ronald reagan letter to brezhnev

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    Leonid Brezhnev

    A Gentle Appeal to the Russian Bear

    Less than six weeks after his Inauguration, Reagan received a letter from the U.S.S.R.'s leader, Leonid Brezhnev, bluntly reiterating Soviet policy. Reagan wanted to begin a thaw by responding with a calmer, more personal appeal to common purpose.

    In April 1981, a week after being released from the hospital and still recovering from an assassination attempt, Reagan sat in the White House solarium and drafted a letter to Brezhnev on a yellow legal pad. Although the final form of the letter was published in 1990, this first draft, in Reagan's handwriting, was only recently discovered.

    My Dear Mr. President:

    I regret and yet can understand the somewhat intemperate tone of your recent letter. After all we approach the problems confronting us from opposite philosophical points of view.

    Is it possible that we have let ideology, political and economical philosophy and governmental policies keep us from considering the very real, everyday problems of the people we represent? Will the average Russian family be better off or even aware that his government has imposed a government of its liking on the people of Afghanistan? . . .

    In your letter you imply that such things have been made necessary because of territorial ambitions of the United States; that we have imperialistic designs and thus constitute a threat to your own security and that of the newly emerging nations. There not only is no evidence to support such a charge, there is solid evidence that the United States when it could have dominated the world with no risk to itself made no effort whatsoever to do so.

    When WWII ended the United States had the only undamaged industrial power in the world. Its military might was at its peak—and we alone had the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb with the unquestioned ability to deliver it anywhere in the world. If we had sought world domination who could have opposed us? But the United States followed a different course—one unique in all the history of mankind. We used our power and wealth to rebuild the war-ravaged economies of all the world including those nations who had been our enemies.

    A decade or so ago, Mr. President, you and I met in San Clemente, California. I was governor of California at the time and you were concluding a series of meetings with President Nixon. Those meetings had captured the imagination of all the world. Never had peace and good will among men seemed closer at hand. When we met I asked if you were aware that the hopes and aspirations of millions and millions of people throughout the world were dependent on the decisions that would be reached in your meetings.

    You took my hand in both of yours and assured me that you were aware of that and that you were dedicated with all your heart and mind to fulfilling those hopes and dreams.

    The people of the world still share that hope. Indeed the peoples of the world despite differences in racial and ethnic origin have very much in common. They want the dignity of having some control over their individual destiny. They want to work at the craft or trade of their own choosing and to be fairly rewarded. They want to raise their families in peace without harming anyone or suffering harm themselves. Government exists for their convenience not the other way around.

    . . . Mr. President should we not be concerned with eliminating the obstacles which prevent our people from achieving these simple goals? And isn't it possible some of those obstacles are born of government aims and goals which have little to do with the real needs and wants of our people? . . .

    —Ronald Reagan

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    Excerpts from REAGAN, A LIFE IN LETTERS, edited by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson.
    Copyright 2003 by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
    To be published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster

    Copyright © 2003 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
    Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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