This week in history: Churchill gives his 'Iron Curtain' speech

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 5 2014 7:00 p.m. MST

In this Jan. 6, 1953, photo by Associated Press photographer Marty Lederhandler, visiting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, center, sits with John Foster Dulles, left, secretary of state-designate; Bernard Baruch, second from right, and Winthrop W. Aldrich, ambassador-designate to the Court of St. James, in Baruch's home in New York.


On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. With this speech, Churchill intended to offer a guide for maintaining world peace, though he also warned the West of the danger of Soviet expansionism.

Shortly after Germany's surrender in May 1945, Churchill's conservative government had called for a general election. The wartime prime minister, who had seen Britain through its contest with Germany since May 1940, was voted out of office.

Dr. Franc L. McCluer, the president of Westminster College, decided to invite Churchill to receive an honorary degree and give a speech, and through a former college student and friend of Harry Truman, McCleur approached the president of the United States. Truman thought that McCluer's idea had merit and enthusiastically endorsed it. In McCluer's letter to the former prime minister Truman added the lines, "This is a wonderful school in my home state. Hope you can do it. I'll introduce you. Best regards."

Churchill gratefully accepted and after visiting Cuba and Miami he made his way to Washington, D.C. In his book "Truman," biographer David McCullough wrote:

"(On) Monday, March 4, riding in Roosevelt's armored railroad car, the Ferdinand Magellan, Truman and Churchill left by special train for Missouri. … Truman's obvious high spirits impressed everyone. He was delighted to be traveling in such good company and bringing Churchill, the most famous speaker in the world, to a college in his home state that no one ever heard of."

The next day, following Truman's introduction, Churchill gave his famous speech, which was broadcast throughout the country. He began the speech by thanking the school for his degree, then noted mirthfully that he was very well acquainted with the name "Westminster."

He then went on to praise his host nation, "The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy. For with primacy in power is also joined an awe inspiring accountability to the future. If you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement."

He went on to call for the new United Nations to wield more military power, suggesting that each member nation contribute air squadrons that would be put at the disposal of that body. He did, however, state that the secret of the atomic bomb should continue to rest only with the United States, Great Britain and Canada. Churchill discussed British constitutional history and the importance of general elections, civil liberties and the rule of law. Churchill also stated that the cornerstone for a lasting peace would be the "special relationship" between Britain and the U.S. The phrase "special relationship" soon entered the diplomatic lexicon when describing British-American relations.

Churchill then spoke of Soviet aggression, the theme that the speech would forever be associated with. In perhaps the speech's most recognizable passage, Churchill stated: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. 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 many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. … The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case ….”

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