The U.S. had a beef with the Soviet Union because the two countries had very different ideas of what a government should be able to do. Here's the thing about the USSR that really ruffled Ronald Reagan's feathers: millions of Soviet citizens were killed fighting for basic human rights.
By the time he appeared in front of the National Association of Evangelists, Ronnie'd had enough. He and the Soviet Union were in talks to limit production of nuclear weapons, and while that was definitely a relief, it was only part of the problem—like wearing a bicycle helmet without knowing how to first ride a bicycle.
But Reagan knew what he was doing, and while everyone else was focused first and foremost on this intense game of nuclear freeze tag, he took the training wheels off and decided to play hardball.
"The Evil Empire" speech focused on highlighting the evil of the Soviet Union, which really wasn't anything new. However, after spending the first half of his speech airing some of America's dirty laundry, he emphasized that ideological disagreements wouldn't be solved on battlefields.
Those kind of shenanigans were so last war season. Instead, the Soviet Union needed to learn from their mistakes the same way we had to learn from ours.
President Reagan's speech marked a change in U.S. foreign relations with the Soviet Union. He stood up and called the USSR an evil empire (ooh, sick burn) and insisted no godliness or goodness could ever really exist in nations under communist control. In other words, no more Mr. Nice Guy—Reagan wasn't getting what he wanted in negotiations, so he stood up in front of the world and said the Soviet Union was evil, and only through a strong belief in a higher power could western goodness overcome them.
And the reason he could say such a thing? The U.S. had some experience with evil—you remember that dirty laundry we were talking about earlier? Well, as leader of a country that had buckled down and tried to fix the dark parts of the past, the whole world listened when Ronnie said the key to playing nice with the Soviets was there all along, nestled all comfy-cozy in the very foundation of American society.
It's been more than thirty years since Reagan gave his Evil Empire speech. The Berlin wall came tumbling down, Hollywood made more Star Wars movies, and the world had a whole other evil empire to worry about. (And yes, we're talking about The Upside Down from Stranger Things.)
The Demogorgon might not actually exist outside the town of Hawkins, Indiana, but the U.S./ Russia tension does—and these two powers have started to butt heads more of late.
We know you Shmoopers are smarter than the average bears, so you probably know all about the current issues between Russia and the United States. But just take a minute and glance through all these articles on Russia—there's lots going on, and it all probably looks pretty familiar.
In fact, people have started calling it the New Cold War. (Source)
And while making old things new again can be great and all—like upcycling, rebooting old franchises, making an all-female Ghostbusters—we don't want another Cold War. The first one was, to make a serious understatement, none too fun.
Don't believe us? Read "The Evil Empire" speech.
This speech captures the essence of the late Cold War: the scary stuff about nukes, the dissent over ideological differences, and the attitude of pervasive fear that hung over the world like smog. We don't want that back. While The Hunt For Red October is an awesome movie, it's not an awesome reality.
And this speech also backs us up on that one: Reagan's all about focusing on how important it is to honestly acknowledge the evils of the past in order to prevent them from happening again.
But what do we do when history starts repeating itself in terms of friction with Russia? Unlike the boys of Stranger Things, we don't have Eleven to fight our battles for us. Well, Reagan believed change only happened if governments were dedicated to preserving the quality of life for citizens, as well as creating a safe and stable world. It was all about the basic issue of human rights…which something we're still fighting for even today.
So care about this history-making speech for two reasons: because it reminds you that the Cold War should stay dead and buried, and because it hammers home a couple of rules you probably learned in grade school: learn from your mistakes and play nice.
And we think that abiding by those two rules (and also maybe share your toys) would be a great first step for all global leaders.
USS Ronald Reagan
You know you've made it when the Navy ship with your name is touted as "America's flagship."
National Association of Evangelicals
A chance to look into the mission of the organization, and try to figure out why President Reagan chose to chat about that "evil empire" at this particular place.
Injustice in the Screen's Most Fearless Blast of Drama
Reagan played a prosecutor fighting injustice in the 1951 movie Storm Warning— foreshadowing his future as the leader in the fight against injustice, perhaps?
Unveiling of the Evil Empire
Evil Empire is a comic book developed by Max Bemis, frontman of the band Say Anything. It's all about society going down the tubes, so, yeah...super uplifting.
March 8th, 1983
Just when you thought 1983 was, well, 1983...The Americans prove you wrong.
Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine
Head-banging at its finest, my friends.
Family Guy and Ronald Reagan? What could possibly go wrong?
Evil Empire Speech
It's obvious why ol' Ronnie found success as an actor before becoming POTUS. Articulate as all get out.
That's So Reagan
This one's for all you '90s kids who loved psychics with the clothing of your dreams.