143. Editorial Note
On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan delivered remarks at the national convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida. Earlier that day, the President visited Epcot Center at Walt Disney World, where he viewed a film, attended a reception with students participating in the World Showcase Fellowship Program, and offered remarks to outstanding Florida math and science students. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) After departing Disney World, the President traveled to the Sheraton Twin Towers Hotel, where he spoke to the evangelicals at 3:04 p.m. in the Citrus Crown Ballroom. After discussing the state of religion in the United States and denouncing racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of ethnic and racial hatred, the President addressed U.S.-Soviet relations and the ill-advisability of a nuclear weapons freeze: “But whatever sad episodes exist in our past, any objective observer must hold a positive view of American history, a history [Page 554] that has been the story of hopes fulfilled and dreams made into reality. Especially in this century, America has kept alight the torch of freedom, but not just for ourselves but for millions of others around the world.
“And this brings me to my final point today. During my first press conference as President, in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think I should point out I was only quoting Lenin, their guiding spirit, who said in 1920 that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas—that’s their name for religion—or ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. And everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old, exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.
“Well, I think the refusal of many influential people to accept this elementary fact of Soviet doctrine illustrates an historical reluctance to see totalitarian powers for what they are. We saw this phenomenon in the 1930’s. We see it too often today.
“This doesn’t mean we should isolate ourselves and refuse to seek an understanding with them. I intend to do everything I can to persuade them of our peaceful intent, to remind them that it was the West that refused to use its nuclear monopoly in the forties and fifties for territorial gain and which now proposes 50-percent cut in strategic ballistic missiles and the elimination of an entire class of land-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles.
“At the same time, however, they must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God. And we will never stop searching for a genuine peace. But we can assure none of these things America stands for through the so-called nuclear freeze solutions proposed by some.
“The truth is that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength.
“I would agree to a freeze if only we could freeze the Soviets’ global desires. A freeze at current levels of weapons would remove any incentive for the Soviets to negotiate seriously in Geneva and virtually end our chances to achieve the major arms reductions which we have proposed. Instead, they would achieve their objectives through the freeze.
“A freeze would reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup. It would prevent the essential and long overdue modernization of United States and allied defenses and would leave our aging forces increasingly vulnerable. And an honest freeze would require extensive prior negotiations on the systems and numbers [Page 555] to be limited and on the measures to ensure effective verification and compliance. And the kind of a freeze that has been suggested would be virtually impossible to verify. Such a major effort would divert us completely from our current negotiations on achieving substantial reductions.
“A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the entertainment world, addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during the time of the cold war, and communism and our own way of life were very much on people’s minds. And he was speaking to that subject. And suddenly, though, I heard him saying, ‘I love my little girls more than anything—’ And I said to myself, ‘Oh, no, don’t. You can’t—don’t say that.’ But I had underestimated him. He went on: ‘I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism, and one day die no longer believing in God.’
“There were thousands of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy. They had instantly recognized the profound truth in what he had said, with regard to the physical and the soul and what was truly important.
“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.
“It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable ‘Screwtape Letters,’ wrote: ‘The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.’
“Well, because these ‘quiet men’ do not ‘raise their voices,’ because they sometimes speak in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace, because, like other dictators before them, they’re always making ‘their final territorial demand,’ some would have us accept them at their word and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses. But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom.
“So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze [Page 556] 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.
“I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for our efforts, this administration’s efforts, to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world’s nuclear arsenals and one day, with God’s help, their total elimination.
“While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.
“Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, ‘Ye shall be as gods.’
“The Western World can answer this challenge, he wrote, ‘but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in Man.’
“I believe we shall rise to the challenge. I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man. For in the words of Isaiah: ‘He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength. . . . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary. . . .’
“Yes, change your world. One of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, said, ‘We have it within our power to begin the world over again.’ We can do it, doing together what no one church could do by itself.
“God bless you, and thank you very much.” (Public Papers: Reagan, 1983, Book I, pages 362–364)
The complete text of Reagan’s address is ibid., pages 359–364. In his personal diary entry for March 8, the President wrote: “Off to [Page 557] a warm, sunshiny Fla. First meetings were at Disneys Epcot—their world history center. It was a fascinating place. My talk was to hundreds of bright, young highschool students including foreign exchange students. Then to the convention of Evangelical clergy. My speech was well received—3 standing ovations during the speech. I talked of parents rights (squeal rule) abortion, school prayer and our need for a strong defense.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, volume I, January 1981–October 1985, page 203) In recalling the address, Secretary of State George Shultz wrote: “The ‘evil empire’ phrase would take on a life of its own. Calling the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ transformed this into a major speech, even though it had not been planned or developed through any careful or systematic process. No doubt Soviet leaders were offended, and many of our friends were alarmed. How conscious of the implications of their words the president and his speechwriters were, I do not know. Whether or not he was wise to use this phrase to describe the Soviet Union, it was in fact an empire and evil abounded.” (Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, page 267)