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
Other milestones lie ahead Later this week, m 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
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 representatives here.
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 diplornatic 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
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 opposition party. [Laughter]
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
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
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 totalitarian 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 totalitarian evil?
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-Lenirusm, 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. Over centralized, 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 leaving.
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 collectivisrn stifles all the best human impulses.
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 11. More recently we've seen
evidence of this same human impulse in one of the developing nations