Ronald Reagan, “We’re on the Frontier of Freedom”

“We’re on the Frontier of Freedom.”

by Scott L. Vanatter

In the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House Reagan spoke on February 10, 1987 to the Annual Leadership Conference of the American Legion (February 10, 1987).

In various settings Reagan often told humorous stories. This time he did not disappoint. To kick off his remarks, he told the story of a poor messenger who arrived at full gallop, and had to stop on a dime to deliver his message.

“Back in the thirties, when there was a citizen military training program, and then every summer they’d have a couple of weeks of camp and a military maneuver or war game, and usually some brass from Washington would be invited to come out and lend prestige to it. And I was getting a commission in the Cavalry Reserve at Fort Des Moines at that time. Over at Fort Omaha was the summer affair and the battle and all, and we had horse cavalry then. And the commanding officer at Fort Omaha and the visiting general from Washington were standing there and someone sent a young reserve lieutenant, horse-mounted, over with a message. And he went over with a splash. He came in there full speed, pulled up the horse. The horse must have had a sore mouth because he put on the brakes on all four feet, and he somersaulted right over the head of the horse— [laughter] —landed on his feet holding the reins, and was facing the two generals. [Laughter] So, he snapped to salute, and the general from Washington very slowly and deliberately, as he returned the salute, said to the commanding officer: “Does he always dismount like that?” [Laughter] . . .

After a bit of humor, the President got right into one of his core messages. “Was a weaker America a safer America?” he answered his own question. “Well, Teddy Roosevelt reminded us long ago that the cry of the weakling counts for little in the move toward peace, but the call of a just man armed is potent.”

Staring Soviet Communism in the face, metaphorically, his whole time as president, Reagan told the story of a soldier who literally stared Communist North Korea in the face. “I was over on the parallel in Korea, the demilitarized zone over there. And a young fellow standing up there in the cold and looking out over the no-man’s-land to the other side and he just turned to me, and he said, ‘When you get home,’ he said, ‘tell them we’re on the frontier of freedom.’”

The following year Reagan told the same story and punctuated it with the idea that we, as Americans, also are also on the “frontier of freedom.”

Reagan goes on to put defense cuts in concrete, personal terms, in a way that we can understand. Especially as we consider those of our countrymen we have not well supported in Libya. “So often those who oppose defense spending don’t think about it in human terms. Those youngsters out on the aircraft carriers and the submarines and destroyers, our Army and Air Force personnel in Korea and Germany, the Marines in Okinawa and with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean—they depend on us every bit as much as we depend on them. We made a promise that they’d have the first-class equipment and weapons they need to do their job and come home safely. And the budget is not going to be balanced at the expense of their safety and America’s security.” He stood firm protecting those who protect us.

Having completed much of his eight years as president, he could confidently declare that which he had been speaking on for at least 30 years. “Today, clearly, history is on the side of the free. In our own hemisphere we’ve witnessed an historic expansion of democracy…. And throughout the Third World, the failure of socialism is becoming increasingly evident.”

Not only that, but he foresaw, “The despotism and atheism of communism have even spurred resistance movements that are threatening Soviet colonial regimes…. It’s both in our national interest and consistent with our traditions as a free people to assist these brave souls who are struggling for their freedom and national independence. That’s especially true when it comes to those fighting Soviet-backed tyranny.”

Click here to see the full transcript of this important speech.

Please see below for key excerpts.

HUMOR

Back in the thirties, when there was a citizen military training program, and then every summer they’d have a couple of weeks of camp and a military maneuver or war game, and usually some brass from Washington would be invited to come out and lend prestige to it. And I was getting a commission in the Cavalry Reserve at Fort Des Moines at that time. Over at Fort Omaha was the summer affair and the battle and all, and we had horse cavalry then. And the commanding officer at Fort Omaha and the visiting general from Washington were standing there and someone sent a young reserve lieutenant, horse-mounted, over with a message. And he went over with a splash. He came in there full speed, pulled up the horse. The horse must have had a sore mouth because he put on the brakes on all four feet, and he somersaulted right over the head of the horse— [laughter] —landed on his feet holding the reins, and was facing the two generals. [Laughter] So, he snapped to salute, and the general from Washington very slowly and deliberately, as he returned the salute, said to the commanding officer: “Does he always dismount like that?” [Laughter] . . .

WEAKER, SAFER

Was a weaker America a safer America? . . . Well, Teddy Roosevelt reminded us long ago that the cry of the weakling counts for little in the move toward peace, but the call of a just man armed is potent. Well, to put Teddy in modern terms: Speak softly, but keep the battleship Iowa close at hand. [Laughter] . . .

THE FRONTIER OF FREEDOM

I was over on the parallel in Korea, the demilitarized zone over there. And a young fellow standing up there in the cold and looking out over the no-man’s-land to the other side and he just turned to me, and he said, “When you get home,” he said, “tell them we’re on the frontier of freedom.” And it happens everyplace. So often those who oppose defense spending don’t think about it in human terms. Those youngsters out on the aircraft carriers and the submarines and destroyers, our Army and Air Force personnel in Korea and Germany, the Marines in Okinawa and with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean—they depend on us every bit as much as we depend on them. We made a promise that they’d have the first-class equipment and weapons they need to do their job and come home safely. And the budget is not going to be balanced at the expense of their safety and America’s security. . . .

TEDDY

We take this job seriously because we know the truth of some other words that Teddy Roosevelt spoke. He said: “If we’re to be a really great people, we must strive in good faith to play a great part in the world. We cannot avoid meeting great issues.” Well, this, of course, is even more true of us today. And while such a burden is never easy or cheap, there are many reasons for optimism as we look ahead. A decade ago freedom was in retreat. And now with America’s military strength rebuilt, our national confidence restored, and our alliances reinvigorated, there has been a dramatic turn in world affairs. It’s significant that during these last 6 years not 1 square inch of territory has been lost to communism. And one small country, Grenada, has been restored to the family of free nations. . . .

HISTROY IS ON THE SIDE OF THE FREE

Today, clearly, history is on the side of the free. In our own hemisphere we’ve witnessed an historic expansion of democracy. Ninety percent of the people of the Americas now live in democratic countries or countries in transition to democracy. And throughout the Third World, the failure of socialism is becoming increasingly evident. . . .

The despotism and atheism of communism have even spurred resistance movements that are threatening Soviet colonial regimes…. It’s both in our national interest and consistent with our traditions as a free people to assist these brave souls who are struggling for their freedom and national independence. That’s especially true when it comes to those fighting Soviet-backed tyranny…. We must not and will not abandon them. . . .

VIGILANT IN PRESERVING FREEDOM

General Douglas MacArthur, a leader I deeply respected, is said to have written that no man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation and vigorous in its defense. Well, it’s all up to us now. We are the heirs of MacArthur, Pershing, Jefferson, and Washington-and of those Americans who put their lives on the line from Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, from Normandy to Khe Sanh. We will be vigilant in the preservation of freedom and vigorous in its defense because we will not let down those who came before us or those who will follow.