Evil Empire speech

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Reagan addressing the National Association of Evangelicals, 1983

The "Evil Empire" speech was a speech delivered by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983 during the Cold War. In that speech, Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and as "the focus of evil in the modern world". Reagan explicitly rejected the notion that the United States and the Soviet Union were equally responsible for the Cold War and the ongoing nuclear arms race between the two nations; rather, he asserted that the conflict was a battle between good and evil.


British House of Commons speech[edit]

Reagan's chief speechwriter at the time, Anthony R. Dolan, reportedly coined the phrase for Reagan's use.[1] Some sources refer to the June 1982 speech before the British House of Commons in London as the "Evil Empire" speech,[2] but while Reagan referred twice to totalitarianism in his London speech, the exact phrase "evil empire" was not included. Rather, the London speech included the phrase "ash heap of history", used by Reagan to predict what he saw as the inevitable failure and collapse of global communism.[3] Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky used a similar phrase in November 1917, asserting that the Mensheviks belonged in the "dustbin of history".[4]


Reagan's March 8, 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, is his first recorded use of the phrase "evil empire". The speech has become known as the Evil Empire Speech. In that speech, Reagan said:[5][6]

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.

In the "evil empire" speech, which also dealt with domestic issues, 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, the NATO missiles were set up and used as bargaining chips in arms talks with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who took office two years and three days after Reagan's speech, on 11 March 1985. In 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to go further than a nuclear freeze. In an Atomic Age first, they agreed to reduce nuclear arsenals. Intermediate- and shorter-range nuclear missiles were eliminated.

Global reaction and aftermath[edit]

In 1987, American conservative Michael Johns compiled a list of Soviet crimes, echoing Reagan by saying "what we face today in Soviet Communism is, indeed, an evil empire".[7]

The Soviet Union, for its part, alleged that the United States was an imperialist superpower seeking to dominate the entire world, and that the Soviet Union was fighting against it in the name of humanity. In Moscow, the Soviet press agency TASS said the "evil empire" words demonstrated that the Reagan administration "can think only in terms of confrontation and bellicose, lunatic anti-communism".[8]

During his second term in office, in May–June 1988, more than five years after using the term "evil empire", Reagan visited the new reformist General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, in Moscow. When asked by a reporter whether he still thought the Soviet Union was an "evil empire", Reagan responded that he no longer did, and that when he used the term it was "another time, another era".[9]

Historians such as Yale University's John Lewis Gaddis have grown more favorable towards the use and influence of the phrase "evil empire" in describing the Soviet Union. In The Cold War Gaddis argues that, in their use of the phrase "evil empire", Reagan and his anti-Communist political allies were effective in breaking the détente tradition, thus laying the groundwork for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.[10]

The term has also been alluded to in reference to the domestic politics of the United States itself. American paleoconservative journalist Pat Buchanan argued that Russia's President Vladimir Putin implied that the United States under the Obama administration deserved the title in the 21st century, and furthermore argued that Putin had a good case for doing so because of American views on abortion and same-sex marriage, pornography, promiscuity and the general panoply of Hollywood values.[11] Buchanan served as White House Communications Director for President Reagan from 1985 to 1987.

According to G. Thomas Goodnight, the "Evil Empire" speech, along with the "Zero Option" and "Star Wars" speeches, represented the rhetorical side of the United States' escalation of the Cold War. In the former, Reagan depicted nuclear warfare as an extension of the "age old struggle between good and evil",[12] while arguing that an increased nuclear inventory as well as progress in science and technology were necessary to prevent global conflict. According to Goodnight, the Reagan administration used these speeches to reshape public knowledge about and attitudes toward nuclear warfare.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'The Battle of the Evil Empire', by Frank Warner, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa., March 5, 2000". Frankwarner.typepad.com. December 4, 2003. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
  2. ^ "Modern History Sourcebook, Ronald Reagan: Evil Empire Speech, June 8, 1982". Fordham.edu. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
  3. ^ Pipes, Richard (June 3, 2002). "Ash Heap of History: President Reagan's Westminster Address 20 Years Later". Heritage Foundation. Archived from the original on September 17, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2007.
  4. ^ Safire, William (October 16, 1983). "On Language; Dust Heaps of History" – via NYTimes.com.
  5. ^ "Ronald Reagan, Address to the National Association of Evangelicals ("Evil Empire Speech")". Voices of Democracy: The U.S. Oratory Project. University of Maryland, College Park. March 8, 1983. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  6. ^ "President Reagan's Speech Before the National Association of Evangelicals". The Reagan Information Page. March 8, 1983. Archived from the original on June 9, 2004. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  7. ^ Johns, Michael. "Seventy Years of Evil". Policy Review. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  8. ^ "President Ronald Reagan". Britannica.com. June 12, 1987. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
  9. ^ Meisler, Stanley (June 1, 1988). "Reagan Recants 'Evil Empire' Description". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved December 23, 2016.
  10. ^ John Lewis Gaddis (2006). The Cold War: A New History. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-303827-6.
  11. ^ Pat Buchanan (December 17, 2013). "Is Putin One of Us?". Townhall.com. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  12. ^ a b Goodnight, G. Thomas (November 1, 1986). "Ronald Reagan's Re-formulation of the Rhetoric of War: Analysis of the "Zero Option", "Evil Empire", and "Star Wars" Addresses". Quarterly Journal of Speech. 72 (4): 390. doi:10.1080/00335638609383784.

Further reading[edit]

  • Goodnight, G. Thomas (1986). "Ronald Reagan's re‐formulation of the rhetoric of war: Analysis of the 'zero option,' 'evil empire,' and 'star wars' addresses". Quarterly Journal of Speech. 72 (4): 390–414. doi:10.1080/00335638609383784.
  • Rowland, Robert C.; Jones, John M. (October 2016). "Reagan's Strategy for the Cold War and the Evil Empire Address". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 19 (3): 427–463. doi:10.14321/rhetpublaffa.19.3.0427.

External links[edit]