NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ronald Reagan saved his most private and dramatic thoughts for a handwritten book — a diary in which he recalled his running frustration with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, his fear that Armageddon was near and coughing up blood on the day he was shot.
Diary excerpts, released by Vanity Fair magazine on Tuesday, also reflect on the troubled relationship he had with his son Ron, his preoccupation with the “mad clown” Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his personal chemistry with Mikhail Gorbachev during arms-control talks.
Reagan hand-wrote diary entries every day of his eight years in office from 1981 to 1989 except for when he was in the hospital after being shot on March 30, 1981, about which he wrote, “Getting shot hurts.”
The full version of “The Reagan Diaries” will be published on May 22 by HarperCollins, a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The entries, brief and to the point, offer a peek at actor-turned-politician’s views on world affairs as they happened, and how he still thought about his Hollywood days, whether lamenting the death of Fred Astaire or promising Jimmy Stewart he would look into banning the colorization of old black-and-white movies.
Eleven days after he took office in January 1981, one entry demonstrated his early concern about communism in Central America — which would later lead to the Iran-Contra scandal — but also how show business was never far from his thoughts.
“We have definite evidence Nicaragua transferring hundreds of tons of arms from Cuba to El Salvador. p.m. ran a movie — ‘Tribute’ — Jack Lemmon. He is truly a great performer,” Reagan wrote.
Reagan took care not to spell out even mild swear words, so hell was written h—l and damn was d—-.
But at times he was provocative. He intentionally used the word “holocaust” to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to refer to an Israeli attack on Beirut.
He also reveals that he wore a bullet-proof vest during a speech at the National Press Club during which he asked the Soviet Union to join the United States in eliminating medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
“Funny — I was talking peace but wearing a bullet-proof vest. It seems Qaddafi put a contract on me & some person named Jack was going to try for me at the speech,” Reagan wrote. “Security was very tight.”
Reagan recalled being shot when he wrote that “suddenly there was a burst of fire from the left.”
After being shoved to the floor of his car by a Secret Service agent, Reagan wrote, “I sat up on the edge of the seat almost paralyzed by pain. Then I began coughing up blood which made both of us think — yes, I had broken a rib & it had punctured a lung.”
The president seemed to have two running disputes, one with the Israeli government and one with his son Ron.
Ron Reagan disliked the Secret Service protection which his father insisted on, and the president complained his son was rude to his mother, Nancy Reagan.
“I’m not talking to him until he apologizes for hanging up on me,” the president wrote.
Events in the Middle East concerned him so much that Reagan wrote on May 15, 1981, “Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon.”
Then on June 7: “Got word of Israel bombing of Iraq — nuclear reactor. I swear I believe Armageddon is near.”
Reagan believed Begin “took wrong option” and noted that “Begin informed us after the fact” but that “we are not turning on Israel — that would be an invitation for the Arabs to attack. It’s time to raise H—l.”
On February 6, 1982, he noted that “trouble brewing in the Middle East” ahead of the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon and that, “Right now Israel has lost a lot of world sympathy.”
He said one particularly devastating bombing and artillery attack on western Beirut in August 1982 had led King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to call the White House “begging me to do something.”
“I told him I was calling P.M. Begin immediately. And I did — I was angry — I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered. I used the word holocaust deliberately & said the symbol of war was becoming a picture of a 7-month-old baby with its arms blown off.”
There were lighter moments, such as the time Prince Charles — “a most likable person” — visited the White House.
“The ushers brought him tea — horror of horrors they served it our way with a tea bag in the cup.” He said the prince admitted, “I didn’t know what to do with it.”