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Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech and the Soviet Response
Transcript of Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech and the Soviet Response
Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech
and the Soviet Response
In March 1946, Churchill presented his speech "The Sinews of Peace" or "The Iron Curtain Speech". He gave it in Fulton, Missouri as a response to Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. When Churchill gave this speech, the Soviet Union had established friendly governments in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania.
By Josh Krause
"From Stettin, in the Baltic, to Trieste, in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent."
This line was very surprising to audiences in the United States and Great Britain
because up until then, the Soviet Union had been seen as a helpful ally who had played a major role in ending the German threat to Europe. This phrase changed the way that the West began to view the Soviet Union. Winston sought to form a strong Western alliance against communist expansion.
"Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its
Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies"
Churchill's comments about the expansionistic policies of the
Soviet Union represent a feeling that many Western countries
had about the Soviet Union's acquisition of land in Eastern
Europe. They felt that the Soviet Union was aggressively
taking land and would be responsible for the start of the Cold War. In this speech, Churchill emphasizes that Communists are evil and wicked and commit appalling acts to the free world
"This can only be achieved by...reaching a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding..."
In this section, Churchill calls for a Western alliance against
Communist countries in order to perserve democracy. This
call for an alliance was answered with the formation of NATO
in 1949. NATO is an alliance that was formed to provide
military defense against Soviet threats.
"One can ask therefore, what can be surprising in the fact that the Soviet Union, in a desire to ensure its security for the future, tries to achieve that these countries should have governments whose relations to the Soviet Union are loyal?"
Nine days after Churchill's speech, Stalin was interviewed and
asked about his opinion on Churchill's address to Western
countries. He disagreed with much of Winston's speech and
gave reasons for Soviet expansion in Europe.
In this line, Stalin tries to explain why the Soviet Union
is eager to acquire land and establish Communist
governments in Eastern Europe. He says that it is for
reasons of future security that they expand.
"Mr. Churchill sometimes recalls in his speeches the common people from small houses, patting them on the shoulder in a lordly manner and pretending to be their friend...It is they, millions of these common people, who voted Mr. Churchill and his party out in England"
In this section, Stalin accuses Churchill of patronizing the common people and pretending to care about them. He shows a common Communist belief that Capitalist's were greedy, rich people who didn't care for the common man He also puts himself and the Soviet Union on the common person's side later in his address.
"The English racial theory brings Mr. Churchill and his friends to the conclusion that nations speaking the English language, being the only fully valuable nations, should rule over the remaining nations of the world..."
In this part, Stalin compares Churchill and Hitler. He
thinks that, like Hitler, Churchill believes that a
particular race/language is superior to all others. He
makes a cold distinction between the East and West.
The Role of These Speeches
How did these speeches increase the tension of the Cold War?
Because of his iconic role in WW2, Churchill had much
influence and prestige. He was a well-known opposer
of all things Communist. In this speech he still carries
that image. He called for stronger alliances against
Soviet Expansion, warned of Germany's future threat,
and predicted the consequences of Communist
Stalin also attacked Britain and the United States, accusing
them of being "Warmongers" and of witholding information
about the atomic bomb.
Does this show who started the Cold War?
Before World War 2, Communism and Capitalism were already beginning to come into
conflict. Russia had established itself as a major Communist nation, while the United States and its allies were Capitalist. The West's treatment of the Soviet Union while appeasing the Germans served further to separate the two sides. With the rise of Germany as a major threat, however, Russia and the Allies entered a brief period of peace because of a common enemy. When Germany was defeated, relations quickly began to deteriorate. Churchill's "Sinews of Peace" speech was a strong push towards a conflict with the Soviet Union and her allies. In fact, Soviet historians date the start of the Cold War from this speech onwards.
These speeches resulted in a deterioration of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. They both blamed each other for breaking agreements made in Potsdam just a year earlier. Each side viewed the other as a selfish warmonger bent on relentlessly expanding their territory. Great Britain and her allies were alarmed by the spread of Soviet influence in Europe. Because of this, they began to pursue a policy of containing the spread by intervening in much of Western Europe's affairs. The "Truman Doctrine" given a year later, and the Marshall plan addressed many of these issues.
There are many theories as to how the Cold War started and what factors affected its escalation. Three major theories are:
1) The Soviet Union's spread of influence and behavior in Eastern Europe, especially regarding Germany, alarmed the Allies and caused the Cold War
2) American Imperialism and the fact that they had the atomic bomb led Stalin to feel insecure which led to the start of the Cold War
3) The ideologies are fundamentally different and expansionistic. Thus they cannot coexist because actions taken to ensure security provoke action by the opposite. Defensive measures are viewed as threatening due to each's mutually exclusive nature.
The evidence from the "Sinews of Peace" speech and its response support the third theory: the two countries were locked in a security paradox. The Soviet Union took severe blows during WW2. They were invaded by Germany and had much of their population killed. Their feelings of insecurity were further compounded by the U.S.'s possesion of the atomic bomb. In Stalin's mind, the bomb negated/lessened the advantage that he had in his massive Red Army. Because of this, they sought security once Germany was defeated. They established pro-Communist governments in the Baltic States and anywhere that the Red Army went. By doing this, they were trying to ensure future security.
The United States and Great Britain viewed this as aggressive expansion. They were alarmed by the possibility of a Communist Europe. They also sought to establish coalition governments with fair elections in Europe. In order to prevent the spread of Communism, they began to seek containment. This led the Soviets to feel insecure and they sought to further their securty in Europe. This cycle continued and thus supports the security paradox theory.
Churchill giving his Iron Curtain Speech
A famous cartoon that depicts Churchill peeking under the "Iron Curtain"
A picture showing the Soviet Union's expansion
A map showing the division of Europe
into NATO and the Warsaw pact. The
black line shows the Iron Curtain
A cartoon showing Stalin planting communist
governments in Eastern Europe
"...and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections."
In this section, and throughout his speech,
Churchill builds on the idea of an Anglo-American
alliance based on similarities in language and