Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

September 26, 1984

The President. Thank you. My good friend, Del Latta, and fellow Congressmen who are here, Ralph Regula and Mike Oxley, the administration, the faculty, and you, the students of Bowling Green State:

It's an understatement for me to say at this moment that it's great to be here. I know I'm at the home of the Falcons, your NCAA championship hockey team, and your football team. And I've had greetings, personal greetings from the coach of your women's hockey team and your basketball coach, and I want to congratulate you again on beating the "Miami Whammy."

You know, your generation is really something. You've made love of country fashionable again. You've revived the American traditions of hard work and decency and a good-natured faith in the future. And I just thank you for helping turn our country around.

I want to talk to you about something that I know concerns all of you—peace-and the prospects for peace, our views on peace, and how we mean to achieve it. The wisest thing ever said about peace was also the simplest. It was when Pope Paul VI spoke before the United Nations in 1965, and he said, "No more war—war never again."

I have seen four wars in my lifetime. I've lost friends in those wars and the sons of friends. I've gone to school with the children of men who are still over there under those white crosses. We can't hear the words of Pope Paul VI without saying a heartfelt amen.

But how to achieve peace? Well, first we must define exactly what it is we want. In our case, we in the United States passionately desire peace with our neighbors, our allies, our adversaries.

With our neighbors and allies, we've made ourselves open to dialog and eager to be of assistance. When a NATO ally is having problems, we discuss it with them. We try to help them or make some compromise, if that's what's called for. When our Caribbean neighbors tell us that peace is threatened in that peaceful part of the world, we have helped by rooting out the warmakers, as we did in Grenada. And we try to be what Franklin Roosevelt declared us to be—a good neighbor.

To our adversaries, too, we must remain open. But there, an additional element is called for—firmness—so that our adversaries neither miscalculate our responses nor misjudge our resolve. So much woe has been caused by miscalculation, and so many wars. World War I, the war of my early boyhood, can be described as one long miscalculation. It's been called the war no one wanted.

Well, I believe that during the past few years we've once again shown our firmness and steadiness. And this has had a stabilizing effect on the world. Peace will not move forward unless effort is extended and ideas are put forth. And, so, we've made proposals for peace and put them on the table for all the world to see.

We have, to begin with, put forth one of the most extensive arms control programs in history. In Vienna, last spring, we put forward new proposals on reducing the conventional military forces in Europe. In Geneva, we put forward ideas for a worldwide ban on chemical weapons which have been used in Afghanistan and Kampuchea.

At the Conference on Disarmament in Stockholm—a series of proposals to help reduce the possibility of world conflict. Also, in arms reduction talks in Geneva, we proposed deep cuts in both U.S. and Soviet intercontinental nuclear forces and intermediate-range missiles. And during those START and INF talks—you know that START means the strategic nuclear missiles and the INF means the intermediate-range missiles that the Soviets have targeted on the countries of Europe—we proposed seven different initiatives, trying to meet their queries and their protests on some of the issues. None of them were offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. We were flexible. But the Soviets walked away from the bargaining table. We hope they'll return. We've told them this, and we'll tell them again. As a matter of fact, on Friday I'll be telling one of them again.

We're prepared to negotiate on nuclear arms reductions tomorrow if the Soviets so choose. I have had the privilege of appearing before the parliaments, the diets, the congresses of a number of countries in Europe and in Asia. And in every instance, I told them at one point or other in my address, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Now, we're ready to discuss a whole range of issues of concern to both sides, such as the relationship between offensive and defensive forces and space arms control. We've made new economic agreements with the Soviets. We've improved the communications instruments that link our Capital and theirs. In the meantime, we must consider what will make our defense, our ability to deter aggression, more stable and effective.

We work hard with our friends and allies to see that they feel safe and secure. And we work with scientists on the possibility of a nonnuclear defense system to see if it isn't possible to create a system that will neutralize the nuclear threat rather than rely on the threat of nuclear retaliation as our main option. And we continue to reach out to those with whom we have not been friends before.

Logic and experience might suggest that China would not be our friend, but China is. And our mutual friendship may be the most significant global achievement in the last decade. It shows our willingness to improve relations with countries that are ideologically very different from our own. And the impact of this friendship has a rippling effect. Here at Bowling Green, you have an exchange program with Fudan University in Shanghai, China. Well, I met the Fudan students a few months ago in Shanghai. And they desire peace every bit as much as we do. I did a question-and-answer session with them. You'd be surprised how much they wanted to know about you.

The world is a dangerous place. We try to be a good neighbor, but we must be strong enough and confident enough to be patient when provoked. But we must be equally clear that past a certain point, our adversaries push us at their peril. Uncle Sam is a friendly old man, but he has a spine of steel.

To give peace a chance to grow and settle in, we must remain strong. Our military strength is one part an illustration of our resolve and one part a means of deterring aggression. There is great talk these past few years of the lessons of this war or that and what we should have learned here or there. Well, we should remember the central lesson of World War II. Our allies tried very hard for peace, to the point of outright appeasement. If only they'd shown Germany early on that they would pay any price and bear any burden to ensure the survival of their liberties, then Britain might not have known the blitz and Dresden might not have known the flames.

From our earliest years, our Presidents have stressed the crucial role of strength in promoting stability. George Washington said, "There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well-prepared to meet a foe." He said we should remember that "timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it."

Closer to our own times, John Kennedy said: "The primary purpose of our arms is peace, not war. Our preparation against danger is our hope of safety."

Well, we live in the age of nuclear arms, and the question of what to do about nuclear weapons is deeply frustrating for Americans. We're a nation of problem-solvers. And here we are faced with a problem that, so far, has resisted our best efforts.

Some propose unilateral disarmament: We disarm in the hope the other side will follow. Well, there are great saints and great sinners among us. Historically, unilateral disarmament has never worked; it has only encouraged aggressors.

It's frustrating, but here is the truth of the nuclear age: There are no cheap solutions, no easy answers. The only path to progress on this is the open door, the honest proposal, and such a path takes patience. But patience isn't inappropriate. Each day the world turns completely. Each day the world is reborn. Possibilities that yesterday didn't exist emerge and startle us.

We hold on. We remain prepared for peace. We know that we have an absolute moral obligation to try and try again. We know that in the quest for peace the work of man is the work of God. And He will bless us, and bless one of our efforts and make our prayer of peace come true.

I've heard there's a fellow going around the country that says that I don't answer questions. [Laughter] And I understand that now I'm going to have an opportunity to answer some questions, so fire away.

Student Moderator. [Inaudible]—earlier this morning, we randomly selected 14 students to participate in the question-and-answer session. And we simply passed out 3-by -5 cards and then drew 14 names. So, the first question will come from this side.

The President. All right.

Central America

Q. My name is Lisa Mecca, Mr. President. I'm a senior. I'd like to know if you feel that the current turmoil in Central America has a possibility of turning into another Vietnam?

The President. No, I don't believe that. We have never had any thought in mind of armed aggression in there or of moving troops. As a matter of fact, with the memories of days gone by and gunboat diplomacy, our friends and neighbors in Latin America would be the first to say no to that. And they have—all of them—said to us, "We need your help; that is, in training and in supplies and so forth, but not your manpower. We'll provide that." And I have the greatest faith. We have seen after 400 years of mostly military dictatorships, now a democratic government in El Salvador. We, at the same time, have seen by outside interference-the Cubans and the Soviets—a totalitarian power on the mainland of the Americas: Nicaragua.

The revolutionary forces, the Sandinistas, were only a part of the revolution that overthrew the dictator, Somoza. All who wanted democracy joined together. And then the Sandinistas did what Castro did when he took Cuba. They, once they were in, they got rid of the other elements of the revolution. They exiled them, they jailed them. Many of them are now what we call the contras. And they gave their promises, however, during the revolution, to the Organization of American States that they wanted democracy, human rights, the right to vote, the right to join unions, freedom of the press, and so forth. But once in, they took over, and they have a totalitarian form of government. And they are also aiding the people who are trying to overthrow the democratic Government of El Salvador. And we have been trying to be helpful, but it is not at the risk of our intervening there with military force.

I better answer these shorter, or I won't get all 14.

Oh! [Laughter] You see how difficult it is for me to turn to the left. [Laughter]

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Q. Mr. President, Dave Biesiada. What do you hope to accomplish, or what is your specific goal that you hope to accomplish with Mr. Gromyko of the Soviet Union?

The President. It is my hope that while we have met a number of times—I mean, our people—and have been in contact and all, that maybe we can open up a dialog about the suspicions that exist in both our countries: they charging that we intend war against them, we feel—and I think with better reason—that they really do have aggressive intent against us; but maybe a chance to open up a discussion and clear the air somewhat of those suspicions and then decide that here we are, the two superpowers in the world, the only two powers that can really bring about peace, or that if we don't, can bring about world destruction. And it's time for us to sit down together and recognize our joint responsibility.

Security at U.S. Embassies Abroad

Q. Hello, Mr. President. My name is Peggie Fitzpatrick, and I'd like to thank you for coming to Bowling Green State University and giving me this chance to present my question to you. I'd like to know if you think that you're going to have to beef up security in the Embassies around the world because of what happened in Lebanon?

The President. Yes, we're going to have to do everything we can to beef up security, and yet, let me call to your attention what the real choice comes down to. Is there any security that can make you 100-percent safe against a suicide who is intent on bringing in that destruction at the cost of his own life, as they have done in these bomb-type explosions? Remember, an Embassy is not a bunker. You can't build a fortress and hunker down. You are there to do business with the people of that country.

This last tragedy occurred at an Embassy building that is on a residential street. Now, we have put blocks up at the corners of that particular block there to try and slow down and cheek on vehicles coming through. But we can't close off the street. It isn't our country and there are, as I say, people living there.

The real protection, and where we're feeling the effects today of the near destruction of our intelligence capability in recent years—before we came here, the effort that somehow to say, well, spying is somehow dishonest and let's get rid of our intelligence agents, and we did that to a large extent. Your biggest protection is to-and we're trying to-rebuild our intelligence to where you'll find out and know in advance what the target might be and be prepared for it.

But again, I have to say this for our Foreign Service personnel: they know their mission, they know they have to be there. Such courage. They're not in uniform, they're not fighting people, but their courage-because the other alternative would be to simply close down our Embassies worldwide and come back here to fortress America and have no representation there. And that, we cannot do. That would give the terrorists a victor), that we're not going to give them, and I don't think anyone should.

Q. Hi, Mr. President. My name is Becky Holtzscher, and I'd just like to say you look great.

The President. Well, thank you.

U.S.-Soviet Relations

Q. Do you feel that the people of the United States and of the Soviet Union have a common goal in the meaning of the word peace?

The President. With regard to peace?

Q. Yes.

The President. Yes, with regard to the people. Unfortunately, the two societies are so different that the people of the Soviet Union only hear what their leaders want them to hear. We try, with Voice of America and a few things, and know that we have some listeners in those countries, although they have to probably go to the basement and pull all the blinds before they can listen to our radio. [Laughter] But the people of Russia, above all, want peace.

They lost 20 million people in World War II. Their country has been invaded time after time, even before the Soviet regime. And there is a real built-in desire on their part for peace. And we know that we want it. We want it because peace in America is such an attractive way to live—[laughing]-that a war is a terrible interruption.

One of the things we would like would be to have more of an exchange of people so that, person to person, Ivan could meet Sam and Bill and Johnny over here, and vice versa. And we could learn more about each other as people.

The Nation's Economy

Q. Mr. President, I'm Dan McFarland, a junior here. I'd like to know if you foresee a continued growth in the economic recovery.

The President. Do I foresee growth, continued growth?

Q. Yes.

The President. Yes, as long as we can continue with the help of people like Del Latta, whose name was on there with Phil Gramm on the Gramm-Latta bill, which was our economic recovery.

We've had opposition to that in the Congress. My own degree was in economics, so I can speak harshly about economists- [laughter] —and their predictions that have been wrong. But back around the turn of the century, it was a classical economic belief that when we had business cycles and had what they called hard times in those days—no one had thought of the word recession or depression—the classic economists at that time said that it usually followed when the Government went beyond a certain level in the amount of money it took out of the private sector. Well, I believe that our problem today—the problem-we talk about the problem of the deficit, but the deficit is a result, not a cause. It is the result of the Government taking too much money from the private sector.

The philosophy of our program is a reduction in the cost of government. So far we have cut the increase in cost in government in half or more and, at the same time that through continued economic recovery-with a tax policy that offers stimulant to people, incentive to people to go out and produce, to business also—that then the growth in the economy will increase the revenues the Government gets without increasing the rate of tax on the individuals. And thus we will have continued growth, because we will bring government back down to size.

Q. Thank you.

Views on the Presidency

Q. Good morning, Mr. President. I'm Jeff Frederick, and I'd like to know, when you're out of office, what do you want the American people to remember most about your Presidency?

The President. Hmm. [Laughter] You know if I could sum it up in one sentence-there could be very complicated answers to that. One sentence, though, that would sum it up is: If they'd just be able to say I gave the Government back to the people. [Applause]

Thank you.

Advice to Students

Q. Good morning, sir. Sir, my name's Robert McLaughlin. I'm a senior member of the U.S. Army National Guard. And my question isn't in regard to foreign policy, it's, what advice do you have for the college students gathered here today?

The President. What advice for the college students gathered here today?

Q. Yes, sir.

The President. Well, first of all, to believe in yourselves and believe in—well, you expressed your belief in the answer I just gave to that other question—but to recognize that system—the Founding Fathers were a unique group that came together in one period of history—and this system was built on the belief, for the first time in the history of mankind, that government derived its power from the people.

There are other constitutions that say a lot of the same things ours do, make the same promises ours do, except the difference is so great it's almost unobserved. Those other constitutions say we, the government, grant you these rights. Ours says we, the people, grant government the following rights.

Remember that over this last half century where we've gotten in the habit of turning more and more to government for help, every time you get help from government you must give up a certain element of freedom. Now, sometimes it's worth it. We give up the right to drive 90 miles down a crowded street—90-miles-an-hour—because we wanted safety for ourselves and others.

But always weigh government's offer, and remember that the system was built to be run on the level of government closest to the people: the local community for so much of what controls our lives, then the counties and the States, and finally, only those things should be done by the Federal Government that are the Federal Government's proper province. And when it does things it shouldn't do, it can't do any of them as well as the private sector can do them.


Q. Mr. President, my name is Scott Jacob, and my question is, what steps are the administration presently taking to help mediate a peaceful solution in Lebanon?

The President. We have been trying for a long time—and that was 'even part of our marines being there in the first place, part of the multinational force. Lebanon, as we know, for a number of years, more than a decade, has been torn in revolution. And it has factions in which the leaders have their own militias, their own military throughout the country. But then we've had the invasion by other countries. The Israelis felt justified in going in when they did because the Palestinian refugees were using their position in Lebanon to launch terrorist attacks across the Israeli border.

What we're trying to do is negotiate between Syria, between Libya—or, not Libya—between Lebanon and the Israelis, at the same time that we try to bring the influence of the other Arab States to bear in there. And we've made great progress with that.

Right now, our Ambassador Murphy is there. He is commuting between Beirut and Damascus and Tel Aviv. And we've had, before him, several other representatives. And they all want our presence there.

I proposed a plan in September of '82 that, basically, to get down to—if we can mediate and help bring about the kind of peace between Israel and the Arab States that was brought between Israel and Egypt, one of those states—in other words, have more Egypts—then we can bring peace to the Middle East. And that is the underlying problem, the reluctance of the Arab States to recognize the right of Israel to even exist as a nation. And this we're going to continue to try to do.

We brought our marines out after the terrorist attacks actually because they had only been sent in, the multinational force, as a peacekeeping force while we helped Lebanon restore its government, which was nonexistent—and they have a government now—help train their military. And we had the hope that then they could begin to take over those parts of the country now held by these militias that I spoke of, and the multinational force would be there behind the lines to maintain order.

Well, with the conflict that came up, that peacekeeping force, or chore, was no longer viable or practical. And that's why we came home.

Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Student Moderator. Mr. President, there will be one final question.

The President. What?

Student Moderator. I said there will be one final question.

The President. Is this the last one? All 14? I haven't been counting.

Steel Industry

Q. Mr. President, my name is Lori Smith, and I'm a senior. And I'm honored to be speaking to you right now. My question is: What was the basis for your recent decision not to impose barriers to foreign steel, and what do you feel will be the effect on the U.S. steel industry?

The President. Well, the U.S. steel industry is doing a job of rebuilding at the management level. Labor has contributed by taking some cuts in the previous standards that they had in pay and benefits and so forth. But the problem has been there is an overproduction of steel in the world. Everyone seems to want to be in that business. And a number of the countries have made us a dumping ground for steel. And they do this by subsidizing the cost, so that it can be sold at a competitive price here, against our own producers.

Now, those who advocated protectionism, quotas, shutting down, high tariffs, and so forth, that's a two-way street. And it is counterproductive. If we had established this on steel, then those other countries would have retaliated by, for example, shutting down on our agricultural products.

We were able to find out that we would destroy more jobs in America than we would protect by the protectionist thing. But we haven't just said we're not going to do anything. We are now embarked on a program of dealing with our industrial partners and others in the world that are sending steel here, to make sure that it cannot be subsidized, it cannot be dumped on our market. And we're going to try to work out—we want free trade, but we want fair trade—so we have a program that is at work right now, and the steel industry is satisfied with it. They believe that this is giving them the breathing space they need to continue their modernization.

We were victims of some of our own generosity. After World War II, when we went out with the Marshall plan to help countries restore their industrial capacity, why, they built on the basis of the latest technology in the field. Well, we still had old-fashioned mills, and so forth, that had not come up and modernized, and then under the competition, they couldn't earn enough money to modernize. So, sometimes our opponents have our technology, modern means of production, and we haven't caught up.

Now, the steel industry is doing that and believes that they're—in fact, before I leave your State, I'm going to be visiting, at Canton, the Timken plant that is— [applause] . They have invested what amounts to a full third of their total capital capacity in this new plant and this new technology and, believe me, it won't have to worry about competition from anyone. It can hold its own.

So, this was the reason. Every time we've tried protectionism, it's a two-way street, and it ends up with us hurting ourselves and, in fact, hurting the whole world economy recovery. So, that isn't the answer.

I'm a veteran. I was looking for my first job back in the Great Depression, in 1932. And that worldwide depression really was prolonged and brought on by a thing called the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which thought that through a kind of general protectionism we could help ourselves, and we didn't. The only thing that finally ended the Great Depression was World War II, and I don't think that's a very good way of ending recessions or depressions.

Q. Thank you very much.

The President. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the university's Memorial Hall. Following his remarks, he attended separate receptions with students and faculty and also with local Republican leaders. He then traveled to Canton, OH.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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