Aliens

President Ronald Reagan Thought About Alien Invasion Constantly

If aliens landed on Earth tomorrow, what would happen? Would we fight them, like in "Independence Day"? Would we communicate with them, like in "Arrival" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"? Or would we try to dissect them, like in "E.T."? For former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, questions like those weren't trivial. They gave him perspective amid the rising tension of the Cold War.

Mr. Gorbachev, Mars Attacks!

November 19, 1985 was a momentous day. It was the first time in eight years that the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States held a summit meeting. The two countries had been in a nuclear arms race for years, and the fate of the planet was at stake. In the midst of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva, Switzerland to try and find some common ground.

During a 2009 interview by Charlie Rose with Gorbachev and Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz, it was revealed that something strange had happened during that event.

Mikhail Gorbachev and George Schultz in 2009

The alien story is at 2:15.

"All of a sudden President Gorbachev and President Reagan took a walk," Schultz explained. "They went down to some cabin on Lake Geneva where there was a fire in a fireplace and you sat down there — I wasn't there, but I know when you came back, there were two friends, almost. Talking about what was going to happen. Then we went to the next —"

"At the fireside house," Gorbachev cut in, through an interpreter. "President Reagan suddenly said to me, 'What would you do if the United States were attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?' I said, 'No doubt about it." He said, 'We too.' So that's interesting."

Beam-Down Economics

If you're unfamiliar with Reagan's history, the former president's question might seem out of left field. But in fact, Reagan was a sci-fi fan who thought about aliens a lot. After all, he's the president who proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, a defense program involving X-ray lasers and subatomic particle beams that was derisively nicknamed "Star Wars." He invoked the possibility of alien invasion multiple times during his presidency, often as a perspective-taking exercise to highlight the absurdity of war.

Less than a month after his meeting with Gorbachev, Reagan spoke to the students and faculty of Fallston High School in Fallston, Maryland. He repeated the conversation he had with the Soviet leader:

"I couldn't help but — one point in our discussions privately with General Secretary Gorbachev — when you stop to think that we're all God's children, wherever we may live in the world, I couldn't help but say to him, just think how easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species, from another planet, outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries, and we would find out once and for all that we really are all human beings here on this Earth together. Well, I don't suppose we can wait for some alien race to come down and threaten us, but I think that between us we can bring about that realization."

The president sounded downright Sagan-esque. This wasn't just a lark, either. Two years later in 1987, he addressed the United Nations with a similar sentiment:

Reagan's Address to the United Nations, 1987

Skip ahead to 28:45 to hear the quote.

"In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?"

Reagan wasn't the first world leader to think about extraterrestrial life — Winston Churchill, for one, had done that decades earlier. Nor was he the first person to use outer space as a way to make humanity examine itself — Carl Sagan might be the most famous example of that approach. But his powerful position and the fascination he had with the idea certainly make you stop and think. What would happen if we faced an alien threat? Would we fight amongst ourselves, or would be band together as citizens of the planet?

For another peek into Reagan's mind, check out "The Notes: Ronald Reagan's Private Collection of Stories and Wisdom." We handpick reading selections we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer January 31, 2018