Ronald Reagan and the Cold War

Between the announcement of the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the single most important influence on global politics and American foreign policy was the Cold War. Teachers, students, and parents thus would rightly expect the College Board's newly redesigned AP US History Framework to highlight the origins of the Cold War in Europe, the successes of America's policy of containment, and the United States' triumph over communism under President Reagan. Unfortunately, the College Board
Framework completely fails to meet this reasonable expectation.

The Framework opens Unit 8 on the period from 1945 to 1980 with the following sentence about the Cold War in Europe: "The United States developed a foreign policy based on collective security and a multinational economic framework that bolstered non-Communist nations." (page 60) This sweeping generation ignores the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe, Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech, and George Kennan's influential advocacy of a policy of containment. Since the Framework doesn't even mention these critical events, it obviously ignores how they provoked the Truman Doctrine committing the United States to support "free peoples" resisting Communist aggression. Nor does it relate how, as the leader of the Free World, the United States formed the NATO alliance to defend Western Europe and funded the Marshall Plan to revive the region's war-torn economy.

These egregious omissions are not atypical. They are in fact part of a pattern of superficial and biased statements woven throughout the entire 98-page curriculum guide.

The Framework's superficial coverage of the Cold War continues in a concluding unit devoted to the period from 1980 to the present. Significantly, the Framework's scope and sequence chart recommends that teachers devote just 5 percent of their course to a period largely dominated by President Reagan's presidency and legacy. This is the same amount of time recommended for the period from 1491 to 1607, before any European settlements existed.

When the College Board Framework finally turns its attention to President Reagan and the end of the Cold War, it offers a view that is slanted to the point of dishonesty. This historic victory for democracy and the Free World is "explained" in the following sentence: "President Reagan, who initially rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev leading to significant arms reductions by both countries." (page 66) Apparently all President Reagan had to do to end the Cold War was become buddies with Gorbachev. That President Reagan's success occurred because of, not despite, his "increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric" is never considered.

In reality, President Reagan employed a calculated strategy to win the Cold War. His strategy included a military buildup to bolster the Reagan Doctrine, support for Solidarity and Pope John Paul II, and numerous, often tense, meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev in which President Reagan clearly out-negotiated his Soviet adversary.

On June 12, 1987, President Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall and boldly declared, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" The Berlin Wall did come down in November 1989. Just a few months later, now former President Reagan stood before a 9 ½-foot-tall piece of the Berlin Wall on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. He told a hushed crowd, "Let our children and grandchildren come here and see this wall and reflect on what it meant to history. Let them understand that only vigilance and strength will deter tyranny."

Millions of visitors have viewed this piece of the Berlin Wall and appreciated its lesson that freedom cannot be taken for granted. As President Reagan's son Michael Reagan commented after reviewing the revisionist Framework, "Had Ronald Reagan not been elected in 1980, the Cold War would still be raging and the Berlin Wall would still be standing." But these are not lessons the half-million students who take AP US History next year will learn from the Framework. Perfect objectivity may not be possible, but is intellectual honesty too much to ask?

Although College Board spokespeople will insist that teachers have the flexibility to focus more on President Reagan's achievements if they desire, the College Board website confirms that the AP exam will focus exclusively on content specified in the Framework: "The curriculum framework describes required content in a conceptual outline…On the revised exam, all questions are derived from the course's stated learning objectives." In short, what isn't tested won't be taught.

If U.S. teachers and parents object to this biased and flawed coverage of American history, they should make their voices heard before the new AP course takes effect in the Fall.

Larry Krieger co-authored this column.

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