Monday 5 March 2012

The Iron Curtain Speech

Photo courtesy

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the [European] Continent." 

On March 5, 1946, a train with two World War II statesmen left Washington D.C. and steamed across the United States to the gateway to the west, Missouri.  In the town of Fulton, population 7,000, at Westminster University, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, with President Harry Truman by his side, delivered a prophetic speech to an audience of 40,000 students.  Titled "The Sinews of Peace" the oratory soon became known as "The Iron Curtain Speech", referring to the figurative curtain that had fallen, separating democratic western Europe and Communist Eastern Europe. 

Sir Winston Churchill reminded the American audience what had happened when the world powers appeased Hitler, granting him Austria, the Sudetenland, and Czechoslovakia; finally Poland was the straw that broke the camel's back.  Churchill feared that if the world powers appeased Stalin, he would never be satisfied either. 

The British statesman pointed out that the famous capitals of Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia were under the ever increasing control of Moscow.  For instance, he mentioned that:

The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place.

In fact, the Soviet Union would expell two out of the three million Germans in Germany's eastern provinces in the years 1945 to 1948, in the name of ethnic cleansing. 

Reminding the audience that the United States was at a "pinnacle of power", Churchill called for even closer relations between Britain and America, in an effort to counter the rising menace of Communism.  Surprisingly, though, the speech was not well received by political figures like former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former Vice President Henry Wallace and then current British Prime Minister Clement Atlee.  The New York Herald Tribune disagreed with the tone and content of the speech.

However, within weeks of Churchill's delivery of his speech, public opinion shifted:  more and more people realized that the Soviet Union posed a threat that could not be ignored.  Although World War II had ended, the Cold War had begun, marked by Sir Winston Churchill's famous oratory.  The Iron Curtain had descended, not to be raised for almost 45 years.

Map of Iron Curtain circa 1946 courtesy

1 comment:

  1. Linda - Love your history bites - as an admirer of Churchill, I especially liked this story about his famous speech. What a visionary and speaker he was.