Study Guide

Evil Empire Speech Main Idea

By Ronald Reagan

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  • Main Idea

    You ever heard of a guy named Albus Dumbledore? Of course you have.

    And if you remember ol' Albus, you'll also remember that he said, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light."

    Now, Ronald Reagan may not have possessed the Elder Wand, but he did believe it was high time everyone realized the struggle for power between the United States and the Soviet Union was about much more than nuclear weapons. It came down to the balance between good and evil, and what Reagan believed was America's power to fight back using the lessons we learned from the dark parts of our past.

    And just like Dumbledore, Ronnie knew change had to start with shining a light on the unregulated evil happening in the Soviet Union.

    He just chose to use his words instead of his military.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Throughout the speech, Ronald Reagan spends quite a bit of time talking about infanticide and mercy killings, as well as other dark parts of U.S. history. What is the point of highlighting our mistakes?
    2. Religion and the power of faith are two important themes Reagan revisits again and again in his speech. Do you agree that those things still play an active part in American values and traditions, even today? Why or why not?
    3. The Cold War ended when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, but consider contemporary relations between the United States and Russia. Do you believe the issues separating the two countries today are similar to the issues of 1983?
    4. In line 170, Reagan quoted Thomas Paine: "We have the power to begin the world over again." What was the president trying to say?

    Chew on This

    The intended audience of Reagan's Evil Empire speech was much larger than the citizens of the United States, or even the citizens of the Soviet Union, because the entire world was affected by the politics of the Cold War.

    Time was right to name March 8th, 1983, the date President Reagan delivered his Evil Empire speech, as one of eighty days that changed the world, because the speech reinvented foreign policy toward the Soviet Union.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    With the Soviet Union and the United States at odds over nuclear weapons and politics, the whole word was really, really nervous. But Ronald Reagan believed that by spreading the love and sharing American traditions and morals, we might just make it after all.

    The Text

    When Ronnie started chatting with the Soviets about a number of different hot-button issues, including nuclear weapons and human rights, it became very clear rather quickly that America's foreign policy (to date) hadn't been targeted enough to make any real headway in solving these problems.

    Reagan was growing more and more frustrated with the blatant lack of change, and the stonewalling from the Soviets did nothing to improve his mood. He knew the two countries would continue to disagree, if only because they were so ideologically opposite. He also knew that any real change—including the reduction of nuclear arms—would only really work if the "evil empire" could see the error in their ways.

    And that's how Reagan ended up in front of the National Association of Evangelists, giving a speech in which he emphasized the dangers in holding tightly to oppressive and godless ideologies, in the interest of a single person or group maintaining control.

    He believed the solution to the argument over nuclear weapons, as well as other militaristic and territorial disagreements, had to start on a deeper level. Until all people could enjoy true freedom and basic human rights, until the Soviet Union could acknowledge the evil they'd committed, Ronnie insisted nothing was going to improve.

    And who better to help than the United States, a country who'd had to overcome its own legacy of evil?



    In the wise words of Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that an evil empire in possession of terrible manners must be in want of an attitude adjustment."

    Or something like that.

  • Questions

    1. Why does Reagan choose to open his speech with the anecdote about the politician in Heaven? What point is he trying to make? Do you think he is successful?
    2. In line 29, Reagan quotes Alexis de Tocqueville, who says American adherence to religious traditions is what makes the country strong. Has this changed since the 1980s, especially as religion because more and more controversial in our culture?
    3. Nuclear weapons are still an active and dangerous part of the global community today. How did this speech change the way the U.S. responds to foreign nations testing nuclear bombs? Do you believe negotiations for a nuclear freeze would be beneficial now in ways they weren't in 1983? Why or why not?
    4. Toward the end of his speech, Reagan refers to the policy of appeasement as "simple-minded." Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
    5. In line 162, Reagan says, "And then [Whittaker Chambers] 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." What does that phrase mean? How do Chambers' words support Reagan's beliefs about the Soviet Union?

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