Perhaps the most dangerous myth regarding the legacy of the late President Ronald Reagan is that he was somehow responsible for the end of the Cold War.
The Soviet Union and its Communist allies in Eastern Europe collapsed primarily because their governments and economies rested upon an inherently unworkable system that would have fallen apart anyway.
And they were doomed in part because they fell victim to pro-democracy movements.
Totalitarian systems cannot survive without being able to control access to information. Cracks in the system were becoming apparent as early as the 1970s.
In a December 2003 interview, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the fall of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the arms race. "When it became clear to us that the one-party model was mistaken, we rejected that model," he said. "A new generation of more educated people started to be active. Then society required freedom, society demanded freedom."
It was not Reagan's military buildup or bellicose threats against the Soviets and their allies that brought down the system. Instead, such threats possibly allowed these regimes to hold on to power even longer as people rallied to support the government in the face of the perceived American threat.
High Soviet military spending, in part as a reaction to the U.S. military buildup that began in the latter half of the Carter administration, certainly hurt the Soviet economy -- as it did (and is still doing) to ours. But the reality is that it was the people themselves who brought down the system.
The most significant case was Poland, where -- even before Reagan became president -- the communist regime was forced to recognize the independent trade-union movement Solidarity. This helped expose the lie that the communist governments were "workers' states."
Despite the Polish regime's decision to ban Solidarity at the end of 1981, pro-democracy Poles continued to organize, as did dissidents in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, the Baltic states and elsewhere. Many of these democratic leaders were openly skeptical of Reagan administration policies.
Dissident Czech playwright and later president, Vaclav Havel, when asked about Western influences on his movement, replied that he had been more inspired by musicians John Lennon and Frank Zappa than by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Reagan's verbal support for democracy had little credibility in many of these countries. For example, while he denounced Poland's martial law regime, he was a strong supporter of the more repressive martial law regime then in power in Turkey, a NATO ally.
In challenging left-wing governments in the Third World, Reagan backed insurgents with ties to U.S.-backed dictatorships, and, in the case of Afghanistan, even Islamic fundamentalists.
While Reagan was certainly capable of inspirational leadership, idealism and personal charm, the myth that he is responsible for the downfall of Communism and the end of the Cold War does a disservice to the millions of Eastern Europeans and others who struggled against great odds for their freedom.
It was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action -- including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations and other forms of ingenious noncooperation -- that finally brought down these communist regimes.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of several books, including "Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective" (Blackwell, 1999). He can be reached at email@example.com.