Academic journal article Policy Review

1983: Awakening from Orwell's Nightmare

Academic journal article Policy Review

1983: Awakening from Orwell's Nightmare

Article excerpt

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Although it was difficult to foresee at the time, a series of events in 1983 would come together to stop the seemingly inexorable advance of Soviet totalitarianism and to lay the groundwork for the eventual triumph of the West.

These events were neither inevitable nor self-executing. They depended upon the decisions of men, and of one man in particular -- Ronald Reagan -- who understood the meaning of this century, the nature of the Cold War, and the set of circumstances that he and his country faced. In 1983, the elements of President Reagan's strategy joined for the first time, making possible the successes that wrought the changes in Eastern Europe in 1989 and culminated in the 1991 implosion of the Soviet regime and the rest of its empire.

The Evil Empire Speech

The central theme of President Reagan's foreign policy was the ethical distinction he continually made between the West and the Soviet bloc. At his first press conference as president, Mr. Reagan bluntly referred to the nature of Leninist "morality," correctly telling a contemptuous press corps that Soviet leaders "reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat," in order to achieve their objective of world communism. In a famous speech before the British Parliament in June 1982, the president called for a "crusade for freedom," and he predicted that it would be communism, not freedom, that would end up on the "ash-heap of history."

But President Reagan's most important Cold War speech was his March 1983 address to religious broadcasters in which he called the Soviet Union an "evil empire":

Let us be aware that while they [the Soviet regime] preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over

individual man, and predict its eventual domination over all

people     on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the
modern world.... I     urge you to beware the temptation of
pride -- the temptation of     blithely declaring yourselves
above it all and labelling 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.

Mr. Reagan underscored the message that no longer would the United States remain silent about the true nature of the Soviet regime. Apprehending the importance of ideas and the danger of truth far better than Mr. Reagan's critics did, the Kremlin construed the evil empire speech as an act of political aggression. Many people understood from the beginning that Mr. Reagan was right. What since has become clear, however, is the effect that his pronouncement had on those who lived in that empire. Among others, Lech Walesa later maintained that the evil empire speech was an epochal event in the long struggle of Eastern Europe to be free; even former Soviet officials since have acknowledged that the speech, in the words of Reagan biographer Edmund Morris, helped "the motherland realize ... it was indeed evil." President Reagan's ultimate vindication came when the foreign minister of the Russian Federation, Andrei Kozyrev, added his concurrence: The Soviet Union, Mr. Kozyrev said in 1992, had been an "evil empire."

The legitimacy of this rhetorical counteroffensive was reinforced in September 1983 when the Soviets under Yuri Andropov shot down a Korean Airlines passenger jet, KAL 007, demonstrating with appalling clarity the accuracy of President Reagan's March charge. The incident not only gave momentum to Mr. Reagan's exposure of the nature of the Soviet regime; it also shut down a nascent movement within the administration for a more accommodationist stance toward the Kremlin.

The year 1983 also was significant for the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) deployments in Western Europe. …

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