Ronald Reagan and Genocide: the Biography of an Ideal
Ronald Reagan has always been aware of the scourge of Genocide, notwithstanding his selective and politicized views. Certainly, Reagan was not a principled humanitarian, one who sought to objectively filter foreign policy through the lens of human rights. Rather, his views of human rights were highly inconsistent, depending largely on his ideological interpretations of the Cold War as they were represented in international relations. This helps to explain Reagan’s hands-off support of terrorism in Latin America and the direct sale of weapons to an acknowledged enemy of the state, Iran, as well as the invasion of Grenada and other international aggressions.
Nonetheless, Reagan was well aware of the scourge of genocide and it remained a part of his rhetoric throughout his years in office. On April 21, 1981, for example, Reagan issued proclamation 4838 creating a United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In his speech, Reagan also sought to remember the Armenian genocide that took place before the Nazi Holocaust and the Cambodian genocide afterwards. In fact, the Armenian community continues to hold Reagan in high esteem given it has long called for ratification.
But to grasp Reagan’s belief system and ideological constructions through which he filtered his public work as Governor and President, one has to discuss the life of Ronald Reagan as he experienced it, or as he saw it. Such a biographical approach highlights the consistent themes that dominated Reagan’s life and the extent to which they were in concord with the principles enshrined within the Genocide Convention.
Reagan throughout his years was concerned with the welfare of the average American. Entertaining others was a talent he discovered early on. But for Reagan, it always had a self-regenerative quality to it. Gary Wills discusses the rise of a new class of entertainers in post-war America, within which Reagan was exemplary, that responded to a demand by Americans for Escapism and the need to regain faith in the progress of History. This was the American renewal that Reagan had believed in and always sought out, a life-long political struggle to regain this idealized past – “it’s morning again” – a recapturing of the American spirit.
Whether it was “storytelling” during his days in the radio industry, or acting out scenes of courage and faith in Hollywood Western movies, or fulfilling his pledge to ratify the Genocide Convention, the infallible America as an example for all to follow was the Ideal that Reagan always kept close. There was no difference between Reagan’s goals as President and those that he had been striving for all his life; he was the constant motivational speaker. As Gary Wills reminds us, the “aim of the preacher's art is not demonstration but inspiration." Facts were not important for Reagan but the better tomorrow that is always in our grasp. When reporters asked Reagan about why he was so insistent about going to Bitburg despite the fierce opposition, he did not bother with just mere commemorations of “the liberation of Europe” but claimed to celebrate the entirety of “the rebirth of German freedom.” The Genocide Convention was finally ratified on November 4, 1988.