Today in 1983, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Orlando, FL, identifying the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire”.
It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable Screwtape Letters, wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of rime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do no need to raise their voice.”
Well, because these “quiet men” do no “raise their voices,” because they sometimes speak in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace, because, like other dictators before them, they’re always making “their final territorial demand,” some would have us accept them as their word and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses. But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simpleminded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom.
So, I urge you to speak our against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. 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.
I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for our efforts, this administration’s efforts, to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals and one day, with God’s help, their total elimination.
While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.
Not since Winston Churchill declared that an Iron Curtain had descended over Eastern Europe had a world leader described the stranglehold Soviet communism had on human freedom with such moral clarity. At the time, Reagan was criticized for his undiplomatic frankness; today, he is universally remembered for his courage and vision. In many ways, Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech and Reagan’s Evil Empire speeches are linked as rhetorical bookends to the underlying saga that was the Cold War. While Churchill exposed the veil descending over the world’s view of the evils and human-rights abuses of the communist regime, Reagan peeled it back to reveal the horrors behind.