The Evil Empire?

“Let us beware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination over all the peoples of the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.” – Ronald Reagan

On March 8, 1983, Ronald Reagan appeared before the National Association of Evangelicals and gave perhaps his most famous speech, the one in which he called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” The media uproar was instantaneous.  Reagan was accused of everything from insulting the Soviets to heating up the Cold War.

Should Reagan have used such provocative rhetoric? Alas, I’m not schooled enough in the diplomatic nuances of superpower relations to say.  On the other hand, was the Soviet Union really an “Evil Empire”?  You betcha.

It was certainly an empire.  It had the ultimate say over the political, economic and cultural life of every country behind the Iron Curtain, and it proved in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in Poland in 1981 that any attempt to alter that arrangement would be met with brutal force.

It was certainly evil. Tens of millions of people disappeared, or were killed, tortured or imprisoned for the simple crime of having displeased the state.  Instead of freedom there was state control of all economic output, all property, all opinion and all information (Yakov Smirnoff, the expatriate Russian comedian, joked that there were two channels on Soviet television: Channel 2 was round-the-clock Soviet propaganda and Channel 3 was an angry Red Army General who ordered you to turn back to Channel 2).  A Soviet citizen literally could not move from one place to another without receiving permission from the State.

Instead, there was the gulag, the purges, the pogroms, the Berlin Wall, the Show Trials, the Siberian death camps, the KGB and the interrogation rooms in Lubyanka prison.  Instead there was Stalin’s forced starvation of the Ukraine, which caused 8 million deaths. And let’s not forget the expulsion, incarceration and defection of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, scientists and artists, including Andrei Sakharov, Natan Scharansky, Lech Walesa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Horowitz.

Instead, there was the almighty “Big Brother” that George Orwell described so well.  Black was white, right was wrong, history was false, the truth was lies, and lies were the truth if the government said so.

It was an evil empire, and if calling it so in any way hastened its demise, then Reagan was right to do it, just as he was right when he predicted in another eerily prophetic speech (mostly ignored by the media) that it would soon be on the ash heap of history.