President Ronald Reagan delivered this 1982 speech to members of the British Parliament in the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster in London. It contains one of the more memorable phrases spoken during his presidency, in which he predicts the eventual downfall of munism, stating that it will be left on the ‘ash heap of history.’ The President eloquently explains the reasons behind his staunch opposition to munism while encouraging the British to aid in the worldwide struggle for freedom, recalling the success of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the fight against Nazi tyranny. This speech occurred during a period of heightened tensions between the United States and munist Russia (the Soviet Union) which at that time dominated much of Eastern Europe and was attempting to spread its influence in other countries as well, a provocative endeavor adamantly opposed by President Reagan.
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 homeing in these hallowed halls.
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 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.” [Laughter]
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 es 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]
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