Reagan Lives…in Calgary


D-Day is one thing; Ronald Reagan is quite another altogether: His Legacy lives on, in Calgary, Alberta.

Surely it was a bad omen. Before Game Six of the Stanley Cup final from the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, millions of CBC viewers were subjected to a glowing tribute to the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, who had just died. This was then followed by a D-Day tribute.

Now, Alberta has its share of rich rednecks and oily American imports, but that’s hardly a reason to salute Reagan’s legacy before a hockey game on Canada’s public airwaves. Afterall, the CBC wouldn’t have survived very long in Reagan’s deregulated America.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a little war with my hockey (actually distinguishing between the two has become merely a matter of degree).

In any case, Reagan was all about war — the wrong ones that is. He bungled his way in and out of Lebanon, and then waged a war of distraction in Grenada. He was misdirected into Lybia, and by way of delusion, he unleashed the Star Wars “missile defence” juggernaut.

But the worst of his wars, was by far, the one he waged by proxy in Central America. The media darling and “teflon president” spent billions of US taxes dollars creating, training and equipping rightwing armies and fascist elements throughout the Central American isthmus. This led to the death, torture and rape of tens of thousands of civilians. These are the teachers, farmers, doctors, students, nurses, and children of El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala that Reagan’s supporters are willfully ignorant of, or choose to forget.

One wonders: how many amongst the 200,000 Americans who paid their resects to him, (because he made them “feel good”), have ever heard of El Salvador’s Atlactl Battalion? This was the first Salvadoran unit to receive US training after Reagan came into office. In December, 1981, after receiving their marching orders from US advisors, they went on murderous rampage through Morazan province, slaughtering hundreds of peasants, mostly women, children and the elderly. Thanks to the efforts of freelance journalist, Ray Bonner, the story made the front page of the New York Times, directly contradicting Reagan’s formal certification to Congress the following day that El Salvador was “achieiving substantial control over elements of its own armed forces.” Bonner’s article and subsequent others, greatly angered the Reagan administration. He was promptly replaced in August, 1982. 75 % of all US aid to El Salvador went directly to the military, with the predictable staggering results.

In the name of “strengthening democracy” atrocities throughout the region reached horrifying levels in the 1980s, rivaling Sadam Hussein’s torture state at its macabre worst (Reagan’s tilt towards Iraq is another chapter altogether). I recall sitting in class in 1983 and hearing my History Professor, (a man who was advising NATO on arms control issues), say that it’s no wonder that certain people despised Reagan and the foreign policy of the United States. The US administration was staunchly supporting the closest thing to Hitler that Guatemala had yet experienced. General Rioss Mont, whom Reagan lauded as a great democrat was committing genocide against the indigenous people in the highlands.

Meanwhile from US bases in Honduras, CIA-backed Contra terrorists murdered upwards of 40,000 civilians in the US funded aggression against the Sandinista government. Reagan labeled these thugs as the moral equivalent to America’s founding fathers. “I’m a Contra too”, he exclaimed.

Did he understand what he was saying? Who can tell? But this much is clear: once he’d made up his mind about something, there were no grey areas, much to the detriment of all of the innocents killed, maimed or made into refugees as a result of his “steadfastness.”

A portent of this dangerous personality defect appeared while he was still Governor of California, when he offerred the following remedy for the spreading campus revolt against the Vietnam War: “If there has to be a bloodbath, lets get it over with.”

In July, 1986, Reagan’s attack on Nicaragua was recognized as an international crime of aggression and the United States stands accused to this day, refusing to pay reparations. In the name of fighting “communism” in Central America, Ronald Reagan became an international pariah.

His crusade was deeply unpopular at home and abroad, and so US foreign policy was essentually driven underground. Oliver North and the Iran Contra crew began diverting the profits from arms sales to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, in order to fund the Contra War, in contravention of the 1984 Boland Amendment, whereby the US Congress forbade any US intelligence agency from assisting the Contras in any way. “I thought it was a neat idea at the time,” said the Gipper.

As part of Reagan’s global crusade to rollback communism, he upped the ante in Afghanistan, training and funding the Islamist mujahadeen to fight the Russians, only to have this Jihad eventually spin out of control and blowback in America’s face in the form of Osama bin Laden.

The first Reagan administration was full of fanatical militarists and apocalyptic dispensationalists. Defense Undersecretary T.K. Jones once told a reporter that “everyone would survive a nuclear war if there were enough shovels to go around,” while Secretary of the Interior James Watt advised us that “We don’t have to protect the environment – the Second Coming is at hand.”

For the most part, the press fell for the act, as outlined in the popular style of Mark Herstgaard’s “On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.” Only after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, and Reagan’s approval ratings plummetted from 67% to 46% did the Reagan spell begin to lift.

It was also then that he began to make an about face. He didn’t exactly bring down the Soviet Union which was crumbling through internal contradiction. But this much must be conceded: Reagan lent support to Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalizing reforms, angering his hardline anti-communist base, but that no longer mattered, because he’d made up his mind. A new detente with what he had earlier called an “evil empire” led to the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, something inconceivable in his first term. It is difficult to imagine a similar flip-flop occuring, from the single-minded ideology of George W. Bush–on any issue.

Nevertheless, given all the gushing and collective amnesia of the past week, it is clear that Reagan’s annointed status as The Great Communicator over the US body politic served as the necessary precursor to the evil spells of the current administration.

Apparently Jeb Bush was in the crowd for Game Seven in Tampa Bay. In the final minute, with the Calgary Flames trailing by one goal, a dubious, “mid-season” penalty call against Calgary’s Andrew Ference helped seal the fate in Tampa’s favor. Now, isn’t that exactly what we’d expect to happen in Florida? (it so happens Ference, an outspoken, articulate young man claimed in a recent interview that Ralph Nader was his favourite political figure).

So you see, it all adds up. It seems that symbolism carries its own karmic debt. It’s one thing to honour Canada’s D-Day veterans and those who died fighting fascism in Europe; it’s quite another altogether to honour the man who enabled it in Central America. No wonder Calgary lost. Another bad omen.

WAYNE SAUNDERS is a freelance writer from Canada. He can reached at