Winston Churchill Delivers His Famous Iron Curtain Speech

Today on March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill delivers his famous Iron Curtain Speech — widely considered as the beginning of the Cold War.

The Iron Curtain Speech, also known as the Sinews of Peace Address, was written and delivered by the former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. As one of Britain's most revered national leaders, he was an exceptionally talented orator. Some historians regard him as the most influential politician of the 20th century. From 1940 to 1945, he led the country through some of its most turbulent years during World War II. Churchill played a critical role in galvanizing the nation against the rise of Nazi Germany. But after claiming victory in 1945, he unexpectedly lost his re-election bid following a landslide defeat to the Labour Party. Many of the qualities that had made him such an effective wartime leader no longer seemed necessary in times of peace.

After stepping down as Prime Minister, Westminster College invited him to give a speech in Fulton, Missouri. U.S. President Harry Truman was also in attendance and joined him on stage. Churchill began his Iron Curtain Speech by praising the United States for being "at the pinnacle of world power" and for their critical support in the war. Churchill made the pitch for a "special relationship" between the two most powerful English-speaking countries. In reality, the United States was far stronger than Britain at this point. Next, he shifted towards condemning the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. The official transcript read, "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent." The metaphorical iron curtain referred to the political and ideological barrier between the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

Churchill elaborated that "behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow." He continued by saying "communist fifth columns" were rising across Europe, and he drew parallels to the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Churchill suggested Joseph Stalin only admired strength and "there was nothing for which they had less respect than for military weakness."

The Iron Curtain Speech is now considered a defining moment at the beginning of the Cold War. Churchill's address has since become one of the most famous dialogues of the 1900s. For the most part, it was well-received by President Truman and his administration. The Iron Curtain Speech largely echoed their existing concerns of Soviet expansionism. The Americans believed there needed to be a tougher global stance against Stalin. While Britain would be an essential ally in the Cold War, the U.S. was apprehensive about forming a "special relationship" with them. Long gone were the days of the mighty British Empire. Its influence over global affairs was diminishing by the day. Stalin later regarded the speech as imperialist racism and denounced Churchill's comments as warmongering.

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