Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. Pope John Paul II, without any divisions save his faithful flock, shook an ossified communist establishment to its core. Margaret Thatcher infused not only Britain but the Western alliance with a new sense of urgency and energy. In this sparkling book, John O'Sullivan seamlessly weaves together these strands of history to recount the central drama of the late-twentieth century: how three moral and political giants tore down the Berlin Wall and ended an "evil" empire. It is a powerful story, a case where fact is more formidable than fiction. In O'Sullivan's hands it is also a riveting read. He brings it to life in mesmerizing detail, while recalling the knife-edge tension of the Cold War, when all was in play, an unnerving element of the era that has, alas, receded from the consciousness of so many commentators today. John O'Sullivan's new volume reminds us of what exactly was at stake, namely, the survival of liberty. This accomplishment alone makes it essential. That the book achieves so much more makes it indispensable.
Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher. John O'Sullivan's study reveals what linked these three protagonists: their sustained commitment to a profound moral and political philosophy built upon the first principles of Western civilization, including the ascendancy of the Almighty, the dignity of the individual, and the liberating energy of freedom. These values are what placed them in diametrical opposition to international Communism. They hewed to them, as O'Sullivan vividly recalls, even in the face of death, since all three survived assassination attempts. While staring down the barrel of a gun - or, in Thatcher's case, the twisted mind of a depraved IRA bomber - they defended the sanctity of liberty.
One of the foundational principles of the West is religious liberty. It proved to be a catalyst for the demise of the Eastern bloc. In 1979 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Cracow was elected Pope and assumed the name John Paul II. O'Sullivan describes the reaction in the Kremlin: Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, a member of the Politburo, and the future General Secretary of the Communist Party, "telephoned his agent "in Warsaw to ask how he could have allowed a citizen of a Communist country to be elected Pope." A report commissioned by the Communist Party's Central Committee predicted the nature of the new threat: John Paul II "would probably wage a campaign for human rights and religious freedom in the Soviet bloc." The Russians were correct on this point, but wrong on so many others. They failed to grasp, in contrast to the Pope, that the future belonged to Scripture, not the Communist Manifesto.
Ronald Reagan shared John Paul II's vision and translated it into a successful geopolitical strategy. In a bracing passage in the book, O'Sullivan records Reagan's conversation with Richard Allen in 1977, during which the future President expressed his take on the conflict with the Soviet Union: "My theory of the Cold War is that we win and they lose." Allen later recalled how Reagan's comment "literally changed my life." It would, within a little over a decade, literally alter the course of world events. But first, Reagan had to change - or, to be exact, renew - the United States, and essential to this task was reviving the American economy. It is therefore appropriate that important sections of John O'Sullivan's book deal with Reagan's economic policy, including his successful efforts to slay the inflation monster of the late 1970s and early 1980s (how easily we forget!), stabilize monetary policy, reduce marginal tax rates, increase manufacturing productivity and reduce unemployment. He restored confidence in the free market, with, it should be added, the assistance of brilliant economists such as the late Milton Friedman. A quarter-century of economic growth is one of the most significant legacies of the Reagan presidency.
Margaret Thatcher, meanwhile, worked similar economic miracles in Great Britain. It was very tough going. O'Sullivan rightly notes that she "accomplished the same triumph over inflation against heavier odds, since inflation was more entrenched in the U.K. economy" than in the United States. She had "even harder opposition to overcome" in England than Reagan did in Congress. A turning point was her suppression of the miners' strike in 1984-85, which, O'Sullivan recalls for us, "was no conventional industrial dispute. It was a violent attempt by a minority of the miners' union, led by the Marxist revolutionary Arthur Scargill, to force the majority of union members to strike in order to compel London to subsidize loss-making mines indefinitely." In her memoirs Thatcher accurately describes it as an "insurrection" rather than a strike. O'Sullivan neatly encapsulates the upshot of the President's and the Prime Minister's economic paradigm: "Once the command economies of the Soviet bloc collapsed in 1989, revealing the extraordinary bankruptcy of state planning, it was the Reagan-Thatcher model that the new democracies sought to emulate." If the miner's strike was a key moment in Margaret Thatcher's domestic policy, the Falkland's War was a turning point in her foreign policy. It is also a vital part of John O'Sullivan's book, told in dramatic fashion. At bottom, it is a case study of Thatcher's principles in action. Victory was never a certainty. It was the consequence of expert planning, bold execution, steady command by Thatcher, and hard fighting by courageous British sailors on the South Atlantic and British soldiers at places like Goose Green, Mount Langdon, Two Sisters, Wireless Ridge and Port Stanley. Through it all, the Iron Lady revealed that she had a spine of steel.
Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot. Perhaps that was possible because Margaret Thatcher launched an armada, while behind the Iron Curtain John Paul II exhorted his fellow Poles to "Be Not Afraid." Thus the subtitle of this splendid book gets it precisely right: Three Who Changed the World. Lovers of liberty everywhere are grateful for their campaign - and for John O'Sullivan's chronicle of freedom.