Remarks at a Ceremony Marking the Annual Observance of Captive Nations Week

July 19, 1983

Thank you. You know, I have to apologize here for keeping you waiting. And I always wonder if there isn't some way, without making it sound that way, if in that announcement they couldn't say ``the late President'' -- [laughter] -- ``of the United States.''

But thank you all very much. And Members of the Congress and Excellencies here, and fellow Americans and, may I add, fellow citizens of the world who yearn to breathe free, we're honored to welcome all of you. I'd like to thank Congressman Jerry Solomon for his strong support of this event.

And today we come to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are captives, not because of crimes that they have committed but because of crimes committed against them by dictators and tyrants.

We met here last month with a group of Baltic Americans honoring Baltic Freedom Day. And I said that we gathered to draw attention to the plight of the Baltic people and to affirm to the world that we do not recognize their subjugation as a permanent condition.

Today, we speak to all in Eastern Europe who are separated from neighbors and loved ones by an ugly iron curtain. And to every person trapped in tyranny, whether in the Ukraine, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, or Vietnam, we send our love and support and tell them they are not alone. Our message must be: Your struggle is our struggle, your dream is our dream, and someday, you, too, will be free. As Pope John Paul told his beloved Poles, we are blessed by divine heritage. We are children of God and we cannot be slaves.

The prophet Isaiah admonished the world, ``. . . Bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives.'' Some 25 centuries later, philosophers would declare that ``the cause of freedom is the cause of God.''

We Americans understand the truth of these words. We were born a nation under God, sought out by people who trusted in Him to work His will in their daily lives, so America would be a land of fairness, morality, justice, and compassion.

Many governments oppress their people and abuse human rights. We must oppose this injustice. But only one so-called revolution puts itself above God, insists on total control over the peoples' lives, and is driven by the desire to seize more and more lands. As we mark this 25th observance of Captive Nations Week, I have one question for those rulers: If communism is the wave of the future, why do you still need walls to keep people in and armies of secret police to keep them quiet?

Democracy may not be perfect, but the brave people who risk death for freedom are not fleeing from democracy -- they're fleeing to democracy from communism.

Two visions of the world remain locked in dispute. The first believes all men are created equal by a loving God who has blessed us with freedom. Abraham Lincoln spoke for us: ``No man,'' he said, ``is good enough to govern another without the other's consent.''

The second vision believes that religion is opium for the masses. It believes that eternal principles like truth, liberty, and democracy have no meaning beyond the whim of the state. And Lenin spoke for them: ``It is true, that liberty is precious,'' he said, ``so precious that it must be rationed.''

Well, I'll take Lincoln's version over Lenin's -- [laughter] -- and so will citizens of the world if they're given free choice.

Now, some believe we must muffle our voices for the cause of peace. I disagree. Peace is made or broken with deeds, not words. No country has done more or will strive harder for peace than the United States. I will personally embrace any meaningful action by the Soviet Union to help us create a more peaceful, safe, and secure world. I welcome the Soviet pledge of cooperation at the Madrid review Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. With every ounce of my being I pray the day will come when nuclear weapons no longer exist anywhere on Earth. And as long as I'm President, we'll work day in and day out to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in strategic weapons.

When Congress approved the MX Peacekeeper program last May, America demonstrated its bipartisan consensus to implement the recommendations of the Scowcroft commission. This bipartisan step marked progress toward genuine arms reductions. In the next few days, the Congress will vote on the question of supreme importance: Do we continue forward, or do we turn back from the Scowcroft commission's recommendations?

In terms of speaking to the world with one bipartisan voice, of standing up for U.S. vital interests, and of strengthening America's agenda for peace, no question matters more for this country in 1983.

Rather than seek temporary, partisan advantage, let us work together for the future of mankind. We must not waver in our request for genuine peace and cooperation. We must keep our military strong to deter aggression. And we will never shrink from speaking the truth.

Ask yourselves: Was it our words that destroyed peace in Afghanistan, or was it Soviet aggression? Is peace served by sealing our lips while millions are tortured or killed in Vietnam and Cambodia? Or should we not speak out to demand those crimes be stopped? It's not provocative to warn that once a Communist revolution occurs, citizens are not permitted free elections, a free press, free trade, free unions, free speech, freedom to worship, or property, or freedom to travel as we please. Many military regimes have evolved into democracies. But no Communist regime has ever become a democracy, provided freedom or given its people economic prosperity.

We will speak the truth. Aleksandr Herzen, the Russian writer, warned: ``To shrink from saying a word in defense of the oppressed is as bad as any crime.'' That's why we want improved and expanded broadcasts over the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Liberty. And that's why we want, and the Cuban people need, Radio Marti.

Now, many of you here have known the suffering that I've described. You are the conscience of the free world, and I appeal to you to make your voices heard. Tell them: ``You may jail your people. You may seize their goods. You may ban their unions. You may bully their rabbis and dissidents. You may forbid the name of Jesus to pass their lips. But you will never destroy the love of God and freedom that burns in their hearts. They will triumph over you.

Help us warn the American people that for the first time in memory we face real dangers on our own borders, that we must protect the safety and security of our people. We must not permit outsiders to threaten the United States. We must not permit dictators to ram communism down the throats of one Central American country after another.

We've seen construction in Cuba of a naval base from which Soviet nuclear submarines can operate. We see Soviet capacity for air reconnaissance over our eastern coast from Cuban bases. And we see the Soviets and Cuba building a war machine in Nicaragua that dwarfs the forces of all their neighbors combined. Let's not fool ourselves: This war machine isn't being built to make Central America safe for democracy. It isn't being built to pursue peace, economic or social reform. It's being built, by their own boast, to impose a revolution without frontiers.

Now, this is not my problem; it's our problem. But if we pull together, we can solve it. As I announced yesterday, I'm appointing a bipartisan commission on Central America. And let us resolve today: There must be no more captive nations in this hemisphere.

With faith as our guide, we can muster the wisdom and will to protect the deepest treasures of the human spirit -- the freedom to build a better life in our time and the promise of life everlasting in His kingdom.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told us, ``Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger . . . on one rung of the ladder.''

With your help, we will stand shoulder to shoulder, and we'll keep our sights on the farthest stars.

Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building.

On June 6, the President signed Proclamation 5067, proclaiming the week beginning July 17 as Captive Nations Week, 1983.