Yesterday the entire advanced world recalled the hundredth anniversary of the birth of that great son of the American people, leader of the world middle class, actor, statesman and astrologer Ronald Wilson Reagan. His unsurpassed accomplishments in promoting the free market, the American lifestyle and Good over Evil were remembered on all manner of occasions. As were his human qualities: his cordial nature, goodness and ability to fall asleep at the right moment and wake up just in time. In particular, people commemorated and emphasized his unique sense of humor — most famously, that he applied it precisely at the height of Cold War hysteria, when he joked in a live broadcast that American airplanes would start bombing the Soviet Union in a few minutes. This joke, which went down in history as the “Killing Joke”, really did strike fear in the heart of the Soviet Union, and within a few weeks its dark rulers began dropping, one by one, like flies. In the end, the Soviet Union, the fabled realm of Mordor, came crashing down.
Contemporaries who lived through the Reagan era in this country — that is, in Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia — unfortunately missed a lot of the experiences associated with him: e.g., only a few saw his westerns from the fifties, in which he moved about as if wearing pants borrowed from someone afflicted with dysentery. People had to get used to a certain stiffness, even those who acknowledged that there was some point to his reactionary (which in reality means progressive) thoughts on the destruction of communism.
The majority of us can recall him like Beelzebub, a warmonger, an irresponsible cowboy and gunslinger, a weak-minded old codger in a hat, even a semi-idiot and latent fascist. In hundreds of images he hung pinned to the bulletin boards of socialist work brigades, cut out from the pages of Rudé právo or Dikobraz. In his images, he always had a Colt in hand and a missile on his belt while one foot, clad in a riding boot, crushed the dove of peace with a twig in its beak. He was obviously the last American president about whom regime hacks cobbled together half-witted verses: After him, that lovely tradition in Czech poetry died out.
Today, therefore, we announce, with a clean reputation and conscience, the legacy of the great R.R. As his bright pupils and lovers of western classics, in which the bad guy always gets his lesson in the end.
Jiří Peňáš is the editor of Lidivé Noviny.