Twenty-eight years ago today, President Ronald Reagan delivered remarks to the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, a speech that would go on to be known as the Evil Empire speech. The speech in full is available here, with a draft bearing President Reagan’s handwritten notes available here. Tony Dolan, the chief speechwriter of the Evil Empire speech, has said that once the archives had become available people could see what President Reagan “had done with the Evil Empire speech, that he had re-written it all, . . . the yellow sheets that he had written himself,” such as the one available here. Of the many historical observations to be made about this speech, here are but a few::
· The speech was made in the midst of the nuclear freeze debate, which President Reagan specifically referenced in the evil empire sentence. In full, the relevant sentence reads, “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.”
· Later that year in 1983, the Senate voted on a Kennedy Amendment supporting the nuclear freeze movement, which would have had the effect of halting nuclear modernization efforts. Senators of note voting in favor of the nuclear freeze movement included: Baucus, Biden, Bingaman, Bradley, Byrd, Dodd, Inouye, Kennedy, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, and Specter. Senate Roll Call Vote No. 327 (98th Cong., 1st Sess., Oct. 31, 1983).
· The vote on the Kennedy nuclear freeze amendment took place in the context of debate on a bill to raise the public debt limit by $61 billion from $1.389 trillion to $1.450 trillion. H.J. Res. 308, (98th Cong., 1st Sess.).
· Natan Sharansky has spoken on many occasions about how dissidents in Soviet prisons developed a code to tap on the walls of their cells to communicate with each other. While the media of the day criticized the provocative nature of President Reagan’s speech, Professor Sharansky tells a laudatory story about how news of this speech spread behind the Iron Curtain, available here.
· The evil empire speech is sometimes confused with President Reagan’s June 8, 1982 speech to the British Parliament in which he accurately predicts that the march of freedom would relegate Marxism-Lenininsm to “the ash-heap of history.”
· The Victims of Communism Memorial is located not far from the Capitol complex at the intersection of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and G Streets. The speech of President George W. Bush dedicating the memorial on June 12, 2007 is available here, given twenty years to the day after President Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech.
· It remains unclear how much State Department officials attempted to excise from the speech the evil empire reference, unlike the history of State’s efforts to remove the “tear down this wall” command from that speech, which has first-person validation here.