I’ve been on a bit of a Reagan kick lately — well, true, I’ve been on a Reagan kick for like 30 years. Anyway, I have a note on Reagan in today’s Impromptus. (President Obama has a habit of mentioning him positively, which is interesting.) And I have a piece on Reagan in the current issue. (The current issue of what, you ask? How dare you?) That piece is on Reagan centennial activities in Prague.
Over and over, I heard Czechs say how much Reagan’s denunciation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” meant to them. It gave them hope and courage — someone understood. And not just any someone, but the American president.
In America itself, Reagan’s “evil empire” speech was not so well received — certainly not by our chattering class. Reagan, you see, had once again revealed himself as a simpleton, a “fundamentalist,” a warmonger. He was “poisoning the atmosphere of détente,” and more. Henry Steele Commager, the esteemed historian, said that Reagan had given “the worst presidential speech in American history, and I’ve read them all.”
A couple of years ago, I interviewed George Shultz, the former secretary of state. (For that piece, go here.) He recalled the time that Paul Nitze, the veteran diplomat, was testifying before a Senate committee. One of the leading Democrats, kind of kissing up to him, said, “How can a person of your experience and sophistication serve under a president who calls the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’?” Nitze replied, “Did you ever consider the possibility that it’s true?”
Okay, this morning, I was reading something by Mart Laar, the great Estonian Reaganite. (I am writing about Estonia’s freedom revolution for our next issue.) He quotes a piece by Natan Sharansky, formerly Anatoly Shcharansky, another great Reaganite, as it happens. Sharansky writes, “In 1983, I was confined to an eight-by-ten-foot prison cell on the border of Siberia. My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire.’”
News about Reagan’s “provocation” got around the prison, thanks to tapping on walls and such. And “we dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”
After quoting Sharansky, Laar talks about one of his fellow Estonian politicians, a woman named Lagle Parek. Like Shcharansky, she was a prisoner of the Soviets. In 1985, she and some other women in the Gulag managed to smuggle out a letter to Reagan, congratulating him on his second inauguration. (Oddly, my professors didn’t do that.) How did they know their letter had been received? When the prison authorities cracked down on them, as Laar says.
Their letter, he goes on to say, now resides at the Reagan library in California.
Just thought you might enjoy some of the above, in the midst of Budgetary Armageddon, heatwaves, and such. (The dictionary doesn’t want me to do “heat waves” as one word. But don’t you think it’s time for that? Just as, oh, “bread box” became one word, one fine day, or week, or year?)