EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial appeared in the June 25, 1982, issue of National Review.
Thirty-six years ago, in a momentous speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, with President Truman sitting behind him on the platform, one of Western civilization’s greatest men described the postwar reality. An “iron curtain,” he said, had “descended across the Continent” of Europe, with Soviets establishing “police governments” in Eastern Europe, and employing “Communist parties or fifth columns” elsewhere. Churchill’s words were eloquent and true, and they changed the political landscape.
Last week, at the original Westminster, President Reagan addressed the two Houses of Parliament and in Churchillian tones recalled the West to a sense of reality and to an awareness of its own strength and identity. The headline in the New York Times was meant to be derisive: “President Urges Global Crusade for Democracy: Revives Flavor of 1950s in a Speech to Britons.” But Reagan possesses–as, indeed, did Churchill, and as the Times does not–a bracing clarity about the struggle we are in: “From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than thirty years to establish their legitimacy. But none–not one regime–has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root…. In an ironic sense, Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis–a crisis where the demands of the economic order are colliding directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West, but in the home of Marxism-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying freedom and human dignity to its citizens.”
Like Churchill’s historic speech, this possessed both eloquence and clarity. In 1946, the totalitarian threat focused mainly on Europe; today it has expanded to affect every continent. But as Reagan so memorably said, the free institutions of the West are its great strength and its greatest political weapon. Marxism, as he boldly observed, is indeed destined for the ash-heap of history. Unless, that is, suffering an occlusion of intelligence and will, the West permits a decisive strategic margin to accrue to the totalitarian dinosaur.