Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivering the "Sinews of Peace" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946; this becomes known as Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech. | Photo by George Skadding; Courtesy of The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

“…From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent…”1

 

Winston Churchill, Britain’s fearless Prime Minister during World War II, was an influential and inspiring leader who was reluctant to let any sort of obstacle prevent him from accomplishing his goals. Throughout his political career in Britain, Churchill held several different positions, and like any other political leader, he encountered both success and failure.2 Churchill soon became “the right leader for this dark moment in his nation’s history.”3 While Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister of Britain, he followed a policy of appeasement with Germany. Churchill, recognizing the disaster that the appeasement policy could bring for the country, began to speak out boldly against both the policy and Adolf Hitler.4 Despite Churchill’s warnings of Hitler, Chamberlain continued to follow the policy. Eventually, following several events that proved Churchill’s premonitions about Hitler to be true, Chamberlain stepped down from his position as Prime Minister. As the fearless, outspoken leader who had continually warned his country, Churchill became a figure whom the country wanted and needed as Prime Minister; King George appointed him to the position on May 10, 1940.5

Several years later, Churchill was defeated in a landslide election, and his time as Britain’s Prime Minister came to an end in July of 1945. His loss was a surprise worldwide, considering how effective his leadership had been for Britain during World War II. After losing the election, Churchill needed an escape–something to get his mind off of the fact that “in his effort to rebuild Britain from the ashes of war, most British voters saw him as entirely unsuitable.”6 The American President Harry S. Truman, a friend of Churchill’s, requested his presence as one of Westminster College’s lecturers in “the John Findley Green Foundation lecture series…[which showcased] speakers talking about current political and economic events.”7

U.S. President Harry S. Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Truman’s invitation to Churchill served as proof that his success and status as a nation’s wartime hero would be remembered for generations to come, and also served to emphasize his “even larger and deserved status as the visionary who had foreseen victory over evil.”8

The speech that Churchill delivered on March 5, 1946 has come to be known as one of the most famous in history. His message centered around the division of Europe at the end of World War II. The division was implemented with the intention of rebuilding post-war Europe.9 This plan had the potential to cause problems between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, and Churchill was eager to send a message of peace in his speech. Early on in his speech, in fact, Churchill claimed that “the United States…[was] in a position to remake the entire world in its own image, with the help of Britain…in opposition to ‘war and tyranny’ which threaten the ability of the average person to achieve happiness, freedom from want, and progress.”10 Furthermore, to follow up on his mention of the tyranny and war that served as opponents to the peace that Britain and the United States were trying to achieve, Churchill made mention of the fact that the United States held great responsibility because of the nuclear power it had access to.11 He said that “the United States [stood] at the pinnacle of world power…[and] with primacy in power is also joined an aweinspiring accountability to the future.”12 Churchill then effectively transitioned into an acknowledgment of the relationship that he hoped the United States and Britain would continue to have post-war. He warned his audience that “time may be short” due to an “‘iron curtain’ [that] had fallen across Eastern Europe.”13 Churchill spent the last part of his speech discussing the reality that Italy and France’s Communist parties were not to be taken lightly, stating that they were “established and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions they receive from the Communist center.”14 Finally, to end his speech, he focused his audience on the message he sought to deliver from the beginning: one of peace, one of ability, and one of hope.

 

Overall, Churchill gave a speech that reached not only his live audience, but other leaders and engaged citizens at the time; furthermore, he was successful in delivering a message that was impactful enough to remain memorable to future generations. In his speech, he addressed important issues of the time that needed attention, he established the need (and his desire) for the collaborative relations between the United States and Britain to continue, and he appealed to the many similar opinions of American politicians and citizens. Furthermore, he provided insight into the global affairs that were happening at the time of his speech, for those that were barely developing and gaining momentum, and for those that he anticipated may happen in the near future. In fact, the world saw the start of the Cold War a mere year after Churchill delivered this speech in which he explicitly made mention of the importance and responsibility that came with nuclear weapons.

Construction of Berlin Wall in 1961 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The messages present in his speech were important, some even eerily prophetic, and they remained relevant for the next several decades; his words became particularly symbolic with the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.15 All in all, Churchill’s speech has gone down in history as one of the most revelatory to its time. Whether referred to as the “Sinews of Peace” or the “Iron Curtain,” his speech will continue to serve as historical symbolism in relation to the events that followed his words of warning, peace, and hope.

  1.  Cold War Reference Library, 2004, s.v. “Churchill, Winston,” Ed. by Richard C. Hanes, Sharon M. Hanes, and Lawrence W. Baker.
  2. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Winston Churchill Becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain.”
  3.  Cold War Reference Library, 2004, s.v. “Churchill, Winston.”
  4. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Winston Churchill Becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain.”
  5. Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. “Winston Churchill Becomes Prime Minister of Great Britain.”
  6. “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000, (Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010).
  7. “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000, (Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010).
  8. “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000, (Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010).
  9. “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000, (Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010).
  10. “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000, (Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010).
  11.  “Winston Churchill Delivers the “Iron Curtain” Speech.” In Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, edited by Jennifer Stock, 325-329. Vol. 6, North America. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed April 28, 2017).
  12.  Cold War Reference Library, 2004, s.v. “Churchill, Winston,” Ed. by Richard C. Hanes, Sharon M. Hanes, and Lawrence W. Baker.
  13.  “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000. Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed April 28, 2017).
  14.  “Winston Churchill’s ‘The Sinews of Peace’,” in Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World, edited by Brian Bonhomme and Cathleen Boivin, 1436-1451. Milestone Documents. Vol. 4, 1942 – 2000. Dallas, TX: Schlager Group, 2010. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed April 28, 2017).
  15.  “Winston Churchill Delivers the “Iron Curtain” Speech,” in Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, edited by Jennifer Stock, 325-329. Vol. 6, North America. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Gale Virtual Reference Library (accessed April 28, 2017).
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28 Comments

  • Reading this article brought to mind a book that I recently read entitled “Your One Word” by Evan Carmichael. In the book, the author quotes Winston Churchill in one of his famous speeches regarding the establishment of a new government after being appointed by the king. Winston Churchill is by far one of the greatest orators of our time, and some of his most memorable speeches have gone down in history to not only become impactful in their times but also quoted by many people across many nations. John Winston Churchill’s speech he mentioned the concept of one word to embody his entire approach to conflict with Germany and that word was– Victory! As a speaker and as a leader it is impressive that Winston Churchill was able to summarize his agenda and motivate his countrymen with such eloquent words.

  • I always thought that he had had a successful career as PM even after post-WWII, I had no idea he actually lost the election of July. He was so important alongside FDR during WWII that I wonder what was going through British minds in the time they voted. Churchill has always been seen, as far as I’ve read, as somebody who shaped history and gave so much for Britain and the world. But it seems British thought otherwise.

  • Before reading this article I had no idea that Winston Churchill lost his election after WW2. I was surprised reading this given the fact that he led his country through a war and outlasted getting conquered by the Germans just less than a year before he lost his election in 1945 but what happened after his term was still something of greatness with his iron curtain speech. Churchill was a true leader.

  • Though my knowledge is very limited on the subject in my opinion Wintson Churchill is an amazing orator. He was able to captivate his audience and spread the message of peace and collaboration between the UK and the United States but in a manner that appealed to US values such as freedom of happiness and talking about the US’ power. Very smart man!

  • This was a very interesting article about Winston Churchill. I did not know that Churchill lost in a landslide election just four years after he was appointed by King George to be Britain’s Prime Minister. Churchill, in his famous speech, said that the United States and Britain needed to continue to work together in war and even after the war’s end.

  • Nice article. I love Churchill. The loss of the election must have surprised him, but i can see why the people of Britain voted him out of office. They aching for a change from the conservative principles Churchill represented, and that is why the elected Attlee. His government would be forward thinking and revolutionary. Churchill’s speech was a great speech. It is funny how Britain and the West, once, worked so close with the Soviet Union. After the war though, things quickly fell apart. Churchill’s speech is extremely relevant still today, with North Korea and all

  • Really great article with so much information. I know of Churchill only through his role as British Prime Minister during World War II, and I found it interesting to read more about his background prior to this. Churchill seems to have been quite an extraordinary man and an even better public speaker. It is interesting to me that he sought not to appease the enemy but to stop them instead. Churchill was excellent at reaching out to America for support in the war and convincing the US to offer assistance even though they wanted to remain neutral.

  • Winston Churchill is quite possibly one the most influential and greatest leaders in the world. For anyone to come into the position he had and come out on top says so much for his character and ability to lead that country despite all the hardships. Yes he was removed from office in 1945 after the Nazi’s surrendered, but it was not because of his lack of approval in office. It was due to the fact that there was still a war in the Pacific to fight and the British feared they would be involved in another part of the war they were completely unable to fight.

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