Ronald Reagan was born 100 years ago today. One of our greatest Presidents—and certainly the greatest I have seen—he revived not only the American economy, our military, and our role in the world, but also our sense of possibility. Reagan reminded us that we are a great people capable of great things.
One of his greatest assets as a leader was his willingness to call things what they are. Confucius said that the first task of a leader is to rectify names, a point Orwell appreciated. This is an excerpt from his “Evil Empire” speech. I recall having dinner that night with good friends who were mocking the simplicity of his good/evil dichotomy and worrying about its potential for destabilizing our relations with the Soviets. I was defending the President. One of our guests, Oksana Asher, was noticeably silent. Finally, after listening to a diatribe on Reagan’s foolishness given by her own husband, she calmly said, “But it is an evil empire.” Her own father, Michael Dray-Khmara, was taken in the middle of the night when she was seven years old and sent to Kolyma for the crime of writing poetry in Ukranian. She never saw him again.
Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness — pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.
It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”
Well, because these “quiet men” do not “raise their voices”; because they sometimes speak in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace; because, like other dictators before them, they’re always making “their final territorial demand,” some would have us accept them at their word and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses. But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom.
So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride — the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label 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.