Reagan made clear and credible what America required. This changed the dynamic to such an extent that in 1989, the year after Reagan left office, Germans tore down the Berlin Wall. Eastern Europe shook free of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union itself began to crumble. On Christmas day, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president, and the Soviet Union disintegrated. Here is his astounding speech that Christmas, inevitable when it finally came, but almost unimaginable when Reagan was delivering his first presidential Christmas message 10 years earlier.
Why does this matter today? Because it is at bottom the same fight now going on around the globe, the old human struggle for freedom, against forces and ideologies that oppose it. A big lesson of the Cold War is that leadership matters. When America has truly led in this world, good things have followed. If America’s president will not step up to lead this fight, if America’s government busies itself with bearing “witness,” leading from behind, and nodding along as new dictatorships replace the old, if America’s president chooses to fall back, stand aside and simply hope that history will of its own accord swing in a benign direction, then it is the job of Americans who see it otherwise to keep alive the ideas that won the Cold War — the ideas that capitalism and freedom are vital to those marvelous aims of peace on earth and dignity of mankind, and in that cause, American leadership is sorely needed. These are not merely matters of history and nostalgia. They are mighty ideas that need revisiting, rebroadcasting, teaching and proud defending, as guides to a better future, and inspiration for those who might yet emerge to lead us. And with that, a Merry Christmas to all.