Reagan’s Westminster Address, 30 Years Later

Today is the 30th anniversary of Reagan’s famous address in Westminster Hall, London, where he outraged fashionable opinion with his argument that it was Communism that would end up “on the ash heap of history.”  Kudos to the Washington Post editorial page today, which takes positive note of the anniversary to say:

THIRTY YEARS AGO, on June 8, 1982, President Reagan delivered an address to the British Parliament that stands as one of the greatest of his presidency and a milestone in the final years of the Cold War. At a time when the Soviet Union seemed to be a permanent, if foreboding, presence in the world, Reagan predicted that “the march of freedom and democracy” would “leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.” . . .

Recent events in China, Russia and the Arab world vividly demonstrate that democracy remains a universal aspiration — but also that the forces of repression have powerful means to resist the tide. The National Endowment for Democracy, and like-minded agencies that other democracies subsequently established, have found useful ways to aid and nurture freedom movements. Words, too, are important. Reading the Westminster speech is a good reminder of their power to inspire action, and change history.

I have a strong suspicion that Post editorial board member Anne Applebaum wrote this house piece, but regardless, what is worth mentioning today is that the media and the foreign policy establishment universally dismissed Reagan’s speech at the time.  Here’s how I covered it in The Age of Reagan:

Reagan’s rhetorical larceny in the Westminster speech—the idea that it is Soviet Communism, not the capitalist West, that faced a revolutionary crisis—“infuriated the Russians more than anything Reagan had said or done since taking office,” according to [Richard] Pipes.  Reagan was delighted; “So, we touched a nerve.” The reaction in the Western media was not so far removed from the Soviet’s shock.  The New York Times headline read: “President Urges Global Crusade for Democracy: Revives Flavor of the 1950s in a Speech to Britons.”  “Reviving the flavor of the 1950s” was not meant as praise.  George Ball, one of the elder statesmen of Democratic Party foreign policy figures, was dismissive: “Crusade for democracy?  I thought we had gotten over that a long time ago.”

Der Spiegel wrote: “Reagan is synonymous for dangerous atomic helmsmanship, as a cowboy who shoots from the hip, who plays with rockets and bombs, who has the mania to grab the red steer by the horns and drag it to the ground.”

For what it’s worth, here are the key 10 minutes of the speech—in retrospect, 10 of the most sublime minutes of the Reagan years:

Image courtesy Shutterstock.

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