Many American historians believe President Reagan's saber-rattling was not responsible for the end of the Cold War and think the "Star Wars" defense system was costly and unnecessary, a Penn State historian says.

"Historians believe the military buildup under Reagan had little to do with making the Soviet Union less hostile and expansionist," said Tim Blessing, assistant professor of history at the university's Berks Campus in Reading.Blessing created a comprehensive 118-question survey on Ronald Reagan and mailed it to 750 Ph.D.-holding American historians with the title of assistant professor or higher.

The findings were recently presented at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Louisville, Ky.

Forty-two percent of the historians ranked Reagan below average, and another 18 percent wrote him off as an absolute failure.

Of 481 historians surveyed by Blessing, only 9.7 percent believed that the military buildup under Reagan played an important role in terminating the Cold War. Almost 52 percent believed the buildup played no role or only a minor role in causing Soviet change.

"Historians do credit Reagan for his handling of relations with the Soviets," Blessing said. "This seems to reflect his ability to take advantage of internal conditions within the Soviet Union."

Almost 82 percent of the professors said the Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as "Star Wars," was a poor move in terms of cost, strategic implications and practicality.