Skip to comments.THANKS FOR THE BACON, MR. REAGAN
Posted on 02/03/2013 2:21:49 PM PST by Bill Russell
Presidents are usually so far removed from us that we never appreciate how they can impact our daily lives. Here is how Ronald Reagan touched two lives on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain: ours.
I grew up as an Air Force brat. In 1962 my father was stationed Newfoundland, Canada where I was born. By age 11, I had visited or lived in 19 states and traveled to six foreign countries. From 1971 to 1973, my family lived in Taiwan while my father flew combat missions in and out of Vietnam. I had the early experience of knowing our next door neighbor, Capt Mariel Maison who was shot down and killed during the 1972 NVA offensive. In 1975, two years after my father retired, I was sadden by the fall of Saigon. In the following years I was, perhaps, a little more aware than the average teenager of the atrocities being committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
I first became aware of who Ronald Reagan was during the 1976 Presidential election when he ran against President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. At that point, I only knew that my parents liked him, he had been Governor of California during a time when we lived there, and I liked the way he came across in a wise and friendly way. I was a freshman when our high school had its straw vote on election day of that year. I dont remember what the outcome of the schools vote was for the other candidates, but there was one write-in vote for Mr Reagan - it was mine.
Because I had grown up a military brat, it always seemed natural to me that I would go into service myself. I enlisted in the National Guard during my senior year of high school. I was deeply troubled by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian occupation of our embassy in Tehran. I believed I would one day end up fighting the Russian Army somewhere in the world but was disturbed by the idea that it was happening before I was completely ready and trained. As 1980 began and graduation approached, I was happy to see Mr Reagan running again and that I would finally be able to cast a real vote for him. I had been on Active Duty as a Private for a little over three months when Mr Reagan was elected to become my new Commander-in-Chief. It was a little over two months later that the American Hostages were released from Tehran on the day Mr. Reagan became President Reagan.
When I entered college with a goal of becoming a career Army Officer, I still believed the United States would end up fighting the Soviet Union. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, so I choose to major in Russian Studies. While on a trip to Germany during my college studies in June 1982, I got to see President Reagan during a speech at Templhof Airport in West Berlin. The speech was a preview of his more famous tear down this wall speech which he would give later in his Presidency. On the trip into Berlin, I saw the mine fields, multiple fences, spiked grates, dogs, machinegun towers and the no mans land free fire zones of the Berlin Wall. Only a truly evil empire could build such an obstacle to prevent people from escaping to freedom. During his speech, Mr Reagan outlined the differences between the two systems on the opposite sides of that wall. His description of the Soviet system was the same description he was to use throughout his tenure as President. He got it so right.
After graduating from college, I reentered the Army and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1986 and was sent to 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry in Germany in 1987. Our mission was to protect the German Ports of Bremen and Bremerhaven in conjunction with our West German, British, and Dutch allies against the Group of Soviet Forces Germany and other forces of the Warsaw Pact. Thanks to President Reagan, we were able to do so with some of newest and finest equipment on any projected battlefield. Our new M1 tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were the biggest and baddest players on the field. Our soldiers were armed with the newest version of the M16A2 which was more rugged and had a longer range then its Vietnam-era predecessor. Our heads and torsos were protected with new kevlar helmets and flack vests. Also, there was a new development in the strategic arena that had the promise of reducing the vulnerability of the home towns we left behind to ballistic nuclear weapons: it was commonly called Star Wars.
But a funny thing happened during my time in Germany. Without the exchange of artillery rounds and chemical weapons, without the mass exodus of refugees from their homes along the NATO Warsaw Pact border, without the mass casualties and destroyed cities caused by the exchange of nuclear weapons, Mr Gorbachov tore down his wall and started calling his troops home. All this was thanks to a man of great vision and purpose, who refused to negotiate anything other than total freedom for the people of Eastern Europe. As I write this, it is impossible to describe the sense of historical excitement I felt as I knocked pieces of the Berlin Wall from Check Point Charlie, or when I returned to Berlin a few months later and stood at the Brandenburg Gate when Germany reunited as the clock struck midnight on October 3, 1990.
Although the Cold War had ended, another threat to our way of life emerged in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Thanks to President Reagans foresight in pursuing a military buildup, not just to build new weapons, but to break the false economy of the Soviet system, the United States and its allies had the flexibility to move massive force to the Persian Gulf to protect the free worlds oil supply. In the eight years of his Presidency, President Reagan reduced one enemy that threatened to destroy the United States almost without firing a shot, and set his successor up to defeat a new threat with minimal casualties.
Although the Iraqis made many mistakes during the Gulf War and allowed an allied build up and failed to take advantage of many opportunities, one must step back and think of what the outcome would have been if President Reagan had not forced the Soviets into bankruptcy. If an economically and militarily viable Soviet Union had backed Saddam Hussein and sought to undermine the US and its allies as 50% of the free worlds oil supply was seized, how could the United States and its NATO allies have shifted approximately 200,000 troops and their equipment from Europe? If the Soviet Union had used its influence with its Allies in the Middle East to oppose the Arab Coalition that President Bush had to build to oppose Saddam, would it have even been possible to build up forces without fighting our way into the Gulf? Had the Soviet Union still been a viable power when Saddam seized Kuwait, it is entirely possible that World War III would have resulted. What would the casualty counts have been then?
It was thanks to Mr Reagan and the continuation of his policies under President Bush that I resigned from Active Duty after I returned to Europe following Desert Storm. I jumped feet first into the wave of business ventures in Russia. I wish I could say that my business venture in Russia was a success. But like so many others, it was not. While I went broke on my first business endeavor, I am most thankful for having had the opportunity to go from preparing for a major war with a country to doing business and helping it to start building the economic foundation essential to supporting a free and democratic society. While Russia has regressed back towards totalitarian rule in the years since the early 1990s, the opportunity for them to progress from communism to freedom was brought about by Ronald Reagan.
I spent a couple of years in the private sector studying business in the school of hard knocks. Although I eventually learned how to be successful in business, I jumped at the chance to return to my first calling. In 1996 I was mobilized to serve in the Balkans in support of the Implementation Force (IFOR). I was stationed at the former Soviet Airbase at Taszar, Hungary and participated in biweekly escort missions into Croatia and Bosnia. I later served a second short tour at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia in 1998. During that tour I had the opportunity to visit the Russian base Uglevic. It is important to note that the Russians still have a very close relationship with the Serbs. While I understand the close cultural and religious ties between the Russians and Serbs, I cant help but wonder what would have happened if the Soviet Union still existed as a dominant military and economic power in the region. Would the Russians have openly and actively supported the Serbs in a military suppression of the breakaway republics? Would Slovenia be a free and democratic nation conducting free and open trade with its Italian and Austrian neighbors? Would the massacres of the Bosnian Muslims have ever made the news?
It was thanks to the Balkan deployments, I was able to serve an additional 18 months of active duty Heidelberg, Germany in 1997 and 1998. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this service was the chance to meet someone very special.
I was born in Glogow, Poland in 1974. My father was a locksmith in a factory. My mother worked as an administrator for the local community stores.
My mothers parents were born and raised near Rowne in Eastern Poland, which is now a part of the Ukraine. My grandfather was a university educated teacher and had undergone the mandatory Reserve Officer training after he graduated. He was already settled into his teaching career with a three year old son and a second one on the way when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The German invasion was followed by a Soviet invasion sixteen days later which occupied Eastern Poland.
The Russians systematically arrested all soldiers, policemen, civil servants, business owners, and university graduates - anyone who might be threat to Soviet rule, and sent them to the Gulags in Siberia. My grandfather was among them. In spite of the near starvation and hardship he was to endure for the next four years, you could say he was lucky. His two brothers-in-law who were a cadet and officer in the Army were executed along with 23,000 other Polish officers, cadets, and policemen by Stalins NKVD (later the KGB) at Katyn, near Smolensk. (Polish President Kaczynski was killed in a plane crash on April 10, 2010 while attempting to visit this site for the 70th Anniversary of the massacre).
My grandfathers education, which led to his arrest, helped him survive in the Gulag. Like many Poles in eastern Poland, he was fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, but he had beautiful hand writing. The prison commander, an uneducated peasant, kept him alive to write the many reports required by the NKVD bureaucracy.
My grandmother endured the Russian, then German, then Russian occupations of the war and the hardships that went with it, alone with two small children. Not long after my grandfathers arrest, there was an ethnic Ukrainian pogrom (probably encouraged by Soviet propaganda) in my grandmothers village against Poles. In the heat of this ethnic violence, my grandmother, heavily pregnant with her second child, believed that she was going to be killed. She desperately begged a group of Poles in a horse drawn wagon departing the village to take her three year old son with them. They put my Uncle Jurek in the back of the wagon with them as they fled. Not far from town, everyone in the wagon, except for Uncle Jurek was killed. The horses had instinctively run away from the shooting and eventually returned to their barn, bringing Uncle Jurek and several corpses back home with them. The trauma caused my unlce to not speak for a long time afterwards.
The 1944 Soviet liberation of Poland from the Nazis also brought a reapportionment of Polish territory. My grandparents hometown was declared to be part of the Ukraine and Stalins Soviet Union. Not knowing if her husband was even alive and with two small children, my grandmother was ordered out of her home and onto a train to what she believed was Krakow. The train ended its journey at the village of Grodziec Maly, three kilometers from Glogow, where my grandmother started a new life with my two oldest uncles.
My grandfather was released from the Gulag because of an unusual family tie. His sister was married to a jeweler whose sister was married to a Jewish jeweler, whose brother was also in the Gulag. The Jewish jeweler bribed an NKVD general to order their release.
When my grandfather was released, he did not know what was happening. He was called to the Commanders office and issued a change of clothes, a coat and boots. He was ordered into a car and driven out of the camp. He thought he was being taken out to be executed. Instead, he was driven for three days to a village, and given a strangers address where he was to stay until he was given travel arrangements. When he arrived at the front door, the middle-aged widow who answered was shocked and scared by his appearance. He was un-bathed and looked like a walking skeleton with long hair and beard. She instinctively handed him a paper and pencil at the door and told him to write something. When she saw his handwriting, she knew that he was not a traveling vagabond or criminal on the run, and allowed him in from the cold. When he entered her home he noticed a Roman Catholic Crucifix, rather than the expected Orthodox Crucifix, on the wall. He realized that she was not Russian, and asked if she was Polish; she was!
My grandfather stayed at the ladys home until travel arrangements were made for him and the jewelers brother. When they arrived near the Polish border, they had to hide under the floor boards of the train car to make it into Poland.
Upon reaching the Polish area of the Ukraine, my Grandfather walked. When he arrived in western Poland, he traveled from village to village looking for a school teacher with two children. He finally found my grandmother in Grodziec Maly. When she saw him, she did not know who he was. He weighed only 47 kilograms (104 lbs).
The reunion did not bring an end to the hardships my grandparents suffered. A bone infection in my Grandfathers left foot, which he picked up in the Gulag, festered and turned into gangrene. His left leg had to be amputated just above the knee. They had three more children (including my mother), but lost the first child (my aunt) to the flu. Their experiences under communism and the survival skills they learned along the way, also drove them to keep many secrets. We did not learn that my grandfather had been an officer in the Polish Army until after he died in 1981. He never spoke of his time in the Gulag until after Stalins death. In fact, it was not until 2010, that I learned much of the story from my Uncle Jurek.
I was only seven when my father became involved in the Solidarity movement. He joined the union in 1980 and participated in the general strikes. Not long after that, he lost his job and was not allowed to work. In 1981 Solidarity was outlawed, but my father continued his involvement. In December 1981 a state of war was declared against Solidarity. The police came to our home and arrested my father and seized the family collection of books. My father went to prison for one year. Our home was searched by the police every two weeks for a year and our family remained under constant surveillance from an apartment across the street until 1988. Fortunately, in all of their visits, the police did not find the most dangerous weapon in the house: an unregistered typewriter.
After my fathers release from prison, my parents were not allowed to work. My father continued his involvement in the Solidarity movement. He coordinated many meetings with university professors, black-balled actors, and other Solidarity members and leaders. They often met in our home after church for strategy and planning meetings and to publish Solidarity pamphlets and flyers for distribution. The sharing of banned books was also very common.
While my parents were out of work, my family received stipends and care packages from abroad. We received money and food packages from the United States and France. One large food package from the US contained American bacon. The bacon was a special treat as meat was in critically short supply during this time. When it was cooked, it was a totally different experience from anything we had ever eaten. We loved it! I giggled with my brother and cousins as we said Thanks for the Bacon, Mr. Reagan! over and over.
After Gorbachov introduced Peristroika reforms in the Soviet Union in 1986, things began to relax. My father participated in planning for Parliamentary elections which were held in the fall of 1990. He was asked by many of his colleagues to run. He chose to wait until the planned second Parliamentary election in 1994. Unfortunately, my fathers dream of seeing a free and democratic Poland, was not to pass. Bone cancer did what the Communist and their prison could not. He passed away on March 1, 1990.
School was difficult for me and my older brother, Adam. Many of our teachers were old school communists and had tied their privileged positions to the Soviet system. They often talked about the treasonous criminals in Solidarity.
Adam was four years older than me and very out going. That made him a threat. While in high school, he was banned from participation in a sailing competition on the Baltic Sea by the secret police because of fear that he might try to defect to the west.
I was a lot more shy at school and was not a very good student. I was very intimidated by the teachers and withdrew from school related activities. I found refuge in the Catholic Youth Group which welcomed my friends and me. (Adam had also participated in this group, but had to keep it a secret from the school administration.) We had many activities at the church and participated in many field trips to the country. In 1989, the Iron Curtain opened and traveling restrictions were relaxed. In 1991 our church group made a very special trip to visit a national hero of Poland who stood firm in the resistance against the Nazis and the Communists. His name is Karol Wojtyla. The rest of the world knows him as Pope John Paul II.
After our trip to Rome and our audience with the Pope, I attended the medical college in Wroclaw for pharmaceutical studies. It was a pleasure compared to my elementary and high school days. But living conditions were still difficult. I shared a four room apartment with 11 other girls. We had one shower, one toilet, and a small kitchen. It was almost impossible to find a quiet place to study, but I managed to graduate as a Technician Pharmacist after two years.
I found a job at a small pharmacy a few blocks from my home in Glogow, and worked there for two years. My dream was to work for an international pharmaceutical firm. But to find such a job, I needed to speak either German, French, or English. So, I took a job as an Au Pair for a German family in Heidelberg. I never would have guessed that my work and studies in Germany would take me in a totally different direction.
KASIA & BILL
WE met in OReillys Irish pub in Heidelberg, Germany in 1998. We never really dated while we were both living in Heidelberg, but we definitely had an interest in each other. In August 1998, I was recalled to Active Duty at the Pentagon in Washington, DC and Kasia remained in Germany with her Au Pair job. I visited Germany with my parents and my sister's family over Christmas. I happened to visit OReillys on New Years Eve and Kasia was there with her girlfriends. We hit it off and had four dates over the next four days. After I returned to Washington, we kept in touch by email and an occasional phone call but time and distance were making it look like we werent meant to be together.
As luck would have it, in April 1999, I was ordered back to Germany for a six month tour with three days notice. Kasia and I saw each other my first night back and were together whenever I had free time. Before the end of June we were engaged. We decided to go ahead and get married before I rotated back to Washington so that Kasia could accompany me. My parents were already planning another trip to Germany to visit me in early September of 1999. It also coincided with the only available date for Kasias parish church so that we could have a Catholic Wedding.
We exchanged vows during Mass on September 4, 1999. Our Polish Wedding was mixed with the American Military traditions of Saber bearers. Our wedding was held within 100 meters of a former Soviet base in the presence of friends, family and soldiers who once stood on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain. (I never would have guessed that I would have an officer of the former Warsaw Pact as a guest at my wedding.) The reception was a mild one by Polish standards it only lasted until 4:00AM.
As Kasia and I continue our lives together with our children, we often say many prayers of thanks. And when we are cooking breakfast on Sunday mornings before we head off to Mass, we often chuckle and say Thanks for the bacon, Mr Reagan.
Beautiful story and pictures. I love the one of your Church group with Pope John Pual II.
It’s a fine story.
I have always felt that the two greatest President’s of my lifetime are Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
Neither left the Presidency rich men. The held the Presidency too high to use it to become rich .
They were both honest men who loved their country.
Both did great things.
Those of us who were on the front lines know better. I was working for a successful Japanese importing company just before the iron curtain fell. One day, we got a call from the Soviet Embassy inviting us over for a frank talk on what we might be able to buy from them to sell to Japanese consumers. We spent much of the next four days, some of it riding around with them in their own chauffeured limo. It was during this time that they openly criticized their leadership and told us that big changes were coming for the better. This was only a couple of months before the Soviet Union collapsed.
We were dumbfounded about how people could be so smart about technical details like design and finding their way around the streets of Tokyo, so confusing to even many Japanese and long-time residents, but so utterly clueless about the basics of international trade and capitalism.
An almost unknown story, and one that needs some background, is how Ronald Reagan defeated the mighty Soviet Union - with wheat.
Early in his presidency, he did something enigmatic, and criticized by both the left and the right. He opened the door to unlimited grain sales to the Soviet Union. The left accused him of pandering to the farm vote, and the right, of supporting the Soviet Union.
For its part, the Soviet leaders since Lenin had been determined above all else to collectivize agriculture. It was an obsession with them, and one that never, ever worked, leaving their nation always on the verge of famine.
While they were willing to buy US wheat, they would only use it to feed their multitude of working farm animals, too paranoid that it might be poisoned. But then they would divert the animal food to feed their people.
Since the Ruble was worthless outside of the Soviet Union, they had to pay for the wheat with oil, soon all the crude oil they could produce. For wheat is expensive. Yet it was not enough.
So soon thereafter, they sent their gold to the US to buy wheat. And their reserves were soon exhausted, so they began dredging the deltas of their rivers to get more gold. But it was never enough.
Likewise any rare minerals, and their foreign currency reserves, all went to the US to buy wheat. Soon they were scraping the bottom of the barrel to find something, anything they could sell.
And then president Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, “Star Wars”. A program he could throw hundreds of billions of dollars at, as if they were nothing. It was too much for the Soviets to bear.
They could not match SDI in any way, which meant that the US would be protected against their missiles, but the Soviet Union would be helpless against American missiles.
To add insult to injury, their war in Afghanistan was going to hell. Again, thanks to Ronald Reagan, their military was dispirited, failing miserably, and soaking up what little money they had left.
The Cold War was over. They lost. And Ronald Reagan, the last Cold Warrior, was victorious.
Isn’t it interesting how all of the fabulous things that Reagan did are “almost unknown?”
In many cases, there are very good reasons that when a Republican president pulls off a major coup, he will not ever brag about it.
H.W. Bush managed to pull off an enormous one, but it almost had to remain secret. It started with the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Congress was livid, and at the first opportunity demanded that Bush pull China’s MFN status, but Bush said and did nothing. They continued to rail at him. Some time passed, and he dispatched two senior diplomats to talk to the Chinese government.
Their “secret” mission was exposed, however, and congress was livid at Bush, who said and did nothing, because that exposure was intentional on our part.
Finally, in 1992, Bush finally renewed China’s MFN without comment. Almost immediately afterwards, China quietly signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, something they had sworn they would never do. Something that US presidents since Nixon would have cut off their left arm to get. But if the truth was known, that they bowed to US pressure, it would have cost the Chinese leaders their heads.
H.W. pulled off a second coup, which ruined a newly elected, anti-American prime minister of Japan. The video of it is hilarious, as the PM was seated between H.W. and Barbara Bush, and Barbara starts inching her chair away from the PM about a minute before, with little warning, H.W. threw up in his lap.
In front of the Emperor of Japan. Utterly humiliating him to the point where he had to resign in shame. His replacement was decidedly pro-American.
Great story, Bill. Thanks for posting.
Thank you for your kind posts. For those who may have missed the picture links, here is the direct the url: http://williamrussell.net/Reagan_s_Bacon.html .
All the Best! Bill
Thanks, Vigilanteman. Very similar observations to what I saw in Leningrad and Moscow over new years of 1982-83. The system could not compete with the efforts of free people pursuing their own self interests.
All the Best!
Thanks for the details on the wheat sales in helping to collapse the Soviet economy. I remember taking classes on the socialist economic theory in college during this period. Those theories an their philosophies never fit with the reality and always required an external capitalist “enemy” to sponge off of for resources as well as an internal black market/private/capitalist/underground economy to feed their citizens.
You can extrapolate that further: “No socialist system can survive unless it has support from outside the system. Even then, its demands for resources will continue to grow, and the services it provides will continue to decline, until it consumes everything and does nothing.”
One example is socialist Sweden, where the cost of their welfare state was paid for by high taxes on their arms industry which was outside the system. Finally, PM Olaf Palme decided to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, by nationalizing the arms industry. He was assassinated shortly after that, likely at the behest of the gods of economics.
One of the most fascinating accounts I read about Soviet intelligence is titled Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America, which describes in detail the sad state of Soviet intelligence in the waning years of the Reagan Administration. What is most fascinating about the book is how much less effective Soviet intelligence would have been without volunteer help from American lefties in media, academia and government.
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