5. March 8, 1983 — The “Evil Empire” Speech
In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan made a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando. Though the speech covered a wide range of topics, it became notorious for a two-word phrase Reagan used to describe the Soviet Union and its Communist satellite states around the world.
The media seized on Reagan’s use of the phrase “evil empire” to describe the Communist bloc in a speech that discussed many different topics, from the efforts of people of faith to better their world to federal funding for abortion to school prayer. Foreign policy, nuclear freeze, and Communism took up just a portion of the speech. However, the speech is worth noting for one of President Reagan’s most touching anecdotes:
A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the entertainment world, addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during the time of the Cold War, and communism and our own way of life were very much on people’s minds. And he was speaking to that subject. And suddenly, though, I heard him saying, “I love my little girls more than anything — — ”
And I said to myself, “Oh, no, don’t. You can’t — don’t say that.”
But I had underestimated him. He went on: “I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God.”
There were thousands of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy. They had instantly recognized the profound truth in what he had said, with regard to the physical and the soul and what was truly important.
The offending phrase (at least to the Left) came later, near the end of the speech, as Reagan laid out his belief that Communism was a moral and spiritual crisis in addition to being a political one:
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.
I believe that President Reagan was ultimately successful in defeating the Soviet threat because he knew that destroying Communism took more than political strength and military might.
Here’s the speech: