It was 1975, a time of hot tensions between the Soviet Union and America during the Cold War. Since the end of World War II, when the two nations were allies in defeating Nazi Germany, relations between Washington and Moscow had dwindled down to outright hostility.
From the conviction of accused Soviet spy Alger Hiss for perjury, to the detonation of the H Bomb by the Soviets, to the menacing of Greece and Harry Truman’s forceful response — the origins of the “containment” policies which came to define America’s posture towards the Soviets — to the launch of Sputnik and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space, and the “Berlin Crisis,” when the Soviets built a war through that city, it looked to all as if eventually the two groups of nation which formed the East and the West might actually come to World War III.
War had come very close in 1962 during the presidency of John Kennedy, what became known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had secretly emplaced offensive nuclear tipped rockets in Cuba, only 90 miles away from the United States. The two sides went “eyeball to eyeball” and nearly came to blows but at the last minute, Khrushchev backed down and withdrew his missiles, due to Kennedy’s skillful handling of the crisis.
Come 1975 and relations had not gotten any better and in fact, had gotten worse. Much worse.
The war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia had been the hot spot, but America had lost to the Communists.
But the Soviets were also arming guerrillas in Angola, had tightened their grip on the Warsaw Pact Nations with the signing of the Helsinki Accords by President Gerald Ford and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev. They were also making plans to invade Afghanistan, were making moves in the Middle East and, for all intents and purposes, were winning the Cold War.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn had emerged in the Soviet Union as a world famous dissident, winning the Nobel Prize for writing "The Gulag Archipelago" and, prior, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Solzhenitsyn became world famous, had too much sunlight on him for the Soviets to simply execute, so they deported him instead.
He had been imprisoned in a gulag for many years, having once criticized Joseph Stalin in a private letter.
At the urging of his Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, President Gerald Ford refused to meet with the famed dissident.
But the Ford White House did not have the courage to simply state the truth, so they offered various excuses as to why the president could not meet with Solzhenitsyn. The Ford White House claimed the president did not meet with “private personages” but former California governor Ronald Reagan blasted them, pointed out that Ford had recently met with the “Cotton Maid” and the Strawberry Queen of West Virginia.
Finally, after many embarrassments, the Ford White House caved to the pressure and admitted that such a meeting would violate “the spirit of détente.”
Senator Jesse Helms, a stanch anti-communist, conservative and friend of Ronald Reagan, was outraged and decided to host a reception for Solzhenitsyn in the Senate. He asked his fellow member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat but also an anti-communist, to co-host the event.
Meanwhile, Reagan harshly criticized the Ford White House for this outrageous knuckling under to the Soviets and said so in newspaper columns and radio commentaries. This snubbing was key to Reagan finally deciding to challenge Gerald Ford in the 1976 GOP primaries, nearly beating him, but eventually changing the world. There at the senate reception, Solzhenitsyn said, “Very soon, all too soon, your government will need not just extraordinary men — but men with greatness. Find them in your souls. Find them in your hearts. Find them within the breadth and depth of your homeland.”
Hence, a conservative Republican senator from North Carolina, and a liberal Democratic senator from Delaware — along with a former Conservative governor of California — joined forces to show the Soviets a unified front — and that when it came to opposing Soviet Oppression — Americans were unified.
Craig Shirley is a Ronald Reagan biographer. His Books include, "Reagan Rising: the Decisvie Years," and "Reagan's Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan." He is the founder of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and has been named the first Reagan scholar at Eureka College, Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. He appears regularly on Newsmax TV, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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