It was in a 1982 address to the House of Commons that Ronald Reagan first put to use the infamous term “Evil Empire.” In using such a term, Reagan wasn’t talking about the conservative national takeover, nor was he referring to the secretive intelligence network that operated in the 1970s. He wasn’t talking about his wife’s family, or the drones and functionaries he inserted in bureaucratic posts. No, indeed. Rather, the title “Evil Empire” referred to none other than the colossal, gargantuan, all-troublesome, rogue-of-all rogues – the Soviet Union.
Far be it from me to defend the state that dispatched my grandmother’s first husband, bludgeoned Trotsky on my birthday (63 years ago), established some of the most systematic oppression ever conceived, exiled Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov (internally), murdered Bukharin, exported Stalin and executed an unimaginable list of atrocities.
Still, in 1982, the term “Evil Empire” was a terrific exaggeration and worked against any and all constructive ends (though thanks to Gorbachev, it did not undermine or prohibit constructive negotiations later). Nor did it keep Reagan from looking like the biggest schmuck on this side of the Volga River when he began negotiating with the “Empire.” Evil, I always thought, was non-negotiable.
Provided this, I couldn’t help but cringe upon hearing Bush’s newest pet phrase; “Axis of Evil.” As many of you know, Bush offered the term “Axis of Evil” to refer to North Korea, Iraq and Iran. During his State of the Union address, he bumbled and threatened, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world …. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”
In other words, 1982, act two.
The word axis has two major meanings. First, it refers to the Axis powers, led by Germany in WWII. The Axis powers together were responsible for countless millions of deaths, the systematic attempted genocide of an entire people, some of the most atrocious human rights violations ever recorded and the destruction of an entire continent. Second, an axis is a line, pole or other object around which the whole of a body rotates. The earth has an axis, as do all satellites.
Thus, an “Axis of Evil” would be a handful of countries that somehow are at the center of all the evil in the world – wizards and grandmasters of doom, suffering and pain. If this axis were destroyed, all evil would cease to exist, or at least fall into hopeless disorganization and impotence. Such an Axis would be the superlative enemy of all and every good – an all-powerful consortium of madness, hostility, malice, endless scheming, vice, trickery, craft, guile, artful cunning, manipulation, deception and corruption.
If the Soviet Union was merely an Evil Empire, what brand of beast could possibly warrant the title Axis of Evil? Whatever it might be, it would be far removed from the intensely impoverished, struggling, powerless states of North Korea, Iraq and Iran.
Bush’s terminology constitutes a clown-shoed attempt to demonize a handful of completely different international actors. Worse, he’s made any constructive action toward North Korea and Iran politically suicidal for an indefinite amount of time. I leave it to history to reveal how truly ridiculous and injudicious such remarks could prove.