Ronald Reagan is dead.

He died today.

To me, he was the last leader of the Free World. Sure, Bush was president when the wall fell, but he was just tending the shop for the Gipper. Ronny Raygun. The Cowboy. America's greatest gambit, all wrapped up in one smiling icon. Ronald Reagan, never the leader of my country, has become my mental personalization of the 1980s. All the garish, neon, coke-snorting die tomorrow greed and excess and pizzazz. Over it all the Old Man watched, like a Sheriff in one of those old black and white westerns. A smiling face with his hand on the trigger.

I grew up in the 80s. We had 13 channels on our TV. 8 came from America. The cartoons started at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday, and ran till noon. I sat in my pyjamas and let the Technicolor spray my face once a week for all 8 years of Reagan's Presidency. Really, it all came together for me while I sat there.

It's Us versus Them. Just like the cartoons.

It used to be that if something happened behind the Iron Curtain, it could be weeks before you heard about it. Skeletor would have killed for that kind of secrecy. The Hammer and Sickle wouldn't have looked out of place on the side of a Cobra HISS. Icon of evil for the self same Empire. The Communists have the power to you kill a thousand times over at any time. Nobody ever told us outright, but children can figure these things out. I read the encyclopaedias in the library at my elementary school. The volume for the letter I had a full colour panel, in the last third of the book, that I memorized. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

The American missiles had mythic names like superheroes. Atlas, Titan, Minuteman, Peacekeeper! They stuck their chests out to deflect bullets and saved babies falling from windows. What stuck in my head was that they were usually smaller on the page, white and silver, and decked out in red, white and blue USAF symbols. Like the good guys, streamlined and dynamic! Opposite these stood the Enemy. CCCP and the RED STAR on huge towers of menacing steel. The space age American missiles came to sharp points, while the huge USSR killers rolled to dull smooth tops, like alien technology. They were even painted a swamp green color, like a moldy monster. They stood taller than the American ICBMs and dripped with Slavic gall. The SS names hissed at you. They wanted to draw those deadly circles on the map, checking cities off their lists. Bigger, uglier, and so many more of them. The Free World should have died.

Then, just like the cartoons, the cowboy rode into town. He tipped his hat at the ladies and kissed the babies and promised to run the bandits out of town. And you knew he would shoot you if he had to, but he wouldn't like it. But he wouldn't miss. It sounds so ridiculous now, and in a way, it was then too. The Cold War reads like amateur fiction when you actually write it down. In a hundred years, editors will push the history books across their desks in disgust, dismissing it as utter sci-fi nonsense. But living there, it was very real. I had the nightmares all kids had, of the world dying in a rolling wash of nuclear flame. We watched the skies in the school yard for the con trails of the Soviet bombers headed for America. I could hear the air raid sirens at the Pine Tree Line ICBM radar base on the edge of town, where young men drilled for the end of the world. I still listen for it at night sometimes.

When the actor became a statesman, we turned over the reigns of not only the United States, but of the whole world. The Free World. The cries of American imperialism make me smile sometimes when I hear it on the lips of young protestors. They don't remember when we all followed America like reluctant soldiers. We may not have liked it, but...

It's Us versus Them. Just like the cartoons.

Ronald Reagan wasn't the only one of his breed. Iron Maggie stood at America's side, watching the front line. François Mitterrand brandished the stalwart French nuclear sword at the hated Germans. All around the world, the characters of the G.I. Joe stereotype soldiers filed in. To stand against the faceless Commies and their godless jackbooted Red Army. The choral hymns of the Red Army Choir make my hair stand on end to this day. Ronny led the charge, a flesh and blood Optimus Prime. When he made a speech, all 8 American channels carried it. I stood in my pyjamas and turned the dial, and Ronny grinned back at me every time.

I always thought of him as looking like what Superman would look like when he got old. The spit curl, the wrinkled grandfatherly blue eyes that could stare lasers, the wide sweeping gestures and relaxed smile. He was an old man, but he never looked it. As a child, I never questioned if it was real or not. It was as real as anything else on the TV. When the Challenger blew up, and Reagan made his speech, I felt like he was speaking about his own kids. "Slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God." He wasn't crying crocodile tears. We were all Ronnie’s Kids, even if we didn't want him as a Daddy. For the Greater Good.

It's Us versus Them. Just like the cartoons.

A loving hand on "The Button". A nuclear brinksman who told us that ketchup is a vegetable, didn't duck when he was shot and didn't remember Iran or Sandinistas or voodoo economics. Ronald Reagan had flaws, like any man, and dying doesn't erase them.

But I'm going to miss him. Cause we won, just like the cartoons.

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