Saturday, March 08, 2008

“Evil Empire” Named 25 Years Ago

Twenty-five years ago today Ronald Reagan first used the term “Evil Empire” in a speech he gave to the National Association of Evangelicals at their annual convention in Orlando, Florida. In that speech Reagan told his audience:

So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride - the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

Regan had previously referred to the “evil of totalitarianism” in a speech before the British House of Commons in 1982 but the phrase “evil empire” was first used at that March 8, 1983 convention. Later that same month, after the Soviets shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007, the phrase "evil empire" was used several more times by Reagan and became know around the world.

While the term stuck a reponsive chord among many thoughout the world, many American liberals went ballistic at Regan’s terming the Soviets “evil.” The Hollywood left, academia, media elites, and intellectuals thought it rude to refer to Communism as “evil” and they denounced Reagan as dangerous and unsophisticated. Liberals feared Reagan would antagonize the Soviets and exasperate tensions.

Now that Communism has been relegated to the “ash heap of history” it is easy to assume that we were united in our desire to defeat Communism. We were not. Many American liberals had a soft spot in their heart for Communism. Perhaps because they shared a vision of an egalitarian society, many liberals could overlook the atrocities committed by Communist and the human rights record of Communist regimes.

Unlike the liberal elites, the conservatives had no sympathy for Communism, but most dared not dream of actually defeating communism. Until Reagan, the policy of America was containment, peaceful coexistent and détente. Reagan’s policy was a break with the past. Reagan sought liberation of communist nations, roll back and defeat of Communism.

Regan defined the cold war as a war between good and evil, right and wrong. By use of the term ‘evil empire’, Reagan sought to emphasize the moral divide of the cold war, while many on the left sought to define the cold war in terms of moral equivalency. Reagan also used the term to embarrass and shame the Soviet leaders for their suppression of human right in the Soviet Union and the captive counties.

Before we could win the cold war we had to believe it was a war worth winning. Reagan made America believe it was. As long as we refused to see the war against communism as a war between good and evil, America would continue to retreat and contain, and retreat and contain. If not for Reagan’s daring to define Communism as an evil worth defeating, no doubt we would still be fighting the cold war and watching the decline of the west and the spread of Communism.

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1 comment:

  1. Communism was well on it's way out in East Germany and the former USSR long before Reagan came into office. It was not a real leap in faith to take the stance Reagan took at the time he took such a stance. While Americans may have been oblivious to the troubles within these long standing communist nations the president and many others in power had inside knowledge of the crumbling cold war communist powers.

    Does that mean that Reagan did not play a role? Absolutely not but to give him more credit than he should get is a disservice to reality and the other people who helped end the cold war. The end of the cold war was years in the making and no tough talk speech alone would end it. Though it may have emboldened many to apply necessary pressure to push a few powerful nations teetering on the brink over the edge.