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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: Lessons from the tragedy of KAL 007

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  • On September 1, 1983,  Korean Airlines flight No. 007 strayed into the airspace of the Soviet Union, and was shot down by a Soviet fighter with the loss of all of those on board.
    While there has never been any evidence, then or now, that the Soviets were fully aware that it was simply a commercial airliner off course and not a reconnaissance plane,  that fact did not stop most of the U.S. political class from going ballistic about this tragic incident.
    President Ronald Reagan delivered an angry, impassioned speech to the nation about the tragedy, and most U.S. politicians and journalists engaged in quite inflammatory rhetoric as well.
    The great American political thinker Richard M. Weaver used to say,  “Ideas have consequences." They do indeed, and so does inflammatory rhetoric.
    From Nov. 7-11, 1983, NATO conducted an exercise called “Able Archer.” This exercise was a simulation of a Soviet nuclear attack on Western Europe. In the poisonous, distrustful state of U.S.-Soviet relations in the aftermath of the KAL 007 disaster, the Soviets came to believe “Able Archer” was a cover for a U.S. nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.
    The Soviet Union put all of its nuclear forces on the highest possible alert; there were several instances when Soviet warning systems indicated that a U.S. attack was under way — fortunately, the Soviets decided to ignore these warnings.
    Historians of the Cold War are unanimous in saying the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and the “Able Archer” case of 1983 are the two instances in the Cold War when the world came closest to nuclear war.
    When President Reagan learned of the near disaster of “Able Archer,” he was stunned and sobered. A few days later, on Nov. 20, 1983, the president along with 100 million other Americans watched the grim movie “The Day After” about a hypothetical nuclear attack on Kansas City.
    The president resolved to end the dangerous U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff, and when Mikhail Gorbachev became premier of the Soviet Union in the spring of 1985, Reagan quickly launched a campaign to peacefully negotiate an end to the Cold War.
    It is instances like this that make Reagan a great US President. I stress that I did not vote for him either time, so I have no stake in how history sees him.
    Specifically, he had the all-too-rare ability among statesmen to learn from his mistakes and to correct them. I mention this case because, once again, a civilian airliner has been shot down killing all those on board. Here again, there is no evidence that whoever is responsible for the destruction of this airliner knowingly shot down a civilian plane.
    But, that fact has not stopped all-too-many people in the U.S. political class from engaging in over-the-top attacks on Russia for this tragic incident. A lot of these individuals are citing Reagan’s speech on the KAL disaster — contrasting Reagan’s “toughness” with what they claim is the “weakness” of the Obama administration in foreign policy.
    Page 2 of 2 - They are conveniently forgetting that after the near disaster of “Able Archer” Reagan came to regret that speech. Reagan was a great president because he could learn from his mistakes — it is a most damning indictment of his so-called “followers” that they cannot do so as well.

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