The 80s aren’t, ah, covered, in school. At all. (I’ve been hearing more about them as the generation that was in college during the 80s are hitting their 40s, which means they’re getting into prominent media positions, so I’m catching up on the pop culture bits (that wasn’t on Saturday morning cartoons) but the important stuff is left very firmly out of it.) So this is helpful. Long, but then it would have to be.

Times Online – Times Literary Supplement – Reagan the Astute, by Edward N. Luttwak<br/> Ronald Reagan<br/> THE REAGAN DIARIES<br/> Edited by Douglas Brinkley<br/> 784pp. HarperCollins.

Highlights:

Not coincidentally, many Europeans were also frequently demonstrating against Reagan the cowboy with nuclear weapons, some of them no doubt just the usual physiological anti-Americans, others believers in peace at any price who logically enough wanted their own side to desist because aggressors will not, and others still useful innocents manipulated by KGB “active measures”, furiously denied at the time but now gleefully recalled as highly successful by their executors.

Sorry, what?

Nobody could then know of course that Reagan was America’s post-nuclear President: early on he told his utterly shocked military chiefs what he could tell nobody else without destroying deterrence, that he would never authorize the use of nuclear weapons, even if the United States were attacked with them.

Sorry, what?

Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union of replacing coexistence with de-legitimization had been proclaimed right through the 1980 campaign in which he defeated President Carter’s re-election attempt, but it was so shockingly revolutionary that many in Washington and around the world took it for granted that it was mere talk, destined to be quietly set aside once the new Administration took office.

Sorry, what? No, wait, that part’s perfectly believable. I liked this part (helloooooo, North Korea):

On Wednesday, February 4 1980, during his fifteenth day in the White House, in the context of a Cabinet discussion of the grain embargo, Reagan wrote in his diary: “Trade was supposed to make Soviets moderate, instead it has allowed them to build armaments instead of consumer products. Their socialism is an ec[onomic] failure. Wouldn’t we be doing more for their people if we let their system fail instead of constantly bailing it out?”.

Moving further down:

In the diaries there is very much more on politics of every sort – Reagan was not at all above manoeuvres high and low – and on all the large subjects of government, beginning with the economy and the tax-cutting supply-side fiscal policy. Reagan was harshly criticized at the time by most professional economists and conventional-wisdom pundits until the results by way of growth, employment and reduced inflation became too positive to be denied (the same happened with George W. Bush and his 2001 tax cuts, except that his critics still refuse to recognize that he was right, in spite of record-low unemployment). On the environment as on all else, Reagan favoured the market, with limits, of course, that tended to be more restrictive over time.

On foreign policy, relations with Europe and Japan naturally loom large in the diaries, along with much on the various military episodes, both successful, as in Grenada, or not as in Beirut; there is also much detail on the Iran–Contra episode. Reagan was fully aware of the Iran end of that arms-for-hostages affair (legal but wildly imprudent), though he did not know of the Contra end, which violated the Congressional law that cut off funding to the rebels. Reagan’s studied pose of amiable vagueness that exposed him to accusations of incapacity and inattention greatly helped to shield him from the scandal, because many believed that the poor old dear did not know of the secret goings on, which he actually monitored closely and indeed commanded. It is most unfortunate that the scandal, the inquiries, the trials and the press and academic commentaries did not pause to first consider the utter incapacity of the CIA to operate covertly to any effect, which had driven the President’s men to do it themselves in the first place. An opportunity was missed, as it was after 2001, so the United States must still do without, or send out incompetents who fail.

Hah! Man? Man. Oh, man.

Regrettably, there is still a place for shoddy, thoroughly unworthy editors. Douglas Brinkley, to whom this precious historical document was unaccountably consigned, has not done any of the things that should have been required of the editor of such material. Any authentic diary as this one certainly is, must be full of incomplete, abbreviated or downright cryptic references which need to be elucidated by amplifications and insertions, explanatory footnotes and more extended notes too. Brinkley’s work in that regard is not subject to detailed criticism because, in an extraordinary and damaging omission, he does not provide any explanatory material at all – the square brackets in the above quotations are my own. The index is unacceptably cursory and full of mistakes, so that Selwa “Lucky” Roosevelt and Lucky Roosevelt both appear, while the one Kirkpatrick listing covers two of them. Worse still, the diaries are incomplete, with many entries fully or partially abridged, not to conceal crimes or misdemeanours but just to shorten the text. The approach of this editor is best illustrated by his own explanation of how that came about: “Because the complete Reagan diaries would fill two or three fat volumes, I had to be selective in deciding what to choose to include in this abridged version” – the only one available so far. Anybody who thinks that three volumes, however “fat”, would be too many to publish a document of such importance, is bereft of historical sense and should never have been allowed near Ronald Reagan’s diary.

Ooh, ouch.

Seriously, the publishing industry has serious issues.