The Iron Curtain Descends

The Anniversary of a Historic Speech

Rarely does an out-of-office politician have a major impact on public policy, especially outside his own country, but former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was no ordinary politician. As a personal favor to President Harry Truman, he traveled to the president’s home state in March 1946 to deliver a speech at Westminster College. While the two Western leaders traveled together by train, Truman read Churchill’s text, remarking that “it was admirable and would do nothing but good, although it would make quite a stir.” Indeed, it would. Churchill was about to make one of the most memorable speeches of the Cold War.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” Churchill began, “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe.” All these cities and the populations around them, he said, lie in “what I might call the Soviet sphere, and are all subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in many cases an increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

To stop Soviet expansionism, Churchill called for a “fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples,” military as well as economic in nature. Such an alliance, he believed, would decrease the risk of war than the opposite. ”From what  l have seen of our Russian friends and allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” He warned that the bitter experience of Munich would be repeated unless firm action was taken.

It was a truly prophetic speech for the following year President Truman initiated the policy of containment which included both the economic Marshall Plan and the military alliance NATO and prevented the Soviets from carrying out their plans to communize all of Europe.

This blog is excerpted from A Brief History of the Cold War by Lee Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards Spalding (Regnery History, 2016).