Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation

July 16, 1984

I know I speak for Vice President Bush when I say that we're delighted to have you all here and delighted to welcome you. But I'm very much aware that in your case that word "delight" does not nearly suffice.

I look at you, and I know I'm looking at people who have seen and suffered the full gamut of totalitarian terror. Some of you lost friends and loved ones in your struggles. And some of you risked your lives and all your earthly belongings, and you'll bear scars for the rest of your life. You're men and women of courage, heroes who have devoted a lifetime to struggle for God's greatest gift—for freedom. And for that, I can only say I'm honored to be here with you today, and I'll be proud to stand by you always.

You understand that the struggle for freedom is the preeminent struggle of our time. One of the great tragedies of our age is that ugly, sinister walls continue to deny for the millions trapped behind them the most basic yearnings of the human spirit. And let us make it plain that we must and will condemn all tyrants who deny their citizens human rights, whether they be dictators of the left or the right.

I've often thought to myself—in fact, I've mentioned a few times—I don't think there is a left or right, because if you follow that far enough either way, you suddenly find they've come together, and they all have the same characteristics. I think we ought to start talking about an up or down—up to the ultimate in individual freedom, consistent with an orderly society, or down through statism until you arrive at totalitarianism.

But for the sake of our security and for the sake of our freedom, let us understand the nature of the single greatest challenge to human rights in the world today: It's the challenge of one system that puts itself above God, that demands control over people's lives, and that defines its very existence by the relentless drive to conquer more and more lands. And that system is, today, Communist totalitarianism.

Look at the lesson of history. Many nations today have been conquered by force-not by moral force, not by persuasion, and certainly not by the tides of history. No, they were seized by forces of violence—by tanks and guns in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia; by bombs, chemical poisons, and forced starvation in Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Kampuchea; and everywhere by the forces of persecution against innocent people—people whose only crime might have been a simple faith, a love of their God, a longing to worship as Moslems, Buddhists, Jews, or followers of Jesus Christ. They were taken captives by force, and they remain captives by force.

The citizens of Nicaragua are the latest to join this unhappy lot, victims of the campaign of persecution against liberty and faith that follows every Communist takeover. The Archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo, and the members of his flock have recently been singled out as enemies by the Sandinista regime. Last week the Archbishop said, "We're in the presence of a Marxist-Leninist government that cannot accept an independent Church. The government's goal," he said, "is to eliminate the Church, to eliminate priests who are loyal to the Pope and to the Church hierarchy." And Pope John Paul II said, "I express my firm disapproval in my intimate participation in the suffering of the Church in Nicaragua." And I know I speak for millions of Americans who join the Pope in saying we, too, disapprove, and yes, people of Nicaragua, we, too, suffer with you.

Democracy is far from perfect. But democracy does not wage war on its neighbors; it doesn't build walls to keep its people in; and it doesn't organize armies of secret police to spy on them and keep them quiet. Democracy reflects all the mistakes, all the frailties, but also all the deepest hopes and dreams of the human spirit. And democracy rests upon a noble principle that has and always will make tyrants tremble: Government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

And that is why people with their innate good sense have never chosen of their own free will to live as slaves. But millions have risked their lives to escape the darkness of oppression and to live in the sunlight of freedom. And that's why we can say here today with certain knowledge that our path is the right and good path and that, yes, democracy is the way of the future.

To all those trapped in tyranny, wherever they may be, let us speak with one voice-not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans—saying you are not alone; your dreams are not in vain. Hold onto your dreams, because the tide of the future is a freedom tide, and totalitarianism cannot hold it back.

We're peaceful people. We occupy no countries. We seek no confrontation with any nation. As I've said repeatedly, there's nothing we want more, nothing we're trying harder to achieve than to bring about a more peaceful world. Peace is our highest aspiration. We're prepared for peace and prepared to persist for peace.

James Russell Lowell wrote, "Endurance is the crowning quality in patience, all the passion of great hearts. One day, with life and heart, is more than enough to find a world."

We will always summon our freedom to work another day to make this world a safer place. But as we go forward in this worthy endeavor, let us also remember who we are and what we stand for. We're a nation under God, and His divine spirit of truth and love must guide and always remain central to our existence. Yes, we stand for peace, but we stand for peace with freedom and for peace with dignity.

And when we speak of the dignity of the individual, nothing could be more tragic than the fate of the Nobel Prize winner, Doctor Andrei Sakharov, and his wife, Yelena Bonner, who are currently suffering severe persecution and are cut off from the rest of humanity. The world demands to know the fate of these two good and courageous people. So, to those who believe our policy must always be willful ignorance of ugly truths, must be silence in the face of persecution, and appeasement or surrender to aggression, I say, no, that price is far too steep, and we dare not and will never pay it.

If our observance of Captive Nations Week is to have meaning, then it must be observed in word and in deed. Today I'm calling on people everywhere who enjoy the blessings of liberty to join with us in helping the freedom fighters in Afghanistan, because they need our support, they want our support, and they deserve our support. The cause of peace is not served by a conquering force of more than a hundred thousand Soviet troops. The cause of peace will only be served when those troops are out and Afghanistan belongs again to the Afghan people.

And today I'm appealing to those who refuse to help the freedom fighters in Nicaragua, refuse to assist their courageous struggle for democracy, for freedom of the press, and for freedom of assembly and worship in their homeland. I urge you to ponder long and hard, to reflect on the fatal consequences of complacency and isolationism, and, above all, to understand that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.

It's vital for the sake of our own future that the Congress and the American people respond to the democratic aspirations of the Nicaraguan people. Freedom's greatest shield is a shield of truth, and our shield is stronger today than ever before.

I'm proud to tell you that we've begun an initiative that will bring words of truth and a message of hope to millions of imprisoned people throughout the world. The construction budget of the Voice of America was only $2.6 million in 1981. So, our administration has developed a 6-year, $1 billion program to modernize the Voice of America. And I'm pleased to report that the Congress has voted to provide nearly a hundred million dollars for 1985.

We're also committed to expanding significantly the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to communicate with the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And we're pleased that the Congress has authorized the establishment of Radio Marti, which will broadcast the truth to the people of Cuba.

There is cause for hope and promise. And so, I thank you for your faith, for your courage. And I thank you for standing together, because, with you by our side, we'll keep our sights on the farthest stars; we'll climb higher; we will be a shining city on a hill. Our time is now.

And now I'm going to sign the Captive Nations Week proclamation. And thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks on Signing the Captive Nations Week Proclamation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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