tv The Presidency Ronald Reagan Readers Digest Interview CSPAN July 20, 2020 12:01am-12:49am EDT
i think that is an appropriate ending to what has been a wonderful and i think very enlightening conversation. paul, clifton, thank you very much. clifton: thank you, ed. and clifton.ou, ed i appreciated the opportunity. >> this is american history tv featuring events, interviews, archival film, and visits to college classrooms, museums and historic places. exploring our nation's past every weekend on c-span three. >> midway through his presidency in june of 1985, president reagan talked in the oval office with readers digest washington bureau chief william schultz. next, we will see that interview end here president reagan talk about his hollywood days at -- as a screen actors guild president and the challenges he faced, including the 1983 bombing that killed u.s. marines
in beirut, lebanon. this video is courtesy of the roco -- the ronald reagan presidential library. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] pres. reagan: if you need a transcript, we are happy to provide one. william: i will need that. i am sure. >> we will bring the head of the voa down [indiscernible] >> then, our editor-in-chief thought it might be more effective one-on-one. ken deferred to me. pres. reagan: i remember an interview once i had -- have you ever seen their headquarters? it is kind of a beautiful country home, spacious lawns. william: it is indeed. the president captivated our founder for four and a half hours and then had to leave to make a speech.
it was a memorable lunch. what we would like to do here, sir, is to ask you some questions so that our readers here and abroad, about 100 million of them, can have a better idea of president reagan the man. i would like to start off by asking what has surprised you the most pleasantly and unpleasantly about being inside the government you have for so long observed from the outside? pres. reagan: well, first of all, one surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, was how little i was surprised. because the eight years as governor of california, i realized when i came in here, suddenly it wasn't the great shock as becoming governor had been. the discovery of the kind of routine, the scheduling, the -- all of that, and while there was
the international situation, the rest was, as i say, not too shocking. there was, however, there was a surprise having to do with being the commander-in-chief and things of that kind. one part that shocked me a little bit was a week after we had been here, we were invited to a sunday lunch. a helicopter picked us up on the lawn. very shortly, we landed there at his farm and he told me that they had been there several days installing phones. i said what do you mean? installing the phones? that's when i found out that i cannot even go across town to a lunch or private dinner without phones being installed. it was explained to me -- jack explained it, they had explained it to him that wherever i was i
had to have the ability to communicate, anyplace in the world. and in telling him this, they told him they could reach to -- to inform me. he challenged that them on that and they said, name someone. jack is telling me all this, and he named a son of his who was on embassy guard in a country in africa, and they got him on the phone and he and his wife got to talk to his son. they asked him if he wanted someone else and had another son who was a quartermaster on a destroyer out in the sixth fleet in the mediterranean. when he said, can you get him? they said no. you said you could get anyone, he said. they said, the flute -- the fleet is on maneuvers. the only one who can get the fleet when it is on maneuvers is the president. thisck was telling me all and we got there and got in the house.
i met the young man's wife, a very sweet young lady, had not seen her husband for months. i excused myself, went back out, and i said, is this right that i could get someone on the uss -- in the sixth fleet? they said yes, sir. get quartermaster kilpatrick. and i went in and got her. she got to talk to her husband whom she had not seen for all of those months. i did not realize what i had done. it was a surprise to find out what just a few words from me -- i had to think better because i got a letter from quartermaster kilpatrick and he told me i would be surprised what air traffic was like. i hadn't even thought it through , that the last portion of the call would be by radio. said that the air -- admirals talking to admirals and ships
talking to ships constantly and then a voice on the air said white house calling. another voice said what code is that? another voice said maybe it is not a code, maybe it is the white house. he said even hollywood could not have silenced the air as quickly as it was silenced and they got a lowly quartermaster on a destroyer. to come to the phone. and he wrote this line, which i never forget. he said, it was as if the got -- as if god had called the vatican and asked for an altar boy by name. william: that is great. making that call was obviously not the toughest decision you have had to make. what has been the toughest decision in 4.5 years? pres. reagan: there are a lot of tough decisions, the ones where there is so much right on both sides. i make the cabinet go over these things in front of me, and when there are differences of opinion, because of the split between right and wrong, when i
have heard enough, i make the decision. i have always used cabinet as i did as governor, as kind of a board of directors, except for one thing. they don't vote. i have to make the decision. but i think the hardest ones will always be those instances where you have to -- where you order our young men in uniform to go to someplace where their lives will be endangered. that is without doubt the most difficult. william: when you became president, you did not have any foreign policy experience. has your view of the world changed in the 4.5 years? pres. reagan: i have to tell you, the premise is a little wrong. not that i had been a diplomat in any way, except again, having been governor of california, while it did not have a foreign policy, if california were a
nation, it would be the seventh ranking economic power in the world. so i had some interest in it. and it is, i guess, the biggest percentage of trade in and out of our country is by way of california. but it wasn't that. i had always had an interest in international affairs, particularly because of the soviet union, and when i was screen actorshe guild, the effort of the communists to move in on the motion picture industry. all i can tell you is when i was running for governor, some of the press editorialized that if i did not stop talking about international affairs, i could never become governor. but i did have that interest. and then as governor, four times the president asked me to do some missions, errands for him
abroad that took me to 18 different countries in the world. some of them, several times, more than once. so that has always been an interest of mine. there wasn't much that had to be changed in my opinion about the good guys and the bad guys and what our responsibility was. william: did it bother you that when you came into office, some or maybe even many european intellectuals or elitists viewed you as an actor, cowboy with simplistic views about the world? and if it did bother you, do you think that view has been altered during your term? pres. reagan: it did not really bother me so much because i had gone through that same thing being governor. there were some people that
thought to go straight from the acting profession to governor without having held any other political office was, as you no, it didn't bother me so much. i do think there has been a change now that we have become personally acquainted. when i say we, i mean heads of state of a number of our allies. we are all on a very cordial first name basis at, say, the economic summit. i don't think that prevails now. william: what books and what thinkers most influenced you before coming to the white house? pres. reagan: that is a tough question. i have been a voracious reader, whether it has been nonfiction as well as fiction.
that and articles, publications and so forth. -- to try and pick out someone in particular, i don't think i can. i have opened myself up to just about all the viewpoints there are in that sense. my greatest dread, my nightmare, is that sometime i might be caught in a hotel room someplace with nothing to read. i don't think i could go to sleep or shut my eyes if i did not read myself to sleep at night. william: you mentioned before in and passing and i would like to get back to it, your role as president of the screen actors guild. i read that that period in your life perhaps more than any other shaped your attitudes and your policies. what did your experiences as a labor leader teach you? pres. reagan: i was very proud of the screen actors guild at that time.
when i went into the job, i found that it existed on some very firm principles. for one thing, the screen actors guild said the guild would not be engaged in politics and nor would there be politics in the guild. we believed our members were of every kind of philosophy and therefore there was no way even by majority vote we had a right to take a position politically that might be counter to the views of our members. we also, and for two decades i was in charge most of the time of our negotiations of the reinstitution of the basic contract with the producers. i discovered, i did not institute it, it was already there, the screen actors grilled -- guild had its own rule, which was the qualities it could be. we stuck to those things.
i had the pleasure after some of those years of negotiating to have the head of one of the studios, who was always very prominent in their negotiating committee, tell me one day that when the guild was first proposed, the idea of an actors guild, he was one who fought the hardest against it. but he said i have come to believe that the screen actors guild is the most constructive force for good in the motion picture industry. but -- william: could you describe briefly the fight with the communists over control of the screen actors guild? pres. reagan: yes. incidentally, i was a new deal democrat fresh out of the war, in uniform. we got out and there had been the afl-cio, they had pledged no strikes. and yet of the 43 guilds and unions in the motion picture
business, most of us were afl-cio unions. and this strike was a jurisdiction strike. it was called over whether some 350 people in the entire picture industry should be members of the stagehands union or members of the trade union. we had that mix. and back from the days of the great strike on broadway in the theater days, there had been a tradition in the picture business to reconcile the differences between stagehands -- what had happened in the theaters in the old days was a stagehand did every thing in the theater, not just ask stage but -- not just backstage but the stage. if a seat needed fixing in the front, he came out like a carpenter and fixed the seat. this had led to the jurisdictional strike on broadway. the settlement finally was that everything behind the proscenium arch was the stagehands, and
everything in front of it belonged to the craft unions -- plumbers, carpenters, so forth. in hollywood, they made the proscenium arch the soundstage door. anything in there stagehands, -- was stagehands, but every studio had mills where they made the set.ions, at the end of the day, you would see the sets for the next day's shooting being wheeled down on rollers down the studio streets, huge sections like a whole wall of this room here, and all of it, into the soundstage. in the soundstage, the stagehands union set erectors put the pieces together, it was then behind the presidium arch. -- the person he him -- the proscenium arch. the issue they picked for this jurisdictional strike was that the set erectors should be carpenters.
carpenters worked in the mail -- in the mill and made those sections and these fellows only put them together. this led to the jurisdictional strike. the then czar of the carpenters union had always had a rivalry with the stagehands. so that was the cause of it. during the war, there had come subversion and infiltration of some of the unions, even some of the afl-cio unions. they had formed a rump group called the hollywood conference of studio unions. this was in contrast to the afl-cio labor council. so they were on one side and we were on the other. i was not prepared -- i was not a red baiter, i was a new deal democrat and i had never gone for all of the stories. i had been told when i got back
by some that there had been this kind of infiltration into the picture business. i was not prepared to believe it. i am the one who made the motion on the board of the guild, i was a board member at the time, not president -- i made the motion that as long as there was this difficulty, that both sides giving a different reason as to why there was a strike, why didn't we, the actors, who were not involved in any way, why didn't we involve management and both factions to sit down at a table with us present, as a labor union, to kind of be the mediator? and to protect against men who had nothing to do with the strike, to sit down and find out -- because we had to tell our members whether to go through the picket lines are not. -- or not. how do you take sides when a lot
of the unions are in the studios and a lot of them are on the street picketing? and the board bought this idea. we invited them. there was great reluctance on the part of the striking unions to join us, but they did not see any way to say no. we met twice a day, it ended up almost seven months. trying to settle these things. but before long, there was no question about it and i was completely converted when i found out that yes, this was not a legitimate strike. i learned it even better when we had made that decision and called a mass meeting of the screen actors for the hollywood legion fight stadium. and it was voted that i was going to report the result of
these meetings to the membership and give them the board's recommendation that we continue to go through the picket lines and honor our contract with the studios. that was to be on a wednesday night. on a monday afternoon, i was on location on a picture we were making on the beach and i was called to the phone at an oil station some distance away. they came and got me and drove me down there. i was told on the phone that if i made that report to the guild membership, there was a squad that would see i would never work in pictures again. and so i made the report to the guild. there were pickets outside the guild meeting and so forth. i had about three quarters of a block walk, where my car was
parked afterwards, and i felt very comfortable when i found that about eight of the teamsters union, all about the size of pro football players, decided they would just walk to the car with me. that, by the time i got back to the studio that day after that call, i had never heard of this in the law enforcement before but the burbank police in which the city was located, the representatives at the studio, the special police, which were the guards of the studio, were assigned to my house for 24 hours a day around-the-clock. and also gave me a permit hung a revolver under my arm and a shoulder holster. that was the beginning of, i
guess you didn't want the whole load on this strike but it went on for a number of months until finally, there was no giving in at all. open withe studios the help of the unions in the management and as long as we were in front of the cameras, there was no way they could stop making pictures. finally, it just was a case of, which we said to the people who were out on strike, get back to the studios the best way you know how. in some of those meetings with them, the strike committee, they were not all communists, i sat and heard union executives of some of the unions speaking to their chairman and saying look, we know the communists have got control of the strike and we've got to get it back in our hands. they were legitimately fooled and they didn't realize. that was the history of it. it was in that that i learned
something that kind of set the stage for me as governor and later on, here. during all those months, there couldn't be times when i said to myself, oh my, to be making these decisions for thousands of actors and actresses whose careers are at stake. i found out that what i recommended they would do -- i decided the only way to sleep at night was to make up my mind that if i did what i honestly believed in my heart was right, and i may make a mistake, but if i honestly believed that was the right thing to do, that is what we would do. when i became governor, i told the cabinet that on any issue that would confront us, i did not want to hear any of the political ramifications of the issue.
i only wanted to hear what was right or wrong for the people, and we would make the decision on that basis, not on a political basis. and i found i do sleep very well. william: if i can ask you one more hollywood question. as an actor, you played many roles. is there anyone role you would have liked to have played but did not get the opportunity to? pres. reagan: oh. i have to tell you, there were many such. once you are in that business and doing it, you see a picture and oh boy, and you find out the things you would do different. but yes, there was one. being under contract with warner bros., a picture called "santa fe trail," i was the second lead, not the star, to errol flynn.
it was a historical picture. he played jeb stewart and i played george custer. and all of the others were there and they had graduated west point into the calvary and it was the story of the capture of john brown. and i played that, and i always loved -- these people would say cowboy actor, good lord, my biggest fight with warner bros. , and i was there 13 years, is that they would not let me do pictures like that. i was doing drawing room comedies and so forth. then they made "they died with their boots on," the story of george custer. i had played him once. i wanted to play that part. i begged, i said i played him once. that part is mine now. but errol flynn played george custer. i didn't get to.
william: commentators and some former presidents have talked of the loneliness of the presidency. and the burdens of the presidency. yet you seem to approach the job with great relish. do you find it lonely or burdensome? how would you describe it? pres. reagan: no, i don't. i surrounded myself with people i have confidence in and believe in. i don't think i sit here all alone and decide everything by myself. as i say, i want to hear everybody's viewpoint. i don't give any indication of where i lean while i hear those viewpoints. i have had cabinet members who were cabinet offers -- officers under other presidents tell me they had never been in cabinet meetings that were as fruitful before. evidently, a lot of presidents just simply use their cabinet as kind of, well, they meet
periodically and different members would report what their departments were doing. the word i have gotten from these others is they never found or were in cabinet meetings where everybody, regardless of whether it affected their particular agency, were involved in the discussion. but no, and maybe again, it was the eight years experience. for many years recently, we have taken our presidents from the ranks of the legislators i think best training, the closest job to being president of the united states is being governor. a legislator is used to being in a group and on a committee and making decisions on a rolling -- voting basis, majority rule. only a governor has sat there and knows that the final say has got to be his or hers.
so maybe that is it. i attribute part of this to that. i don't say it is easy, there are a lot of decisions that after i have heard all of that, and i say the ones where there is so much right on both sides, that are very difficult. but no, i don't have that feeling. william: every day you receive detailed intelligence briefings on the entire world. what information have you received that most shocked or worried you? pres. reagan: well, of course, the greatest shock was the telephone call on a weekend, about 3:00 in the morning, a few of us were at augusta country club, i had never been before, we were down there for a weekend of golf.
it was the word about the bombing of the marines in lebanon. there is no way to describe the horror and grief as the word came in about that. my great concern stems from that same thing, the increased use of terrorism, which we have to believe is backed by some governments. it is so hard to fight because could you could infiltrate andu infiltrate and know in advance what is being planned, there is no way to know where they are going to strike next. retaliate with just outright revenge if you do not
care how much terrorism you caused. but until you know who those individuals are and where they could be reached, i never believed that we had a right to simply go into an area of people who might be of the same general background, and slaughter them in revenge. it's one of the most frustrating causing one of the greatest concerns because you know that you cannot abandon your positions in the world. you cannot withdraw ambassadors and diplomatic staff and so forth, and you cannot let them do that. but you know that all those people out there are at risk every minute. can i ask you for your reaction to two other moments of crisis in your administration. what was your feeling when you decided to send american troops
to grenada? knew reagan: again, you that there was going to be a hazard and that you are endangering the lives. on that same weekend, as the things,n beirut, of all this also awoke us before dawn with a phone call. it seems that the several small island states, those that had or are in the commonwealth of the united kingdom, they had this word of what was going on in grenada. they felt that it was of such importance that action had to be taken. they were all in a union together with grenada, but they knew that they didn't -- some of
them don't even have an army -- they knew they do not have the military strength to do it and made an outright request to us. i did not feel that there was any way that we could, in the face of the evidence that they couldted too, that we turn down that request and ever be trusted or believed and have a place in the free world. there in those before dawn hours on the phone, with george bush on this and and the emergency group assembled -- on this end and with the wergency group assembled, made the decision that we were going to do what they asked. we were going to join. when the chiefs of staff were trusted with putting the mission only onei made
suggestion. i said, when you decide how many it will take, then double it. one we managed to keep a complete secret. and it worked. but i'vee some deaths, never been so proud of anything in my life than i was of those young men in uniform of the four branches of service that were involved. i left this out, i shouldn't have left this out, this was a hours.onsideration of we had 800 young medical students, americans, on that island. and the thought of another hostage situation with 800 young americans, there was no way that we could tolerate that. so, that was the big deciding factor, in addition to the other thing that i said. then, about 400 of them came to on the south lawn.
we had about 40 of the returned servicemen by that time, about 10 each from the four services. to see these young people, and they are all young people, the people in uniform and medical students, those medical students could not keep their hands off them. they said, i never thought much about people in uniform, i always thought they were the rebellious type, but not anymore. they saved our lives. who, ina story of some, their dormitory, there were under the bed for 24 hours with bullets coming through the building. then they said from downstairs they heard a voice and it was an american ranger. he identified himself and called out for them to come down. these were the students telling thethey said, he was there, rangers, to take them to the
helicopters, and they told us that when they went to the helicopters, those young men in uniform put themselves between the students and where any fire would come from. from the hills from the opposition, and literally shielded them with their own bodies and getting them to the helicopters. so, i had a great pride when it but it made me realize one of the presidents who had to ask for a declaration of war, what it meant. >> one other question, what was your reaction when you heard about the below seven being shut down? i'm trying to .hink where i was
you know, i cannot remember exactly where i was. it had disappeared from the radar screen, so there were still some question before the final verification of what had actually happened to it, and that it was gone and the people were dead. course, it was i thoughtn though -- a verified what i believed about the lack of respect for human life that is felt by those in charge of the soviet union. but i was following that, made a statement about an evil empire. william: you did call the soviet union the evil empire. you saw the soviets shoot down and murder an american major.
s you suggested you and mr. grubber cop can work together -- mr. gravitas could work together to achieve peace. are those contradictory positions? pres. reagan: no, i thought that when questions were asked of me about the soviet union, i spoke calmly about what i felt that i knew about them and the fact that they are expansionist, they are aggressive, and they have never with john a retracted the lenin's statement that their mission is a one world communist state. but we have to live in a world together. thereeve the only way will be world war iii is if the soviet union wants a war. if they want peace, there will be peace because no one else wants a war. we certainly don't.
i have never known of a war and my lifetime that we started. think that it is necessary that we face each other. we know they don't like our system, russia, we don't like their system. see if we can get along in air world. as i say, they are the only ones who can cause a war. do you expect to be meeting with -- >> do you expect to be meeting with mr. gorbachev? we have had: expressed since that they are willing. the ball is in their court. we have invited and we are ready when they are. but it's necessary for them to know that we don't have any illusions about them. at the same time, we are ready to exist in the world with them.
it's time that we sat down and found out that just found out where the parameters are. william: you noted the other day that the soviets spent $500 million to prop -- prop up the nicaragua.ime in the house has refused to commit even $14 million to help freedom fighters. to have you not been able convince the people that the cause is the right cause? part of itn: i think is the sophisticated disinformation campaign apparatus that the communist bloc has worldwide. to where they have been able to confuse many of our people. use, and irms we wish we hadn't, i wish we would start doing something i will do from here on. if we had referred to the not to the congress,
but as the freedom fighters, these are nicaraguans fighting for freedom against a communist take over. terms, pollsthose have revealed that a lot of our moste out there, you know, people are not fully aware of the countries in central america, who they are, what they are, and so forth. people are not quite sure what side we are on or what is at stake. after vietnam, there is a holdover vietnam syndrome. there is a feeling that this is the united states sticking her nose into something that is none of our business. but when you ask them about do you want cuban and the mainland of the americans, then the people say, no, they don't want that.
part of it is the disinformation and we have not overcome it. but also our lack of outright explanation. we found, after i made that one speech on nicaragua, on the air, there was a great turnaround. but that was one speech. the disinformation kept on and on. it away andy wore it gradually went back to the people. thinking they were doing the wrong thing in nicaragua. william: what's the significance -- >> last question. william: pardon me? >> last questions. two questions. william: ok, i will make them good. we can do what we did in 1981. if i can read them and if he can get to you in the next couple of days to do those. pres. reagan: that's fine. i would be very happy to.
digest."en "reader's william: your first accomplishment in 1981 was to push through a huge tax cut, now you are fighting for revamping an entire tax bill. when did you first start thinking about disgraceful inequities in the tax system? pres. reagan: i have always believed in those and always will for a lot of years. i think it has gotten so out of line, so complicated. i thought that most of our people, or many of our people discussed that the tax system was not based on the size of the tax, but on the complication, the confusion of it. 1981 we were faced with the emergency of the recession and what had to be done, so we cannot think reform. if you remember in talking about
our first tax program, many times we said, this is only the first stage, this is not the end. what we wanted to come back with was a reform that could make it , so that, more simple has been on our minds from the very beginning. william: one last question, then i will leave the extra questions with pat. it has been four years since you were shot. attempt on your life changed your life and the way you look at things? pres. reagan: i don't know whether it's changed my life or not, i always was a pretty good boy about minding the security people when they told me not to go there and not to go there. it has changed my life physically in a number of ways. now that coupled with the terrorist thing. with the terrorist thing there are things i cannot do anymore
and i recognize it. for example, we cannot go to church, and i miss that. but i recognize it's not just me. i am a threat to other people. thati go to someplace like with the various terrorist practices, car bombs, and something like that, i could be responsible for the lives of a lot of people. i am reconciled to that. thing, that shooting, i went all the way to the hospital and walked into the emergency room on my own not knowing i had been shot. i was shot in midair. when the secret service -- with the secret service behind me. i thought it was firecrackers and i just finished saying what the heck was that. i was grabbed and thrown in the doors open. as it turns out, i was shot on the way in.
the bullet came through the gap between the door, they hinge gap between the door and the side of the car. they showed me the bullet after they got it out and it was flattened out and covered in black plane -- black paint. what is his secret service practice. he dived into the car on top of me to shield me. it was then for the first time i felt pain.i always assumed that after all those movies you grabbed yourself and fell down. i always thought you felt it when it hit you. it can it. it was after he landed on me. i thought he had done it. the only thing i could reconcile was that he must've broken my ribs. i told him, get off. and he did very quickly. the door closed and we were moving. back.t, sit i said, i can't, it hurts too
much. by this time i had sat up. suddenly i coughed and i had a handful of blood. as i said, i must've broken or punctured my lungs. but this time we were -- by this time he was saying george washington hospital. i used up my handkerchief and then i used up his and continued coughing. i had a scare because it seemed to me i was getting less air every time i breathe been. but it wasn't until they peeled me, because there was no great flow of blood on the outside. then it was explained. because when they found it back here, it was a narrowed splint of a flattened bullet that when in edgewise and then it stopped short of the heart.
after the time of recovery -- i feel self-conscious famous -- self-conscious saying this, i had a feeling that whatever was left in time for me belonged to somebody else. william: thank you, mr. president. thank you very much. [laughter] william: thank you, sir. good to see you again. thank you. >> from george washington to george w. bush. every sunday at 8:00 p.m. and
midnight eastern, we feature the presidency. a weekly series exploring the presidents, the politics, their policies and legacies. american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> next on the presidency. satbbc's godfrey hodgkins downward president ronald reagan in the spring of 1998, late in the second term. this wide-ranging oval office conversation, the president talked about his work to restore the economy after he first came to office, his vision for u.s.-soviet relations and arms control, the iran-contra controversy, and the assassination attempt that left him seriously wounded. the ronald reagan presidential library provided this video. y: mr. president, can you recall your feelings when you took the oath of office for the first time? pres. reagan: it won't be