In 1987, Ronald Reagan uttered the immortal phrase: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!" Two years later, the Berlin Wall, the symbol and brace of the Soviet empire, fell under its own weight, while the real thing collapsed without a sigh on Christmas Day 1991 when the Soviet Union committed suicide by self-dissolution. No empire has ever exited from history without major war--recall the violent demise of the Wilhelmine, Habsburg, Romanov and Ottoman empires in World War I. So whatever else Clio--the Greek goddess of history--may yet report about him, she will always praise Ronald Wilson Reagan for this absolute first in the annals of statecraft: an empire that died in bed. They thought him demented when he challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Wall. Yet down it came, and as I retrace the historic voyage of America's 40th president, I would like to note that I helped to pry a chunk or two out of the Wall.
Many forces contributed to the fall of the "Evil Empire", but foremost among them was the deployment of those 464 cruise and 108 Pershing II missiles slated to offset triple-warhead Soviet ss-20s and Backfire bombers that could reach all of Western Europe (but not the American homeland). Needless to say, it was not the "theo-logic" of deterrence that drove the counter-deployment. The drama was not really about "circular-errors probable" or "hard-target kill capabilities." The name of the game was as old as Thucydides' disquisitions on Peloponnesian power politics. It was a pure test of will and strength, and on its outcome hung, as it turned out, history. Yet what a slender thread it was.