I read this special to the Orlando Sentinel written by Elliot S. Berke back in March of this year. I thought it was worth keeping and thinking about.
As the debate has now been engaged between Senator John McCain and Senator Barrack Obama and, certainly as to international policy between the two political positions, I went back and reread this article on Ronald Reagan’s speech and put it together with my own recollection of events at the time they unfolded.
On the one side, it’s manifestly clear that the international politics of President George W. Bush have produced a debacle in virtually every quadrant. On the other hand, it is not clear to me where are the shades of grey when it comes to international diplomatic relations with what appear to be predatory sovereigns.
Do you go to the table to negotiate and discuss without preconditions? To Senator McCain, the answer is no. To Senator Obama, the need to get to the table and talk is precisely because they are predators.
I certainly don’t know the right answer, but I do know that the debate will become very strident over these next months.
Take a look at this article on Ronald Reagan’s speech in Orlando for some insight on the subject.
Good man, evil empire: Ronald Reagan made history 25 years ago in Orlando
Elliot S. Berke
Special To The Sentinel
March 4, 2008
Twenty-five years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan came to Orlando and delivered one of the most influential foreign-policy addresses ever given on American soil. To the text of an otherwise conventional speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan added the paragraph that marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and Soviet totalitarianism:
“I urge you to beware the temptation of pride,” warned Reagan, “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,” he said.
That same day, Natan Sharansky, the Jewish refusnik, was in a cell in Siberia, a prisoner of that “evil empire.” Even in the darkest corners of the Soviet gulag, word reached the prisoners that a hero had risen in the West and challenged the intrinsic immorality of the Soviet regime. Twenty years later, Sharansky described that “great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union as an Evil Empire before the entire world. . . . It was the brightest, most glorious day . . . the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution — Reagan’s Revolution.”
Not since Winston Churchill declared that an Iron Curtain had descended over Eastern Europe had a world leader described the stranglehold Soviet communism had on human freedom with such moral clarity. At the time, Reagan was criticized for his undiplomatic frankness; today, he is universally remembered for his courage and vision. In many ways, Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech and Reagan’s Evil Empire speeches are linked as rhetorical bookends to the underlying saga that was the Cold War. While Churchill exposed the veil descending over the world’s view of the evils and human-rights abuses of the communist regime, Reagan peeled it back to reveal the horrors behind.
In the years that followed, Reagan’s challenge was answered by a ringing chorus of hundreds of millions of people ultimately freed when the Soviet Union came apart and the Iron Curtain came down. The West’s victory in the Cold War was one of the great triumphs in all of human history, and the Evil Empire speech remains the signal moment when America finally shook off its doubt and malaise and spoke again in the terms of victory and in the names of all who longed to be free. It was a moment when America became America again.
The overwhelming outpouring of respect and gratitude by the American people upon Reagan’s death erased forever the partisan aspects of his legacy. He no longer belongs to the Republican Party but to all of us: the last, great unifying figure from our past, great conflict on behalf of freedom. The speech, too, is no longer provocative but evocative, harkening back to a moment of national unity and resolve.
Reagan’s speech in Orlando remains as inspiring and timely today as it was when he delivered it, a timeless memorial to all those who stand in defiance of evil and defense of the defenseless. It is time this speech was memorialized in more than words and memories. In Fulton, Mo., where Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech, a memorial to the old lion reminds visitors of what he said and did to defeat oppression in his time.
Yet no suitable memorial exists to date in Orlando to commemorate the Evil Empire speech. It is time for Orlando to recognize the historical significance of Reagan’s speech, so future generations can not only remember what he said and what we did to win the Cold War, but also those trapped behind the Iron Curtain. This community was honored to host this pivotal moment in the history of freedom, and the time has come to memorialize what was said, who said it, and for whom.
Elliot S. Berke grew up in the Orlando area and is now an attorney in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2008, Orlando Sentinel
Original writing date: June 11, 2008
Article writing date: March 4, 2008