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Mar 8 Reagan's Evil Empire

Today in 1983 in Orlando, Florida, American president Ronald Reagan in an address to the National Association of Evangelicals used the phrase "evil empire", in what was seen as significant escalation of rhetoric around the Cold War. This was part of the Reagan Doctrine of active intervention was shaping US Foreign policy, replacing the Truman Doctrine of containment, (Harry S. Truman was the post-war president of the United States, serving from 1945 to 1953)

Reagan had first used the phrase evil empire the year before in a speech at the British House of Commons, but this was the first time to a domestic audience. Opinions were split with some considering it to be brilliant democratic rhetoric, it was popularly accessible and had a resonance through the popular contemporary film Star Wars. Others, including many within the international diplomatic community, denounced it as irresponsible bombast. But what did he actually say in Florida ?

Reagan said: Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world .... 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.

Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign had unified white evangelicals and fundamentalists in a way that hadn't been seen since the 1920s and helped to consolidate the Republican party. It has since become the most dependable part of the Republican base in America, partly forged because of the anti-communist views that they hold during the era of the Cold War, and is often exploited by presidential candidates. It is also important to contextualise Regan’s speech to evangelicals as occurring at the same time as a surge in international and domestic protests against the U.S.-Soviet arms race.

Reagans opponents blamed the administration for causing the largest increase in American military spending since the beginning of the Cold War, a policy that swelled the nation’s budget deficit. The Soviet economy ultimately collapsed in the late 1980s, ending decades of communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe. What contributed to the collapse of the Soviet empire was its own bloated defence spending and today in Florida. Reagan made the case for deploying NATO nuclear-armed intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Western Europe as a response to the Soviets installing new nuclear-armed missiles in Eastern Europe. Eventually these NATO missiles would be used as bargaining chips in arms talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office two years and three days after Reagan's speech. Together they would agree to reduce nuclear arsenals. Intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear missiles were eliminated.

Reagans own religious upbringing was significant, with his mother exercising a formative influence. She was active and very influential in the local Disciples of Christ church often leading prayer meetings when the pastor was away, and was an adherent of the Social Gospel movement (see pod of Feb 26Her strong commitment to the church meant that Ronald became a Protestant Christian rather than a Roman Catholic like his Irish father, President Reagan identified himself as a born-again Christian and was strongly influenced by his pastor Rev Hill Cleaver, who was also the father of Reagan's fiancée. These earl experience formed many of his political instincts particularly faith in Providence and association of America's mission with God's will which fed into his geopolitics.


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