Ronald W. Reagan
Address to Members of the British Parliament
June 8, 1982
My Lord Chancellor, Mr. Speaker:
The journey of which this visit forms a part is a long one.
Already it has taken me to two great cities of the West, Rome and
Paris, and to the economic summit at Versailles. And there, once
again, our sister democracies have proved that even in a time of
severe economic strain, free peoples can work together freely and
voluntarily to address problems as serious as inflation,
unemployment, trade, and economic development in a spirit of
cooperation and solidarity.
Other milestones lie ahead. Later this week, in Germany, we and
our NATO allies will discuss measures for our joint defense and
America's latest initiatives for a more peaceful, secure world
through arms reductions.
Each stop of this trip is important, but among them all, this
moment occupies a special place in my heart and in the hearts of my
countrymen -- a moment of kinship and homecoming in these hallowed
Speaking for all Americans, I want to say how very much at home
we feel in your house. Every American would, because this is, as we
have been so eloquently told, one of democracy's shrines. Here the
rights of free people and the processes of representation have been
debated and refined.
It has been said that an institution is the lengthening shadow
of a man. This institution is the lengthening shadow of all the men
and women who have sat here and all those who have voted to send
This is my second visit to Great Britain as President of the
United States. My first opportunity to stand on British soil
occurred almost a year and a half ago when your Prime Minister
graciously hosted a diplomatic dinner at the British Embassy in
Washington. Mrs. Thatcher said then that she hoped I was not
distressed to find staring down at me from the grand staircase a
portrait of His Royal Majesty King George III. She suggested it was
best to let bygones be bygones, and in view of our two countries'
remarkable friendship in succeeding years, she added that most
Englishmen today would agree with Thomas Jefferson that ``a little
rebellion now and then is a very good thing.''
Well, from here I will go to Bonn and then Berlin, where there
stands a grim symbol of power untamed. The Berlin Wall, that
dreadful gray gash across the city, is in its third decade. It is
the fitting signature of the regime that built it.
And a few hundred kilometers behind the Berlin Wall, there is
another symbol. In the center of Warsaw, there is a sign that notes
the distances to two capitals. In one direction it points toward
Moscow. In the other it points toward Brussels, headquarters of
Western Europe's tangible unity. The marker says that the distances
from Warsaw to Moscow and Warsaw to Brussels are equal. The sign
makes this point: Poland is not East or West. Poland is at the
center of European civilization. It has contributed mightily to
that civilization. It is doing so today by being magnificently
unreconciled to oppression.
Poland's struggle to be Poland and to secure the basic rights we
often take for granted demonstrates why we dare not take those
rights for granted. Gladstone, defending the Reform Bill of 1866,
declared, ``You cannot fight against the future. Time is on our
side.'' It was easier to believe in the march of democracy in
Gladstone's day -- in that high noon of Victorian optimism.
We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a
terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes
less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but
because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of
repression. Yet optimism is in order, because day by day democracy
is proving itself to be a not-at-all-fragile flower. From Stettin
on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by
totalitarianism have had more than 30 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.
The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland demonstrates
the truth told in an underground joke in the Soviet Union. It is
that the Soviet Union would remain a one-party nation even if an
opposition party were permitted, because everyone would join the
America's time as a player on the stage of world history has
been brief. I think understanding this fact has always made you
patient with your younger cousins -- well, not always patient. I do
recall that on one occasion, Sir Winston Churchill said in
exasperation about one of our most distinguished diplomats: ``He is
the only case I know of a bull who carries his china shop with
But witty as Sir Winston was, he also had that special attribute
of great statesmen -- the gift of vision, the willingness to see
the future based on the experience of the past. It is this sense of
history, this understanding of the past that I want to talk with
you about today, for it is in remembering what we share of the past
that our two nations can make common cause for the future.
We have not inherited an easy world. If developments like the
Industrial Revolution, which began here in England, and the gifts
of science and technology have made life much easier for us, they
have also made it more dangerous. There are threats now to our
freedom, indeed to our very existence, that other generations could
never even have imagined.
There is first the threat of global war. No President, no
Congress, no Prime Minister, no Parliament can spend a day entirely
free of this threat. And I don't have to tell you that in today's
world the existence of nuclear weapons could mean, if not the
extinction of mankind, then surely the end of civilization as we
know it. That's why negotiations on intermediate-range nuclear
forces now underway in Europe and the START talks -- Strategic Arms
Reduction Talks -- which will begin later this month, are not just
critical to American or Western policy; they are critical to
mankind. Our commitment to early success in these negotiations is
firm and unshakable, and our purpose is clear: reducing the risk of
war by reducing the means of waging war on both sides.
At the same time there is a threat posed to human freedom by the
enormous power of the modern state. History teaches the dangers of
government that overreaches -- political control taking precedence
over free economic growth, secret police, mindless bureaucracy, all
combining to stifle individual excellence and personal freedom.
Now, I'm aware that among us here and throughout Europe there is
legitimate disagreement over the extent to which the public sector
should play a role in a nation's economy and life. But on one point
all of us are united -- our abhorrence of dictatorship in all its
forms, but most particularly totalitarianism and the terrible
inhumanities it has caused in our time -- the great purge,
Auschwitz and Dachau, the Gulag, and Cambodia.
Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent
restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that
it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their
nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial
or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of
the Communist world, the map of Europe -- indeed, the world --
would look very different today. And certainly they will note it
was not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or supressed
Polish Solidarity or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan
and Southeast Asia.
If history teaches anything it teaches self-delusion in the face
of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of
our terrible dilemma -- predictions of doomsday, antinuclear
demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own
protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see
totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict
around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human
spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a
hail of fiery atoms?
Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with
Sir Winston Churchill refused to accept the inevitability of war
or even that it was imminent. He said, ``I do not believe that
Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war
and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what
we have to consider here today while time remains is the permanent
prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom
and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries.''
Well, this is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom
as well as peace. It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live
now at a turning point.
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 conflicting directly with those of the political
order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist
West, but in the home of Marxist-Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is
the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying
human freedom and human dignity to its citizens. It also is in deep
economic difficulty. The rate of growth in the national product has
been steadily declining since the fifties and is less than half of
what it was then.
The dimensions of this failure are astounding: A country which
employs one-fifth of its population in agriculture is unable to
feed its own people. Were it not for the private sector, the tiny
private sector tolerated in Soviet agriculture, the country might
be on the brink of famine. These private plots occupy a bare 3
percent of the arable land but account for nearly one-quarter of
Soviet farm output and nearly one-third of meat products and
vegetables. Overcentralized, with little or no incentives, year
after year the Soviet system pours its best resource into the
making of instruments of destruction. The constant shrinkage of
economic growth combined with the growth of military production is
putting a heavy strain on the Soviet people. What we see here is a
political structure that no longer corresponds to its economic
base, a society where productive forces are hampered by political
The decay of the Soviet experiment should come as no surprise to
us. Wherever the comparisons have been made between free and closed
societies -- West Germany and East Germany, Austria and
Czechoslovakia, Malaysia and Vietnam -- it is the democratic
countries what are prosperous and responsive to the needs of their
people. And one of the simple but overwhelming facts of our time is
this: Of all the millions of refugees we've seen in the modern
world, their flight is always away from, not toward the Communist
world. Today on the NATO line, our military forces face east to
prevent a possible invasion. On the other side of the line, the
Soviet forces also face east to prevent their people from
The hard evidence of totalitarian rule has caused in mankind an
uprising of the intellect and will. Whether it is the growth of the
new schools of economics in America or England or the appearance of
the so-called new philosophers in France, there is one unifying
thread running through the intellectual work of these groups --
rejection of the arbitrary power of the state, the refusal to
subordinate the rights of the individual to the superstate, the
realization that collectivism stifles all the best human
Since the exodus from Egypt, historians have written of those
who sacrificed and struggled for freedom -- the stand at
Thermopylae, the revolt of Spartacus, the storming of the Bastille,
the Warsaw uprising in World War II. More recently we've seen
evidence of this same human impulse in one of the developing
nations in Central America. For months and months the world news
media covered the fighting in El Salvador. Day after day we were
treated to stories and film slanted toward the brave
freedom-fighters battling oppressive government forces in behalf of
the silent, suffering people of that tortured country.
And then one day those silent, suffering people were offered a
chance to vote, to choose the kind of government they wanted.
Suddenly the freedom-fighters in the hills were exposed for what
they really are -- Cuban-backed guerrillas who want power for
themselves, and their backers, not democracy for the people. They
threatened death to any who voted, and destroyed hundreds of buses
and trucks to keep the people from getting to the polling places.
But on election day, the people of El Salvador, an unprecedented
1.4 million of them, braved ambush and gunfire, and trudged for
miles to vote for freedom.
They stood for hours in the hot sun waiting for their turn to
vote. Members of our Congress who went there as observers told me
of a women who was wounded by rifle fire on the way to the polls,
who refused to leave the line to have her wound treated until after
she had voted. A grandmother, who had been told by the guerrillas
she would be killed when she returned from the polls, and she told
the guerrillas, ``You can kill me, you can kill my family, kill my
neighbors, but you can't kill us all.'' The real freedom-fighters
of El Salvador turned out to be the people of that country -- the
young, the old, the in-between.
Strange, but in my own country there's been little if any news
coverage of that war since the election. Now, perhaps they'll say
it's -- well, because there are newer struggles now.
On distant islands in the South Atlantic young men are fighting
for Britain. And, yes, voices have been raised protesting their
sacrifice for lumps of rock and earth so far away. But those young
men aren't fighting for mere real estate. They fight for a cause --
for the belief that armed aggression must not be allowed to
succeed, and the people must participate in the decisions of
government -- [applause] -- the decisions of government under the
rule of law. If there had been firmer support for that principle
some 45 years ago, perhaps our generation wouldn't have suffered
the bloodletting of World War II.
In the Middle East now the guns sound once more, this time in
Lebanon, a country that for too long has had to endure the tragedy
of civil war, terrorism, and foreign intervention and occupation.
The fighting in Lebanon on the part of all parties must stop, and
Israel should bring its forces home. But this is not enough. We
must all work to stamp out the scourge of terrorism that in the
Middle East makes war an ever-present threat.
But beyond the troublespots lies a deeper, more positive
pattern. Around the world today, the democratic revolution is
gathering new strength. In India a critical test has been passed
with the peaceful change of governing political parties. In Africa,
Nigeria is moving into remarkable and unmistakable ways to build
and strengthen its democratic institutions. In the Caribbean and
Central America, 16 of 24 countries have freely elected
governments. And in the United Nations, 8 of the 10 developing
nations which have joined that body in the past 5 years are
In the Communist world as well, man's instinctive desire for
freedom and self-determination surfaces again and again. To be
sure, there are grim reminders of how brutally the police state
attempts to snuff out this quest for self-rule -- 1953 in East
Germany, 1956 in Hungary, 1968 in Czechoslovakia, 1981 in Poland.
But the struggle continues in Poland. And we know that there are
even those who strive and suffer for freedom within the confines of
the Soviet Union itself. How we conduct ourselves here in the
Western democracies will determine whether this trend
No, democracy is not a fragile flower. Still it needs
cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual
growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to
assist the campaign for democracy.
Some argue that we should encourage democratic change in
right-wing dictatorships, but not in Communist regimes. Well, to
accept this preposterous notion -- as some well-meaning people have
-- is to invite the argument that once countries achieve a nuclear
capability, they should be allowed an undisturbed reign of terror
over their own citizens.
We reject this course.
As for the Soviet view, Chairman Brezhnev repeatedly has
stressed that the competition of ideas and systems must continue
and that this is entirely consistent with relaxation of tensions
Well, we ask only that these systems begin by living up to their
own constitutions, abiding by their own laws, and complying with
the international obligations they have undertaken. We ask only for
a process, a direction, a basic code of decency, not for an instant
We cannot ignore the fact that even without our encouragement
there has been and will continue to be repeated explosions against
repression and dictatorships. The Soviet Union itself is not immune
to this reality. Any system is inherently unstable that has no
peaceful means to legitimize its leaders. In such cases, the very
repressiveness of the state ultimately drives people to resist it,
if necessary, by force.
While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we
must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take
concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our
conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few,
but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So
states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
which, among other things, guarantees free elections.
The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the
infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions,
political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose
their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own
differences through peaceful means.
This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for
genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy
already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and
historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or
worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy. Who
would voluntarily choose not to have the right to vote, decide to
purchase government propaganda handouts instead of independent
newspapers, prefer government to worker-controlled unions, opt for
land to be owned by the state instead of those who till it, want
government repression of religious liberty, a single political
party instead of a free choice, a rigid cultural orthodoxy instead
of democratic tolerance and diversity?
Since 1917 the Soviet Union has given covert political training
and assistance to Marxist-Leninists in many countries. Of course,
it also has promoted the use of violence and subversion by these
same forces. Over the past several decades, West European and other
Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and leaders have offered
open assistance to fraternal, political, and social institutions to
bring about peaceful and democratic progress. Appropriately, for a
vigorous new democracy, the Federal Republic of Germany's political
foundations have become a major force in this effort.
We in America now intend to take additional steps, as many of
our allies have already done, toward realizing this same goal. The
chairmen and other leaders of the national Republican and
Democratic Party organizations are initiating a study with the
bipartisan American political foundation to determine how the
United States can best contribute as a nation to the global
campaign for democracy now gathering force. They will have the
cooperation of congressional leaders of both parties, along with
representatives of business, labor, and other major institutions in
our society. I look forward to receiving their recommendations and
to working with these institutions and the Congress in the common
task of strengthening democracy throughout the world.
It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation -- in both
the pubic and private sectors -- to assisting democratic
We plan to consult with leaders of other nations as well. There
is a proposal before the Council of Europe to invite
parliamentarians from democratic countries to a meeting next year
in Strasbourg. That prestigious gathering could consider ways to
help democratic political movements.
This November in Washington there will take place an
international meeting on free elections. And next spring there will
be a conference of world authorities on constitutionalism and
self-goverment hosted by the Chief Justice of the United States.
Authorities from a number of developing and developed countries --
judges, philosophers, and politicians with practical experience --
have agreed to explore how to turn principle into practice and
further the rule of law.
At the same time, we invite the Soviet Union to consider with us
how the competition of ideas and values -- which it is committed to
support -- can be conducted on a peaceful and reciprocal basis. For
example, I am prepared to offer President Brezhnev an opportunity
to speak to the American people on our television if he will allow
me the same opportunity with the Soviet people. We also suggest
that panels of our newsmen periodically appear on each other's
television to discuss major events.
Now, I don't wish to sound overly optimistic, yet the Soviet
Union is not immune from the reality of what is going on in the
world. It has happened in the past -- a small ruling elite either
mistakenly attempts to ease domestic unrest through greater
repression and foreign adventure, or it chooses a wiser course. It
begins to allow its people a voice in their own destiny. Even if
this latter process is not realized soon, I believe the renewed
strength of the democratic movement, complemented by a global
campaign for freedom, will strengthen the prospects for arms
control and a world at peace.
I have discussed on other occasions, including my address on May
9th, the elements of Western policies toward the Soviet Union to
safeguard our interests and protect the peace. What I am describing
now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of freedom
and democracy which will 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. And that's why we must
continue our efforts to strengthen NATO even as we move forward
with our Zero-Option initiative in the negotiations on
intermediate-range forces and our proposal for a one-third
reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads.
Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be
clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used,
for the ultimate determinant in the struggle that's now going on in
the world will not be bombs and rockets, but a test of wills and
ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the
beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.
The British people know that, given strong leadership, time and
a little bit of hope, the forces of good ultimately rally and
triumph over evil. Here among you is the cradle of self-government,
the Mother of Parliaments. Here is the enduring greatness of the
British contribution to mankind, the great civilized ideas:
individual liberty, representative government, and the rule of law
I've often wondered about the shyness of some of us in the West
about standing for these ideals that have done so much to ease the
plight of man and the hardships of our imperfect world. This
reluctance to use those vast resources at our command reminds me of
the elderly lady whose home was bombed in the Blitz. As the
rescuers moved about, they found a bottle of brandy she'd stored
behind the staircase, which was all that was left standing. And
since she was barely conscious, one of the workers pulled the cork
to give her a taste of it. She came around immediately and said,
``Here now -- there now, put it back. That's for emergencies.''
Well, the emergency is upon us. Let us be shy no longer. Let us
go to our strength. Let us offer hope. Let us tell the world that a
new age is not only possible but probable.
During the dark days of the Second World War, when this island
was incandescent with courage, Winston Churchill exclaimed about
Britain's adversaries, ``What kind of a people do they think we
are?'' Well, Britain's adversaries found out what extraordinary
people the British are. But all the democracies paid a terrible
price for allowing the dictators to underestimate us. We dare not
make that mistake again. So, let us ask ourselves, ``What kind of
people do we think we are?'' And let us answer, ``Free people,
worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help
others gain their freedom as well.''
Sir Winston led his people to great victory in war and then lost
an election just as the fruits of victory were about to be enjoyed.
But he left office honorably, and, as it turned out, temporarily,
knowing that the liberty of his people was more important than the
fate of any single leader. History recalls his greatness in ways no
dictator will ever know. And he left us a message of hope for the
future, as timely now as when he first uttered it, as opposition
leader in the Commons nearly 27 years ago, when he said, ``When we
look back on all the perils through which we have passed and at the
mighty foes that we have laid low and all the dark and deadly
designs that we have frustrated, why should we fear for our future?
We have,'' he said, ``come safely through the worst.''
Well, the task I've set forth will long outlive our own
generation. But together, we too have come through the worst. Let
us now begin a major effort to secure the best -- a crusade for
freedom that will engage the faith and fortitude of the next
generation. For the sake of peace and justice, let us move toward a
world in which all people are at last free to determine their own