Churchill coined the phrase “iron curtain,” when he travelled to Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. It had been a mere ten months since World War II had ended in Europe. Only one of the three signatories of the Potsdam Agreement was still in power: Soviet Union’s Marshal Joseph Stalin. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had passed away and been replaced by Harry. S. Truman. Sir Winston Churchill had lost the British election to Clement Atlee. At this point in time, the U.S. and Great Britain were mainly concerned with the state of their own post-war economies and remained grateful to Russia that she had taken a prominent role in ending the war.
“The Sinews of Peace” by Churchill
On this day in early March 5, Churchill gave an address at Westminster College in Fulton. His speech was entitled, “The Sinews of Peace.” He began by speaking of his admiration for the Soviet Union and by welcoming her into the circle of leading nations. He expressed understanding for Russia’s need for security on her western frontiers. But then he cautioned, “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. 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.” He went on to say, “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.”
Following the speech, the phrase “iron curtain” became widely known. To read Churchill’s speech in its entirety, please visit https://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/120-the-sinews-of-peace.
“Iron Curtain” became a household word
Although it is widely held that Churchill coined the descriptive term “iron curtain” during his “The Sinews of Peace” speech, he actually had used the term for decades already. But after this post-war speech, the phrase became synonymous with the way the West viewed the East. The phrase became so popular that I, a post-war child growing up in Berlin, Germany, remember it as one of the givens in my vocabulary. To me at that young age, “iron curtain” meant Cold War.
Sir Winston Churchill
Churchill’s view on the Berlin situation
Sir Winston Churchill also foreshadowed what, indeed, ended up happening in Berlin a couple of years later when the Russians blockaded all ground access routes to West Berlin. In his speech, Churchill said, “An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-Communist party in their zone of Occupied Germany by showing special favors to groups of left-wing German leaders. At the end of the fighting last June, the American and British Armies withdrew westwards, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to a depth at some points of 150 miles upon a front of nearly four hundred miles, in order to allow our Russian allies to occupy this vast expanse of territory, which the Western Democracies had conquered. If now the Soviet Government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-Communist Germany in their areas, this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones.”