While many aspects of Ronald Reagan’s legacy continue to be hotly debated in the more than thirty years since he left the White House as President of the United States, one aspect that is widely shared is that the vast majority of his time and of his focus during his tenure was on building U.S. forces in front of They supreme enemy of the Cold War, the Soviet Union. In the Reagan’s War Stories: A Cold War Presidency, Benjamin Griffin deftly analyzes the impact of popular culture on the decisions Reagan made that directly impacted the course of the Cold War. Griffin uses a plethora of primary and secondary sources to craft a compelling argument that Reagan, who has been regarded by some contemporaries and historians alike as a “light intellectual,” was, in fact, laser focused on position improvement of the United States against the Soviet Union. , effectively using popular culture, especially that conveyed through novels in the current zeitgeist, to help its platform resonate with the general public.
Reagan was notorious for reducing a complex subject into an easily digestible, if not always accurate, summary. Griffin argues throughout the book that Reagan was highly impressionable, particularly through novels and films, and that he relied on these resources to help make decisions throughout his life. Reagan’s War Stories can essentially be divided into three main areas, all of which are novels, films, or fiction genres Griffin argues that shaped perceptions of Reagan and would have weighed heavily in his decision-making during his time in public office, sometimes even more than formally reports or briefings.
The first novels in question were books Reagan loved as a young man, especially the John Carter books by Edgar Burroughs, an incredibly popular science fiction series during Reagan’s childhood, along with other significant books such as That Udell printer by Harold Bell Wright. Griffin says the strong characters, righteous storylines, and prevailing savior tropes resonated with Reagan, who lacked a reliable father figure in her life. This is not a groundbreaking or earth-shattering observation, and it is a connection any amateur psychologist could make. However, what makes this book special and worthwhile is how Griffin relates the impact of these novels on a young Reagan’s psyche to his actions as president. An example of how these novels led to Reagan’s decisions later in his life is when Griffin attributes Reagan’s continued support of futuristic technology to the initial exposure he received on the subject from his reading of Burroughs as a young man. Griffin argues that these works would have played an important role in the eventual culmination of the Cold War, when Reagan announced his support for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI); the science fiction novels of his childhood allegedly “helped Reagan conceptualize the impact of technology, a technique he considered perfectly reasonable.”