced by Douglas Brinkley, recalls the turbulent sweep of the era Reagan dominated, including his takes on being shot, Israel's bombing of Iraq, the Challenger explosion, Iran-contra, and his chemistry with Gorbachev.Here are some of his daily entries.
Mon. Jan. 26, 1981 • A meeting on terrorism with heads of F.B.I.—S.S.—C.I.A. Sec's of St. Defense & others. Have ordered they be given back their ability to function. Next a cabinet meeting on the deal with Iran. Hostages will arrive in country tomorrow. It seems some of them had some tough questions for Carter in Germany as to why they were there so long and why they were there to begin with.Jimmy Carter is not only the worst President in US history, as evidenced by his incompetent, bumbling four years in office that included his micro-management of the Iran hostage rescue debacle but also the worst ex-President ever with his deranged ramblings on the Middle East that demonstrate he never really understood what goes on there. The hostages were quite right to get stuck into him once they were released.
Wed. Feb. 11 • Intelligence reports say he Castro is very worried about me. I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying.It's a pity that the Soviet Union didn't fall during his Presidency, as he would probably have been able to free the Cuban people along the way.
Mon. March 30 [written Sat. April 11] • My day to address the Bldg. & Const. Trades Nat. Conf. A.F.L.-C.I.O. at the Hilton Ballroom—2 p.m. Was all dressed to go & for some reason at the last min. took off my really good wrist watch & wore an older one.Reagan's famous sense of humour is evident throughout his diary entries even when he's been almost fatally wounded. What would the world look like if the attempt had been successful? What would Bush 1.0 have done?
Speech not riotously received—still it was successful.
Left the hotel at the usual side entrance and headed for the car—suddenly there was a burst of gun fire from the left. S.S. Agent pushed me onto the floor of the car & jumped on top. I felt a blow in my upper back that was unbelievably painful. I was sure he'd broken my rib. The car took off. I sat up on the edge of the seat almost paralyzed by pain. Then I began coughing up blood which made both of us think—yes I had a broken rib & it had punctured a lung. He switched orders from W.H. to Geo. Wash. U. Hosp.
By the time we arrived I was having great trouble getting enough air. We did not know that Tim McCarthy (S.S.) had been shot in the chest, Jim Brady in the head & a policeman Tom Delahanty in the neck.
I walked into the emergency room and was hoisted onto a cart where I was stripped of my clothes. It was then we learned I'd been shot & had a bullet in my lung.
Getting shot hurts.
Tues. July 14 • We are still meeting & stewing about East-West trade and now we must take on the problem of what to do or if to do something to help the Polish people. Their economy is going bust. Here is the 1st major break in the Red dike—Poland's disenchantment with Soviet Communism. Can we afford to let Poland collapse? But in the state of our present economy can we afford to help in a meaningful way? We can't alone but if our nato allies could really unite we could handle it.It's clear throughout the entries that Reagan understood the United States' moral obligation to help those suffering under the tyranny of totalitarian regimes.
Wed. March 23 • The big thing today was the 8 p.m. TV speech on all networks about the Nat. Security. I did the bulk of the speech on why our arms build up was necessary & then finished with a call to the Science community to join me in research starting now to develop a defensive weapon that would render nuclear missiles obsolete. I made no optimistic forecasts—said it might take 20 yrs. or more but we had to do it. I felt good.You know, there is an irony in the parallel between Star Wars (SDI) funding and Global Warming funding in that once it was announced as a priority by the government scientists appeared out of nowhere with their hands out, miraculously delivering science that supported the funding's purpose.
Sat. Oct. 22 & Sun. Oct. 23 • About 2:30 in the morning awakened again: This time with the tragic news that more than 100 Marines in Beirut had been killed by a car bomb driven by a suicide driver who drove the truck right into the H.Q. building & blew up with it. All our plans changed—we arranged to depart the cottage [in Augusta, Georgia] at 6:30 a.m. & go back to Wash. Of course by this time it was Sun. Oct. 23. I've spent the day in meetings on this & Grenada. We're going to go on with the invasion. Tonite our men are staging a landing to gather intelligence. If everything is O.K., tomorrow night is D. day—well actually it will be early morning Tues. Meanwhile Gen. Kelley (Marines) is leaving for Lebanon. We all believe Iranians did this bombing just as they did with our embassy last April.Iran's terror-supporting theocracy has been killing Americans for more than 25 years. At some point the account is going to be settled.
Tues. March 20 • During the day I called Congressman Ireland in a Fla. Hospital with pneumonia. He is the 4th Dem. Rep. to turn Republican since we've been here. We lost the school prayer amendment in the Senate. We had a majority but needed a 2/3 majority. The sad thing is about 15 Sens. were convinced the amendment was a mandate that schools would have to have prayer. Lowell Weicker [Connecticut senator] was the head ringmaster against us as he is on everything we want. He's a pompous, no good, fathead.Good call, Ronnie. Tell us what you really think!
Wed. Sept. 3 • The Soviets are holding American journalist (U.S. News & World Report) [Nicholas Daniloff] charging him with being a spy. It is of course a frame up & the 4th time they've done it. Each time we have arrested one of their KGB agents they have done this. The last time before this one was in '78. Each time before they grabbed an American businessman. Then they try to arrange a prisoner exchange.I have a question. How can you tell the difference between a KGB agent at the UN and a normal delegate given their parallel anti-US views?
Wed. Sept. 17 • The press is obsessed with the Daniloff affair & determined to paint all of us as caving in to the Soviets which they of course say is the worst way to deal with them. The simple truth is we've offered no deal and are playing hard ball all the way.
We've notified the Soviet U. we're sending 25 of their U.N. staff home—all are KGB agents.
Mon. Sept. 28 • Staff meeting started with Bob Woodward's claim in his book & his interview last night on 60 min. that he'd interviewed Bill Casey [director of central intelligence] just before Casey's death. He's a liar & he lied about what Casey is supposed to have thought of me.Reagan's view comports with those of the people who worked directly with Woodward. He is nothing more than a Democratic Party hack and, as I've said before, if Watergate had have occurred with a Democratic President then Woodward would never have reported it.
Tues. May 3 • The press have a new one thanks to Don Regan's book. We make decisions on the basis of going to Astrologers. The media are behaving like kids with a new toy—never mind that there is no truth in it.To this day people on the Left believe the nonsense about Reagan and astrology. It's hard for the Leftist Intelligentsia to swallow the fact that this man, who they so viciously derided as being dumb, senile and out of touch, achieved so much greatness for the world through an opposing political philosophy. They're even rewriting the fall of the Soviet Union to give the credit to the devout Communist Gorbachov who to this day defends the 'righteousness' of the Soviet Union.
Wed. May 4 • A short meeting—some talk about this astrology mess Don Regan's book has kicked up. Some gal in L.A. claims she's a visitor to the W.H. & that she gives us frequent readings. She even claims she advised me on choosing Geo. B. for V.P. We've never seen her in our lives & don't know her at all.
Thurs. June 16 • Zia has declared Islamic Law is law of Pakistan. That puts them into the Fundamentalist Revolution with the Ayatolah & Qaddafi.General Zia was playing both sides of the coin for a little while but eventually fell in with the 'strong horses' of the region - Iran and Libya. It was no surprise that his plane had an 'accident'. The US was blamed but responsibility clearly lies with his opponents in Pakistan.
Wed. Aug. 17 • At 7:30 a.m. phone call from Colin Powell. One of our C-130's in Pakistan—the Punjab where a mil. demonstration of one of our new tanks was taking place crashed on takeoff killing all on board. This included Pres. Zia of Pakistan, our Ambas. & 2 [one] of our Generals. We're waiting further word as to others & possible cause of crash.
Thurs. Jan. 19 • Soviets propose reducing it's nuclear tactical battlefield weapons. This may be a ploy to win approval of German people who are aware their country would be the battlefield for an exchange of such weapons.
Dick Thornburg [Attorney General Richard Thornburgh] came in to see me about pardons. He doesn't believe I should pardon Patty Hearst, North, Poindexter or McFarlane. I'm afraid he's right. Nick Brady [secretary of Treasury] came by to say goodbye & thank me. Same with Alan Greenspan [chairman of the Federal Reserve]. Then it was the V.P.'s turn. All of my W.H. staff was gathered in the Roosevelt room for him to thank & say a goodbye.What a great man.
Tomorrow I stop being President.