In the early 1980’s the United States was still dealing with the repercussions of the Cold War. At this time, the Soviet Union was considered the United States’ most dangerous enemy and the public feared nuclear attack by the Soviets. Specific incidents such as the Soviet interference in the Middle East, specifically in Afghanistan, frustrated the United States because it affected oil supplies. Consequently, President Ronald Reagan took action in response to the aggressive behavior of the Soviets by boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympic games and placing an embargo on goods.
In March of 1983, Reagan gave the speech titled “Evil Empire” to the National Association of Evangelicals and to Florida Congressional Delegates. In this speech, Reagan hoped to express that action needed to be taken against the Soviet Union to ensure the freedom of the American people and that Reagan would not yield to the Cold War antics being used by the Soviet Union. Reagan’s force in ending conflict with the Soviet Union, as portrayed in “Evil Empire”, would later lead to Reagan being considered one of the United States’ greatest presidents.
Reagan card stacks by arguing that a government which relies on religion is better than a secular government. He states that “freedom prospers” only when “religion is vibrant” (Reagan). Reagan turns the American public against the Soviet Union by manipulating his arguments and avoiding the discussion of successful secular countries such as Sweden, or unsuccessful religious governments like the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was in full effect in 1983.
Reagan also describes the atheism of the Soviet Union as a ploy to further their agenda, which was “world revolution”. However, it is obvious that Reagan is only discussing one side of the story to further his own purpose, and does not even consider bringing up the perspective of the Soviet Union. Reagan also does not discuss the fact that there is supposed to be a separation of church and state in the United States. In fact, he describes those who are for a secular government in America as those who are trying to “water down” the “traditional American values”.
Reagan card stacks against secular societies in order to argue that the Soviet Union is an evil nation. Reagan uses diction that displays an “us versus them” mentality to demonize the Soviet Union as being against America and American values. He begins by subtly indicating that those who are for a secular America are “discarding” traditional values “upon which our civilization is based”. Therefore, he implies that these people are against the goals of America. He then goes on to use the same rhetoric against the Soviet Union.
Near the end of his speech, Reagan describes the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States as “the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil. ” In saying this, Reagan glorifies America as being “good” and right” and demonizes the Soviet Union as “wrong” and “evil”. Subsequently, Reagan continues to use incredibly negative diction to describe the Soviet Union. For example, he describes them as an “Evil Empire” and describes their actions as “aggressive impulses”.
He also describes the totalitarian leaders as the “the focus of evil in the modern world”“. By characterizing the Soviet Union as “evil”, Reagan uses propaganda based language to subtly portray that the Soviets are against the values considered to be incredibly important in America, leading to the conclusion that the country itself is against the United States. Reagan’s negative diction towards the Soviet Union caused the speech to have a large impact over the years, due to the way it showed the unyielding strength of the United States in defeating “evil empires”.
Reagan’s logos utilizes quotes and statistics to support the points that portray America as a morally right nation. In the middle of his speech, Reagan uses a statistic that states “95 percent of those surveyed expressed a belief in God” and “disapproved” of moral wrongs such as teenage sex, hard drugs, and adultery. While it is unknown whether this statistic is legitimate or not, it justifies that America is morally superior. Reagan specifically builds America as ethically better in order to prove the point through comparison that the Soviet Union is morally wrong.
Reagan also uses quotes from many famous supporters of democracy in America, including Abraham Lincoln, William Penn, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexis de Tocqueville, Whittaker Chambers, and Thomas Paine. Furthermore, these quotes support his point of America being morally right, such as the quote he includes from Alexis de Tocqueville, which states that it was not until he visited the churches of America and “heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness” did he realize that because they are “good”, the United States is “great”.
By including these quotes, he supports his argument, because the public considers these famous thinkers to be intelligent and logical people, and therefore find their quotes to be sound. By using the fear felt by the American public, Reagan’s pathos plays off the idea of protecting the children. Reagan starts off by discussing moral issues that concern the American youth such as the increase in “illegitimate births and abortions” that involve young teenage girls “well below the age of consent”.
He also discusses the allowance of mercy killings of “handicapped infants”. It is obvious that Reagan is strongly against these issues and wants his audience to feel the same, as he states that until it is proven that a fetus is not a person then they deserve the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Reagan emphasizes these incidents to ignite the a natural instinct in parents to protect their children from moral wrongs.
He then tells an anecdote that describes an actor who “loves (his) little girls more than anything” but says that he would rather have them die now “still believing in God” than to have them live under communism and evil atheism and die one day “no longer believing in God”. This anecdote indicates that communism will destroy the morality of America’s youth and therefore should be eliminated for the protection of the American public and their children. Reagan’s ethos directly relies on the extent of his religious values mostly due to his audience and to establish moral authority over the Soviet Union.
Because Reagan is giving his speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, which is a group that supports Christians around the United States, he uses his religious values to establish authority and to ensure that his points will be taken seriously. At the beginning of his speech, Reagan establishes himself as a good religious man. He starts by thanking the audience for their prayers because he and Nancy had “felt their presence in many times in many ways” and for them they had “made all the difference”.
By thanking his audience for their prayer, Reagan demonstrates that not only does he appreciate the Christian community, he is a part of it, which makes him much more appealing to the public. Reagan then goes on to state that he does not “want to contribute to a stereotype” of an immoral, unrighteous politician. The president also describes himself as “noble,” ” god fearing,” and “dedicated”. Later in his speech, he takes the side of the association in an argument concerning the rights of prayer in public school, saying that American children are “entitled” to prayer in public school.
By displaying his religious values, Reagan gains the support of his audience and also justifies the validity of his argument. He also proves that he is a moral and dedicated Christian and not an “evil” totalitarian leader, which causes the validity of Reagan’s speech to be evident. Throughout “Evil Empire”, Reagan uses idealistic language such as “freedom” and “liberty”, which are important values in America, multiple times in association with the United States and then implies that the Soviet Union is against these concepts, or will take them away.
At the beginning of his speech, Reagan states that “freedom” and “personal liberty” are concepts that “prosper” when religion is prominent. This is significant because Reagan emphasizes the religiousness of the United States and the atheism of the Soviet Union. Therefore, he is implying that the Soviet Union is against freedom and liberty. Reagan also emphasizes that the United States government if fighting to “keep America strong and free” from enemies like the Soviet Union.
He also states that “we will never give away our freedom,” which implies that the Soviets will try to take away the freedom of the American public. It is Reagan’s glittering eneralities that caused the speech to resonate with his audience and the American public, because freedom, liberty, and prosperity are all values that are held in very high accord in the United States. Reagan uses loaded language to idealize the United States and to turn the public against the Soviet Union. In listening to his speech, it is obvious why Reagan was held in such high regard.
His firm stance against this “evil empire” increased his popularity because many Americans feared nuclear attack from the USSR. Reagan used propaganda to further gain the support of the public in order to be able to take action against the Soviet Union. His initiative to save the children and families of America and Reagan’s expression of religious and moral values, such as his disapproval of abortion and his approval of the civil rights movement, made him seem more like a regular person. Therefore, his argument had a larger effect on the public, lasting until the present day.