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Belief Brought Reagan and Gorbachev Together

Monday, 09 February 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON – Ronald Reagan, whose own faith was ingrained in his soul at an early age, knew the Soviet Union for the “evil empire” it was. He focused like a laser beam on bringing it down, deriving inspiration in part from the decades-old writings of Whittaker Chambers.

Furthermore, the new book

“Chambers did a complete 180,” author Paul Kengor said in an interview with NewsMax.com. In the '20s and early '30s, Chambers “was an atheist communist.” By the '50s he “had become what we today would call a Christian conservative,” having become a devout Catholic.

For him, leaving communism went far beyond a mere political metamorphosis. It was in fact a “born again” experience, all laid out in his 1952 classic “Witness,” written after he had played a key role in exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet agent. The book is about much more than Hiss and dwells on “Chambers’ Christian conversion.”

Kengor notes that a phrase in “Witness” about the Soviet Union being “the focus of evil in the modern world” is “almost identical, word for word” to Reagan’s phrase in his “evil empire” speech.

The author found originals of Reagan’s typewritten speeches where, in the margins next to what the speechwriter had prepared, the president would insert a Chambers anecdote.

In fact, Kengor says, Reagan could quote whole sections of “Witness” off the top of his head.

A lot of people have told the author that Reagan had an almost photographic memory. That is yet another sign that the mainstream media’s portrayal of Reagan as a “dummy” is not only inaccurate but also, in itself, “a dumb view,” Kengor says.

The author, a Ph.D and associate professor of political science at Grove City College, Pa., has been immersed in extensive research on America’s 40th president (He has at least one more Reagan book on the back burner) and concurs with those who knew Reagan best that he was “a very bright man.”

Reagan’s close White House aide Michael Deaver recalled to the author Reagan’s impression of Gorbachev after the two superpower leaders had met at their first summit, where the Soviet boss had made references to God in some of their conversations.

The president’s first words to Deaver upon his return to the White House were not “Here’s what he said about SDI” or “the START treaty.” No, Reagan’s first words to Deaver were “Mike, I think he believes.”

“Are you saying the general secretary of the Soviet Union believes in God?” Deaver asked, knowing the USSR leadership was not a haven for believers.

“I don’t know, Mike, but I honestly think he believes in a higher power,” the president responded.

Gorbachev had recalled his Christian grandparents reading Bible stories to him when he was a boy. At about the time of the Washington Reagan-Gorbachev summit in December 1987, a reporter, noting the relative camaraderie between the two men, asked the president if he still believed the Soviet Union was the “evil empire.” Reagan said no, not under its current leadership.

At that Washington summit, Gorbachev would tell Reagan, “I am convinced it is God’s will that we should cooperate.”

It was widely speculated at the time that the Soviet leader was merely exploiting religious sympathies. But Kengor says the president was not naive to such tactics. In 1978, Gorbachev predecessor Leonid Brezhnev had told then-President Jimmy Carter that God would not forgive them if they failed their mission.

Knowing that under Brezhnev, believers were quickly dispatched to the snows of Siberia, Reagan said in a radio commentary at the time that Brezhnev was “using the Lord’s name to curry favor or soften up the president, who does believe in God, as Brezhnev does not.”

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WASHINGTON Ronald Reagan, whose own faith was ingrained in his soul at an early age, knew the Soviet Union for the "evil empire" it was. He focused like a laser beam on bringing it down, deriving inspiration in part from the decades-old writings of Whittaker Chambers. ...
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