Arts + Culture

The Presidents as Travelers

by Ted Widmer

Ronald Reagan

Where The Eagle Landed: China, France, Germany, Iceland, Soviet Union, United Kingdom

Home and abroad: Ronald Reagan did not pay a great deal of attention to the world as a young man in Illinois, or even as a Hollywood actor. As president, he clearly loved his vacations at his California ranch, where he spent 335 days of his two-term presidency, and Camp David, where he spent 517 days over 186 visits, the most of any president. But Reagan still showed a surprising capacity for growth as president, and when the cause was just, he was never above hitting the road. Despite his age (at 69, the oldest candidate ever elected), he traveled extensively and gave some of his most memorable speeches on foreign soil, including the famous crowd-pleasing speech in Berlin when he demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down this wall." During a six-day visit to China, Reagan compared his height to one of the famous terra cotta warriors (pictured), and joked, "You're dismissed", as he turned to leave. Not all of the trips were easy—Reagan stirred intense controversy when he placed a wreath at a cemetery of Nazi soldiers in Germany—but he generally impressed audiences with his earnestly stated views. And despite the occasional joke about obliterating the Soviet Union, he pursued an aggressive diplomacy with his counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, including a dramatic summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, that nearly resulted in the abolition of both nations' nuclear arsenals.

NEXT: American in Paris

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