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Op-Ed: As Russia Attacks Ukraine, Let Us Remember What Ronald Reagan Said in 1983

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Regardless of what any American thinks about the steps we should take in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive invasion of Ukraine, most are appalled by what he has done.

As Putin moves to take control of nations that once were part of the Soviet sphere, we ought to think about the circumstances under which the Soviet Union collapsed to consider how it all might be reversed.

In March 1983, President Ronald Reagan addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Florida, and delivered his famous “evil empire” speech.

Discussing America’s efforts to confront the Soviet Union, he said, “I urge you to beware the temptation of pride — the temptation [to blithely declare] yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire … and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”

Reagan spoke more than powerful words of truth that day. He spoke almost as a prophet.

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He noted further, “While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.”

Some eight years later, the Soviet Union, which for years had been considered the superpower rival to the U.S., collapsed. There was no war. There was just resolve and Reagan’s unwavering commitment to the principles he articulated that day in 1983.

Eight years after that speech, in 1991, Ukraine, now under siege by Putin, was freed from subjugation under the Soviet regime and declared its freedom, independence and sovereignty.

As Putin tries to reverse history, let us not forget that Reagan declared the global struggle first and foremost a spiritual one, a battle of good against evil.

As Americans watch events unfold in Ukraine, we must refocus on what is going on in our own country. If we lose a sense of the importance of Reagan’s words as they apply at home, we surely will not know how to engage with what is transpiring in the rest of the world.

And there is plenty of reason to believe we are losing that perspective at home.

With the decline in faith in the eternal principles that keep us free, Americans are gradually but decisively choosing to abandon their freedom.

In a survey published at the end of last year, Gallup reported that 69 percent of Americans self-identified as Christians in 2021, compared to 90 percent in 1971. Twenty-one percent said they had “no religion” in 2021, compared to 4 percent in 1971. In 1965, 70 percent of Americans said religion was “very important” to them. By 2021, this was down to 49 percent.

Coincident with the decline of religion, Americans have increasingly turned their lives over to government control.

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In 1950, the government took almost 23 percent of the American economy. In 2020, this reached almost 45 percent.

Turning back to Reagan’s words, “we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man.” Our struggle, Reagan said, is between good and evil.

It’s no accident that as America retreats in this struggle, as Americans increasingly believe that government can perfect man and relinquish their freedom, despots like Putin step forward and try to take the world back to a darker time.

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