Ronald Reagan won the Cold war with this speech

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Forty years ago this week, President Ronald Reagan lit a fuse that would bring down an empire. In a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan didn’t mince words. He put the blame for the Cold War solely on the shoulders of the Soviet Union, and called it an “evil empire.” 

He rejected our policy of peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union. The U.S. would no longer accept perpetual Cold War with this evil empire, we would take steps to win the Cold War. On our terms. Without firing a shot.

For decades American leaders, of both political parties, had insisted we had only two options in dealing with the Soviet Union: either an uncomfortable Cold War peace or Hot War nuclear Armageddon that could have no winners or losers.

Reagan joked that his new policy was simple, “We win, they lose.” He believed winning the Cold War was not only possible, but also our only righteous course of action.


Ronald Reagan won the Cold war with this speech

For Reagan, the Cold War was more than just a contest between two morally equivalent great powers, it was the battle between good versus evil, the light of freedom versus totalitarian darkness.  He said Communists “preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all the peoples of the earth.”  

As a result, the Communist Soviet Union was “the focus of evil in the modern world”. They banned the worship of God. They believed their unelected and unaccountable government was supreme, and all men were destined to be slaves to their all-powerful state. They believed whatever rights man hand were bestowed by government, not by God.

Reagan shook up a lot of people with his “Evil Empire” speech, especially among the intelligentsia. For years, they had flirted with socialism and communism.  As secularists, they thought we lived in a post-God world. They were not wedded to the idea that the common man was capable of making decisions for himself.  They believed in the merits of a centrally planned economy. They insisted modern times were so complicated that governance should be kept in the hands of an elite cadre of experts.

As for the Cold War, they believed the United States and Soviet Union were both to blame for the nuclear arms race. They saw the two superpowers as representatives of competing political and economic systems. The two superpowers were just the world’s latest incarnation of great power politics.

Ronald Reagan won the Cold war with this speech

Reagan thought otherwise. The Soviet Union wasn’t our moral equivalent, it was an evil empire. We didn’t have to live in a perpetual Cold War, we could win it.

Thus, America’s old national security strategy of Peaceful Coexistence became Reagan’s Peace Through Strength.

Reagan’s new policy was decried by both political parties as naïve, unrealistic, and dangerous.

Experts dismissed Reagan as uninformed and superficial, a second-rate actor past his prime, who just might be crazy enough to launch World War III. But he wasn’t. The US would come to win the Cold War not by escalating to a hot war, but by pitting America’s superior economic, political, and security systems against the Soviet Union’s deeply flawed equivalents.


Ronald Reagan won the Cold war with this speech


Reagan believed the Soviet Union’s greatest vulnerability was the inability of its top-down communist system to provide for their people. He believed the communist world would eventually collapse in on itself. But he wanted to hurry that day along. So, he marshaled all elements of our national power—economic, political, moral, diplomatic, military, and technological—to put great stress on their economy. It worked.

The rest is history. Within a decade of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech, the Soviet Union fell apart. Former client states of the Soviet Union broke away. Millions of people once under the yoke of communism had a new taste of freedom and self-governance.

Thanks to Reagan, we won the Cold War without firing a shot. We came to enjoy the greatest period of peace and prosperity in our history. And for a generation, the world was without war.



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