10/06/2010 10:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who Was Ronald Reagan?

"I admire the way he stood up for causes he believed were right, no matter what." That was Nick Jonas of the Jonas brothers, talking about why he admires President Reagan. I'm not sure what "causes" Jonas is referring to. I wonder if he does.

Peter Castine, a 19-year-old from Miami University of Ohio thinks, "President Reagan was instrumental in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ending of the Cold War." Mr. Castine might be right. Reagan, after all, came back from the Soviet Union in 1988 saying that the "evil empire" he had talked about just a few years before was gone. Mr. Castine also thinks that Reagan's motto, "Peace through strength," "brought a sense of security throughout the country." I wonder if the Miami University of Ohio history faculty has completely forgotten about the nuclear freeze movement that saw millions of people marching against Reagan's call for more and more nukes throughout the world.

Twenty-two year old Chicago White Sox baseball player Ross Wilson thinks, "Ronald Reagan will be known forever as one of the greatest American Presidents" because Reagan had "high character and he knew right from wrong." "Against opposition," Mr. Wilson also said, Reagan "kept his morals in check and acted on integrity." I guess it takes integrity to tell the American people "we don't negotiate with terrorists" and, in secret, sell those same terrorists much needed weapons to fight the Iraqis in exchange for the release of American hostages.

Alicia Sacramone, a 22 year old US Olympian, admires President Reagan for his leadership skills. "At my lowest times," Sacramone claims, "being left off the 2004 Olympic team, sustaining career threatening injuries and falling in the 2008 Olympics, I recall Mr. Reagan's words: 'A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets tough.' ... Thank you, Mr. President." I wonder if Sacromne knows that in 1981 Reagan took a firm stand insisting that the NATO Allies were either with him or against him in his decision to impose sanctions against the Soviet Union designed to restrict high-technology the Soviets wanted to build a trans-Siberian pipeline? Months later, Reagan opened his February 26, 1982 NSC meeting, "I must take the blame for having been careless. At the time that I announced the sanctions, I believed that the United States was the dominant factor in what went into the production of the pipeline. Now, Maggie Thatcher has made me realize that I have been wrong."

I could go on, and on. These young leaders -- nearly 40 total -- comprise the Youth Leadership Committee for the Reagan Centennial Celebrations. Their bios and thoughts on President Reagan can all be found online at the Reagan Centennial Commission homepage.

I mention the Youth Leadership Committee of the Reagan Centennial Commission, in conjunction with "Who was Ronald Reagan," because a society that forgets the past is destined to make the same mistakes. Reagan would not say that he was a perfect president, that he made mistakes, some his fault and others the fault of those below him, and that the most important lesson from his presidency would be to learn from his mistakes so that future leaders will have a better chance of making the right decision in the future. That's just being patriotic, and in 10 years of research on Reagan, I have absolutely no doubt that Reagan loved the United States as much as anyone could. If you really love your country, like Reagan did, you want the best for it. And that means recognizing the mistakes as well as celebrating the successes. Anything less would not only be unpatriotic, but a degradation of the Reagan legacy.

Jason Saltoun-Ebin is the editor of
The Reagan Files: The Untold Story of Reagan's Top-Secret Efforts to Win the Cold War and the creator of the website, can be reached at