Ronald Reagan and Star Wars

On twitter a few days ago, someone from college sent me a tweet with an article by this title.  People who have conversations with me know that I am fascinated by Ronald Reagan and his ability to communicate his message in a persuasive manner to the American people.  They also learn that there are few people who could call themselves bigger Star Wars nerds than myself.  Anyway, here is a part of the article, I think the article overall does a great job diving deep into Reagan’s thought process and Lucas’s reaction to SDI advocates referring to the program as his famous movie.  Thanks History Today for making such and interesting piece.

When the special edition of George Lucas’s film Star Wars was released in January 1997, the distributor’s press book proclaimed:

While Star Wars was a defining event for one generation, it has been embraced by new generations, assuring its place as a timeless epic of grand design and boundless fun.

This claim was confirmed by articles in Time, Newsweek, the New Yorker and the New York Times which stated that the film was `part of the culture’ and its ‘lessons’ about good and evil, humanity and technology, hubris and redemption were ‘a very powerful force indeed’. These publications noted that contemporary mass media are full of references to the film and that many words and phrases from it have entered into everyday language, but they mentioned Ronald Reagan’s appropriation of the Star Warsterm `evil empire’ only in passing, and none of them pointed out that for several years in the mid-1980s the film’s title had been identified with the former President’s missile defence programme. When other publications did discuss this connection, they incorrectly assumed that it was Reagan himself who had attached the term `Star Wars’ to the programme. With popular memory so unreliable, it is timely to look back at the origins of Reagan’s missile defence programme and its association with Star Wars.

In a televised speech of March 23rd, 1983, President Reagan asked the American public for its support of the defence budget he had submitted to Congress. To gain this, he explained the key principle of military strategy in the nuclear age (`deterrence of aggression through the promise of retaliation’) and highlighted the dramatically increased military power of the Soviet Union. This power, he claimed, undermined the ability of the US to guarantee retaliation and thus to maintain deterrence:

The Soviets … have enough accurate and powerful nuclear weapons to destroy virtually all of our missiles on the ground.

In response to this threat, Reagan called for a continuation of the `major modernisation program’ of conventional and nuclear forces which he had initiated after taking office in January 1981.

The President framed the main body of his speech with a futuristic vision. At the beginning he promised to reveal ‘a decision which offers a new hope for our children in the twenty-first century’, and at the end he outlined ‘a mission to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive’. He asked:

What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest on the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack; that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?

Reagan acknowledged that `this is a formidable technical task’, but he was confident that `the scientific community who gave us nuclear weapons’ could now `turn their great talents to the cause of mankind and world peace; to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete’. As an important first step, the President initiated a long-term research and development program to begin to achieve our ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles.

Read the rest of the article, here.

-Phil

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Christian, Lover of History, Aspiring Teacher

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