Monday, 11 July 2011

Tributes to Ronald Reagan show prevalence of historical amnesia

There was much publicity recently about the 100th anniversary of the birth of former US President Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004.Amongst the events staged was the unveiling of a statue of the former President outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square in London.The surprising thing about all of the eulogising that went on about Reagan was that it should come so relatively soon after he left office in 1988. Historical revisionism has become all too commonplace over recent years but the gap seems to be narrowing as to when is an acceptable period has passed before the mythologising can start.One of the most surprising things about the case of Reagan has been how the left has almost seemed to be outdoing the right when it comes to heaping praise on the old war monger. So for example there was New Statesman political editor Mehdi Hasan writing in the Guardian in glowing terms as to how Reagan had ended the cold war, was not a neo-conservative and fought less wars than successors.Tell the women of Greenham Common who opposed Reagan's government siting of nuclear warheads in this country about his peaceful intentions or people in Libya who were bombed by US warplanes flying from British airfields in 1986. And what of the people of Grenada, who woke up one day in 1983 to find their island had been invaded by US troops.In the Catholic sphere also there have been the views of author John O'Sullivan who wrote the President, the Pope and the Prime Minister (2006). O'Sullivan told in a lecture delivered in Kracow how the former President found common cause with Pope John Paul II on disarmament, capitalism and the ethics of liberation theology.Again the approval of Reagan is difficult to sustain. A man who accelarated the arms race to the point where either the Soviet system or the western capitalist one would crash. The recent banking inspired crash coming just two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall proves just how close run the race was between the two superpowers and the relative economic systems. The far more interesting question, rather than whether Reagan was a peacenik, is what would have happened had there not been an arms race between the superpowers? What would it have meant for world peace and addressing poverty, if so many billions had not been expended on war?The epithet from another left wing paper that Reagan was actually a war criminal holds far greater credence, especially when looking to his record in Latin American and the Iran/ Contra scandal. Reagan came to power at a time of ongoing civil wars in Latin America. Archbishop Oscar Romero had been killed by US backed thugs and the Reagan administration simply upped the amount of backing being given to that brutal right wing government. Similarly in Guatemala the US government backed a government that deployed death squads against its own people.The slaughter was appalling but all fell nicely into the deniability zone for Washington until later years. Then there was Nicaragua where the Sandanistas came to power bringing education and healthcare support to the whole population. This ofcourse did not fit with the American model for Latin America which despite the rhetoric of new frontiers etc saw in reality native populations subjugated by brutal dictators in order to deliver for US owned multinational companies. What happened to Nicaragua was similar to what has happened to Cuba ever since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. The force of the US military and intelligence estate was deployed against them. This action was fuelled by the concern that other countries seeing relative prosperity in neighbouring countries, like Cuba and Nicaragua, would want to emulate them. Not good news for US multinationals.As a result the Reagan administration backed the Contras in Nicaragua against the Sandanista government. There was cross funding of these operations to get round the US Congress funneling arms to Iran to provide funding. What Reagan's administration did would no doubt have led to impeachment in another era. But these were different times with the right wing taking power in American and Britain, dominating the media, academic, economic and political spheres. So the old B movie actor was able to bluff his way through, escaping sanction.The legacy of Reagan lives on with us today with a rampant capitalist economic system and wars raging on an almost constant basis. Despite the recent economic disaster the neo-liberal market model of Reagan and Thatcher based as it is on Gordon Geko's private greed mantra continues to dominate the world. Arms spending continues to spiral upward with Britain and America among the worlds leading arms salesmen. There has never been a world less at peace and more set on the path toward economic and environmental destruction. This is the true legacy of Ronald Reagan.

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