Academic journal article Policy Review

The "March of Freedom" from Reagan to Bush

Academic journal article Policy Review

The "March of Freedom" from Reagan to Bush

Article excerpt

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, Ronald Reagan delivered what some consider one of the greatest speeches--if not the greatest speech--of his presidency. In an address to members of the British parliament at Westminster Palace, he spoke words at once powerful and prophetic:

    In an ironic sense, Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a
    great revolutionary crisis.... But the crisis is happening not in
    the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxism-Leninism, the
    Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of
    history by denying freedom and human dignity to its citizens....
      What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term--
    the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism
    on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which
    stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people....
    For the ultimate determinant in the struggle now going on for the
    world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and ideas-
    a trial of spiritual resolve: the values we hold, the beliefs we
    cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.... What kind of
    people do we think we are?... Free people, worthy of freedom and
    determined not only to remain so, but to help others gain their
    freedom as well....
      Let us now begin a major effort to secure the best--a crusade for
    freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next
    generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a
    world in which all people are at last free to determine their own

The initial draft, prepared by speechwriter Tony Dolan, was heavily edited by Reagan himself. And, as with most of his speeches, Reagan had to fight to prevent moderates and "pragmatists" at the White House and the State Department from gutting the speech of the very features that made it meaningful and memorable, including a section he personally penciled: "What I am describing now is a policy and a hope for the long term--the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history."

The Westminster address envisioned the expansion of freedom and democracy into that part of the world that needed it more than any other: Eastern Europe, the Soviet empire, "the heart of darkness," as Reagan called it. Until there was freedom and democracy there, he said, there would be no peace.

Nor was he merely predicting such a change; he would make it the policy of his administration. He would try to reverse the Soviet hold on the region and thereby reverse the Soviet empire, reverse the Cold War, and reverse the course of history.

Such an effort, said Reagan, would constitute a "crusade for freedom." In the 1950s, he had signed on to General Lucius Clay's Crusade for Freedom; now he was resurrecting and spearheading it. He added, "This is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see, but I believe we live now at the turning point"--a historic crossroads.

That march of freedom

RONALD REAGAN LEFT the presidency the third week of January 1989. By the end of that year, Solidarity candidates had swept 99 of 100 seats in a free and fair election in communist Poland, the Berlin Wall had crashed in a soon-to-be-reunified Germany, Vaclav Havel had left prison for the presidency of Czechoslovakia, and the continent's worst living dictator, Romania's Nicolai Ceausescu, had been lined up against a wall by the masses and shot on Christmas Day--a day he had sought to ban. Two years later, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist, and the Cold War was over.

Now, as a retired Reagan began what he called "the sunset of my life" in California, a sunrise of freedom set the world aglow.

During the 1970s, Reagan had often bemoaned the lack of freedom in the world, turning in his speeches to data from Freedom House marking the number of free and unfree nations. …

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