Study Guide

Evil Empire Speech Historical Context

By Ronald Reagan

Historical Context

The Last Good War?

When World War II finally ended in 1945, people were jumping for joy, popping champagne, kissing random hotties in the streets—it was quite the time to be alive.

We're 100% serious. It was great.

The whole world had been fighting like cats and dogs for six long, bloody years, and peacetime had been a very distant memory for lots of folks. However, while some people were celebrating like there was no tomorrow, many others in Europe really weren't sure what their tomorrow would look like.

We know you know the U.S. didn't "officially" jump into World War II until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And we know you know we know you know Germany and Italy were the other bad guys in the game.

The location of the bad guys meant the majority of the fighting took place in the European Theatre and the Pacific Theatre—a.k.a. countries in Europe and islands spread throughout the Pacific Ocean. And there weren't any reclining seats and buttery popcorn in these theatres.

Make no mistake—World War II was nasty. We may look back and talk about it as "the last good war," but that's largely because of how the war boosted the U.S. economy, and therefore the economies around the world, when people were put to work making weapons. Plus, the Allies were fighting against Nazi Germany's plans to methodically murder millions of Jews and other minority populations, so their victory put a stop to Germany's plans to spread such awful ideas throughout Europe.

That was definitely a good thing.

Iron Curtains: The Least Fashionable Window Accessory

But, the "good war" sentiments came to an end in the beginning of 1945, when leaders from Britain, the U.S., and the Soviet Union—the good guys, known as the Big Three—got together to determine how things would shake out in Europe after the war finally ended. Among other things, they decided to split Germany and de-Nazify it. Then, after a little bit of time, there would be democratic elections of a new German government.

And that's exactly what happened—at least in the west. The eastern zone, which was under Soviet control, neglected to hold elections. Instead, they set up communist governments all across Eastern Europe, and effectively created this huge split right down the center of Berlin, communist vs. capitalist.

It's like ordering a veggie pizza and getting a rare steak with old lettuce on the side. This wasn't the plan at all, and it created some tension (understandably) between the western world and the Soviet Union, especially when President Truman stood up and made it clear he was peeved.

For a little while, the disagreements took place mostly on paper—the pen is mightier than the sword, after all. Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech in 1946, where he talked about a metaphorical curtain separating western ideologies from the "Soviet sphere of influence."

Then, with the Truman Doctrine, FDR's successor made it clear he'd be stallin' Stalin's efforts to expand Soviet influence any further by providing money and military might to any democratic nation threatened by communism. With that policy, called containment, the Cold War had officially started.

Is It Chilly In Here, Or Is It Just Us?

Understandably, things got a little tense after that. The U.S. and the Soviet Union spent a lot of time trying to one-up each other—an "anything you can do, I can do better" sort of situation. When the U.S. and other anti-communist nations formed NATO in April 1949, the Soviet Union created the Warsaw Pact a month later. The same thing happened with the development of the hydrogen bomb, and the space race.

We think they all just needed a timeout.

However, the kitty litter hit the fan in 1961, when East Germany began construction on a wall to protect the eastern populations from the crazy ideas and happenings in the west. In reality, the Berlin Wall actually did little more than prevent those under communist control from escaping to West Germany. Party foul, if ever there was one.

From that point, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had a couple close calls, including the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Kennedy administration, and the clash between their ideologies led to some pretty nasty fighting in Vietnam and other places in Asia. The Cold War lasted until the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union broke up (and was never ever ever getting back together).

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