The President, the Pope, And the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World Paperback – Sep 23 2008
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About the Author
John O'Sullivan is a former collegiate and professional soccer player, and has spent the past two decades as a coach at the youth, high school, and college level. O'Sullivan speaks nationwide to coaches, parents, and young athletes about developing athletic excellence and leadership within positive sporting environments. He resides in Bend, Oregon, with his family.
Top Customer Reviews
Truly captures the momentous events that led to freeing millions of people from slavery.
Three truly great people with a great vision.
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The Cardinal, an "orthodox rebel" in O'Sullivan's term, was seen as out of step with the increasing liberalization of the Church in the wake of Vatican II. As a non-Italian practicing behind the Iron Curtain, his chances of ascending to the Papacy seemed nil.
Reagan was a successful politician, then in his second term as California Governor, and a darling of the Right. But his free-enterprise convictions, can-do optimism and stalwart anti-Communism seemed an anachronism in an age of stagflation, perceived limits to growth (misperceived it turned out) and détente with the Soviets. Being the "first off the treadmill" was "the only victory the arms race had to offer," wrote the chief U.S. arms control negotiator in 1975, reflecting widely held bi-partisan opinion at the time.
Thatcher was the education minister in a weak Tory government that increasingly ceded economic policy to radical labor unions and presided over the continued diminution of Britain on the world stage. Thatcher's message of fiscal prudence, privatization, monetarism and individual initiative/self-reliance ran counter to the prevailing Keynesian economic standard of the time. As a woman, the highest office thought possible for her was Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), and even that was considered a long-shot.
O'Sullivan tells the story of how each of these "misfits" (my word, not his)rose to greatness in spite of their handicaps. They did not so much overcome obstacles, as changed the terms of the debate, and by the dawn of the 1990s, left the world a markedly better place - freer, more secure and prosperous - than it was 20 years earlier.
I've read many books on this era (and lived through it) and can tell you that O'Sullivan's is one of the best. Recommended.
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.
"It is rare for secular-minded people to sense the hand of Providence in history or at least to admit doing so but even quite dedicated atheists saw his election as pope in 1978 as a world-changing event.
One such, Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB, warned that a Polish pope would likely destabilize the Soviet Union by giving hope to the nations held captive within it. Eleven years later the evil empire crumbled and the captive nations emerged blinking into the light of freedom.
Others played vital roles in that liberation Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, the heroic dissidents behind the Iron Curtain but the pope had provided its spiritual impulse.
Within months of his 1979 papal visit to Poland, during which he called upon Poles to "recognize evil", there were riots by Polish workers, the rise of Solidarity and the spread of anti-communist dissidence throughout eastern Europe.
In the words of British historian Neal Ascherson, the pope's visit was a "lance head" that "went straight into the bowels of the whole Soviet empire, and gave it a wound from which it simply didn't recover".
His continuing influence, moreover, ensured that the democratic revolutions of the 1980s were peaceful as well as successful. If the pope had achieved nothing more in his lifetime than to be the religious spark of liberty in Europe, he would be a historical figure of the first rank in the world."
And Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher, with the power to do so, did what they could on more concrete levels. What about Gorbachev? "Gorbachev played an important part"but "Without Reagan, no Gorbachev,"as O'Sullivan said on C-SPAN in November 2006. Gorbachev's role thus was to throw a Communist 'Hail Mary,' but only to try to save the game for Marx.
It's interesting now, too, to think that, albeit in a different manner and at a different level, George Bush, Tony Blair, and, most recently, Pope Benedict are among the few who are standing up against cultural suicide versus a totalitarian ideology seemingly gaining in momentum. Remember the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, their meddling in Central America, Angola, and their attempt to crush the Polish Solidarity movement...all while the Soviet Union was actually quite weak, but lashing out gave the impression it was strong. Suicide bombings likewise are an act of desperation. Cheers
This is the story of three disparate personalities and their unlikely (and synchronous) rises to power. The elderly B-movie actor. The school-marmish scold. The non-Italian Catholic living under the thumb of officially atheistic communism. Together, they defeat the scourge of communism while simultaneously rescuing their respective polities from the slow death spiral of the 60s and 70s, whether than be Reagan resurrecting American swagger and putting the U.S. economy on sound footing, or Thatcher curing Britain of Euro-sclerosis, or the Holy Father rescuing the Catholic church for the suffocating forces of modernism and "reform."
This is an essential history of late 20th Century America and Great Britain. It is an essential history of the recent Catholic church. It is also very much a history of Poland, for it is that land that it is at the center of this narrative. Ronald Reagan always believed that the key to ending the Cold War lay with Poland. And it is events in Poland, from the papal visits, to the strike at the Gdansk shipyard, from the martial law of Jaruszelski, to the rise of Lech Walesa and Solidarity, that shape this story. Reagan's insight into the centrality of Poland proved astonishingly right.
This book is not just for us Republicans. For example, one Carter Era figure prominently and positively figures in events here: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security advisor. Brzezinski has not gotten enough credit for seizing control of events in Poland from the late Carter administration through the Reagan administration. This book gives him delayed credit.
Two (minor) criticisms of this book. First, the Holy Father drops out of the narrative, for the most part, in the last third of the book. More Pope, please! Second, the equation of the bombing of Mrs. Thatcher's hotel in 1984, does not really parallel the 1981 assassination attempts on President Reagan and Pope John Paul II. It's a reach that doesn't work. But these are very minor blemishes on a masterful book.
The academic left, though, has generally rejected the Great Man Theory and looks to economic, technological, and other factors to explain history. To them, the role of the individual in history is insignificant compared to the role that these "forces" play. What they forget, of course, is that economics, technology, and culture are all created by individuals. So arguing that "forces" rule history and that individual's are irrelevant is inherently irrational.
In reading The President, The Pope, And The Prime Minister, it's easy to see where John O'Sullivan comes down in this debate. He clearly believes that individuals play a vital role in history, and considering the three individuals he profiles -- Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher -- it's hard to argue with him.
The hyopthesis of O'Sullivan's book is fairly straightforward. Three individuals who, in the years just before they came to power, were believed to be outside of the mainstream of 1970s era thinking worked together, sometimes at cross purposes and often not consciously, to change the world by putting in place forces that led to the downfall of the Soviet Empire and the remaking of the world.
As O'Sullivan makes clear, the spark was lit in October 1978 when the Catholic Church did the unthinkable by electing a non-Italian Pope for the first time in over 450 years. And not only a non-Italian, put a man who came from behind the Iron Curtain and who had spent much of his career as a priest and bishop resisting tyranny, first from the Nazis and then from the Communists. His election set off a firestorm in Poland that led directly to the formation of Solidarity and its preservation through nearly a decade of martial law.
O'Sullivan also pays considerable attention to former President Reagan, his dealings with the Soviet Union, and, most interestingly, his view of the role of nuclear weapons in the Cold War. Though it was not generally known at the time, and goes against what was being said about Reagan by his critics and even some of his supporters, it has become fairly clear in the years since he left office from the release of private writings that Reagan despised nuclear weapons and pursued a policy that had as its conscious goal their eventual elimination. While some might consider this attitude naive (after all, you can't put the nuclear genie back in the bottle), it sheds a new light on his approach to negotiations with the Soviets and the SDI program. Reagan knew that the Soviets could not compete with America technologically, and that they would never give up their nuclear arsenal willingly. So, he essentially played a waiting game until the "correlation of forces", to borrow a Marxist phrase, were such that that Soviets had no choice but to make a deal in a last ditch effort to save first their empire, and then their very existence.
Reagan told John Paul about his views on nuclear weapons, the Soviets, and the future of Europe early on. And the Holy Father clearly supported these views, as evidenced by the fact that while Catholic Bishops in the United States often spoke out against U.S. foreign policy in the 1980s (sometimes to the consternation of the Vatican), the Holy See rarely did.
O'Sullivan's perspective on Thatcher, and her relationships with Reagan, the Pope, and the Soviets are interesting especially given his connections to the British Conservative Party. What is clear, though, is that even Thatcher herself, clearly one of Reagan's closest friends in world politics, had no idea just how idealistic he was.
This book isn't ground breaking academic research, but it offers an interesting perspective on the life, times, and historical impact on three people who clearly changed the world for the better.
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