Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Reagan's description of the former Soviet Union was as totalitarian and evil. While his characterization of the USSR was supported by conservatives and Cold War hawks, a global controversy grew around Reagan's use of the phrase.
Reagan's critics, especially those who favored détente with the Soviets, felt that he was needlessly inflaming tensions between the two superpowers, increasing the risk of war. Some on the left held that the United States was not in a position to make a moral claim against the Soviet Union, arguing that both superpowers had acted immorally throughout the world.
Michael Johns, writing for the conservative Heritage Foundation's magazine, Policy Review, prominently defended Reagan's assertion. In "Seventy Years of Evil: Soviet Crimes from Lenin to Gorbachev", Johns cited 208 acts by the Soviet Union that he argued demonstrated the evil of the USSR.
Almost three years after using the term "evil empire," during his second term office, Reagan visited the new reformist General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. When asked by a reporter whether he still thought the USSR was an "evil empire," Reagan responded that he no longer did, and that when he had employed the term it had been a 'different era'—referring to the period before Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost reforms. Still, Reagan remained a harsh critic of the Soviet regime.
Critics of United States foreign policy have turned this term against the United States. Drawing on the phrase, the anarchical rock group Rage Against the Machine, for instance, released a 1996 album titled Evil Empire, which featured songs generally critically of the United States government, including People of the Sun and Bulls on Parade.
The term itself may have originated as a subtle pop culture reference to the Star Wars series of movies, which pitted a Rebel Alliance against the Empire of the evil Darth Vader. President Reagan reportedly was a fan of the Star Wars movies.
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