On this day in 1946, Winston Churchill delivered his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.
Often regarded as the official opening of the Cold War, Churchill used his oratory skills to condemn Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe on a platform alongside US President Harry Truman. Somewhat puzzling was the fact that such a major speech was conducted by the leader of the opposition (Churchill was defeated by Labour’s Attlee at the 1945 election), however on the world stage Churchill remained the prestigious figurehead of Britain after World War Two. Churchill praised the US in his speech, declaring them “the pinnacle of world power”, and emphasised the strengthening of the “special relationship”, a term continually used by UK/US politicians alike. Although the US government was largely supportive of Churchill’s world view, this is not to say that the majority of US officials were sympathetic to Britain’s clear wishes for support in the protection of their crumbling empire. Furthermore, the western public were initially less than impressed, after regarding the Soviet Union as an ally after the defeat of Germany and Japan. This speech was symbolic of changing US policy towards the Soviets, and took a foothold as the Cold War progressed.
Soviet leader Stalin responded with extreme anger at Churchill’s speech, calling it “war mongering”. It seemed extremely hostile and antagonistic to outline battlelines with supposed allies just a year after the end of the War. Moreover, he denounced Churchill’s remarks about the “English-speaking world” as imperialist “racism.” It seems that all the so-called ‘Sinews of Peace’ speech did was accelerate tension, bringing the ideological divide between capitalism and communism to the forefront via an imaginary concept, with Churchill consciously ignorant of any justification for a Soviet buffer zone in Europe after two invasions from Germany in the last twenty years.