Paul  Kengor

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared as an Exclusive Special Report for American Spectator.

Today, Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech turns 30 years old. It stands as one of the most memorable orations of the last three decades. It coined a phrase, a tag, a label—one that utterly fit. If the shoe fits, wear it. Well, this jackboot fit the Soviet ogre’s foot.

It was a searing speech, not merely because it was so provocative, which it was, or incendiary or controversial, which it also was, but because it was such an obvious truth that so desperately needed to be said by someone at the presidential level. Ronald Reagan cut through the clutter, and the moral equivalency and accommodation, and spoke loudly and boldly, with the uncompromising courage and confidence that was so uniquely Ronald Reagan.

Why did Reagan say what he said? Here’s his later explanation: “Although a lot of liberal pundits jumped on my speech … and said it showed I was a rhetorical hip-shooter who was recklessly and unconsciously provoking the Soviets into war, I made the ‘Evil Empire’ speech and others like it with malice aforethought.”

What malice aforethought?

The speech must be viewed from two crucial perspectives: 1) Reagan’s personal/spiritual motivation; and 2) his larger international/geo-strategic motivation. Both of these two contexts came together as part of a broader Reagan intention to try to undermine atheistic Soviet communism and peacefully win and end the Cold War.

On the first, Reagan’s chief motivation was laid bare in the speech itself. Reagan believed he had no choice (morally or spiritually) but to condemn the Soviet system because it was evil, and (as he said in the speech) both Scripture and Jesus Christ command Christians to oppose evil with all their might. He would be remiss in his Christian duty if he did not denounce and oppose the Soviet Union.