Opinion

Hollywood besmirches Ronald Reagan again

Wonder Woman 1984's president is unrecognizable

Wonder Woman 1984 tries hard to establish visual verisimilitude with the titular year, from cars to clothes. This effort is most obvious — and most successful — with a big set piece early in the film. The Amazonian princess stops a heist that's taking place inside a mall. Nothing says the 1980s in cinematic shorthand like scenes of teenage girls with big hair walking past an Orange Julius and Waldenbooks.

Too bad, then, that director and co-writer Patty Jenkins was less successful in accurately depicting the towering American political figure of the era, President Ronald Reagan. Now, the American president portrayed by Stuart Milligan isn't specifically identified as Reagan. But the elderly, dark-haired unnamed "president of the United States" gives a strong Reagan vibe. While Jenkins might want to keep viewers guessing if it's really the Gipper — especially in these politically polarized times — it's the Gipper.

Well, at least the left's version of Reagan. You know, the reckless warmonger who was almost eager for nuclear conflict to put a final end to the Soviet menace. Reagan the avuncular mad bomber. When "the president of the United States" is given the chance to make a singular wish that will come true, he wishes for "more nuclear" weapons to force the Soviets to "listen to us." And since the entire film is a hoary riff on the famous "The Monkey's Paw" story where wishes are granted at only great cost, Reagan's nukes almost start a global war.

Wonder Woman's reality is supposed to be our reality. Well, our reality plus superpeople. Yet Jenkins presents a warped, mirror-universe Reagan who holds the exact opposite view on nuclear weapons than that of the genuine article. If the real Reagan had been somehow magically given a wish to change the world, he more likely would have chosen to completely abolish nuclear weapons. He hated the things.

For instance: Reagan's space-based "Star Wars" missile defense program — formally known as the Strategic Defense Initiative — was born out of his long-time dissatisfaction with the dangerous stalemate of "mutually assured destruction." Not long after Reagan announced the SDI program in March 1983, Reagan said "a sigh of relief would go up from everyone on this earth if someday — and this is what I have — my hope, way in the back of my head — is that if we start down the road to reduction, maybe one day in doing that, somebody will say, 'Why not all the way? Let's get rid of all these things.'" He especially worried about the risk of accidental war, and rightly so. In September 1983, the Soviet Union came dangerously close to ordering a retaliatory nuclear strike after a faulty satellite warning system signaled a first-strike U.S. attack.

This wasn't just typical politician rhetoric from Reagan, perhaps to appease voters who worried he was too bellicose toward the Soviet Union. Reagan proposed to eliminate all nuclear weapons when he met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at their 1986 summit in Reykjavík, Iceland. (A possible agreement fell apart when Reagan wouldn't accept Gorbachev's demand that he, effectively, kill SDI.) In 2005's Ronald Reagan and His Quest to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, arms control expert Paul Lettow documents Reagan's lifelong loathing of nuclear weapons and the Cold War's "balance of terror" between the U.S. and USSR. Lettow writes of the alarm that some Reagan advisers expressed at having an American president "obsessed with peace." But the president was unmoved, "I have a dream," he told hardline adviser General Edward Rowny. "I have a dream of a world without nuclear weapons. I want our children and grandchildren particularly to be free of these weapons."

Reagan saw his military build-up as a means to an end. He wanted the Soviets to see the nuclear arms race as futile against the richer and more technologically advanced United States. Lettow argues that Reagan saw abolishing nuclear weapons and winning the Cold War as closely linked. But with a magic wish, movie Reagan could have cut straight to the no-nukes endgame.

To portray Reagan as a nuke obsessive would be like an alt-history film where FDR urges peace with the Axis or Trump uses the presidency to fight a Satan-worshipping "deep state." Even a comic book movie with an immortal, invulnerable, flying superhero shouldn't require that level of suspension of belief from audiences.

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