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).
Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech
Public Ratings

More from Victoria Sanchez

From Hunter-Gatherers to Civilization: What Was Lost in Transition?

The Paleolithic Era began nearly two hundred thousand years ago, and lasted for...
Read More

16 Comments

  • I liked this article very much, because the cold war is my favorite subject in history, along with the Russian revolution. While it is true that the term “iron curtain” was popularized by Churchill, really he was not the one who created the term. The term had actually been devised or used before by Nazi Germany Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who declared on February 25, 1945, in an article entitled The Year 2000 in the weekly Das Reich: “If the Germans surrender, the Soviets, according to the arrangement to which Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin have arrived, will occupy the whole of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, as well as much of the Reich. An iron curtain (ein eiserner Vorhang) will fall on this huge territory controlled by the Soviet Union, which nations will be beheaded behind. The Jewish press in London and New York will probably continue to applaud.” The iron curtain was not only a mere territorial division; for the first time, the world was separated into two completely different societies in every sense. For example, two opposing military systems, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (1949) and the Warsaw Pact (1955), as well as in economic alliances, the Marshall Plan on the one hand, and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance on the other. There was also a religious division, on the one hand believers and on the other hand atheist communists. It is incredible how the power of politicians can be so strong that they can divide the world in two. We must learn from the past and not make these mistakes again, not give power to politicians that the only thing they are seeking for is to build walls between us, instead of bridges.

  • This was a good article however it was a little confusing. The article seems to want to focus on the iron curtain speech. The article however seems to lack many defining details about this historic speech. The article also seems to lack a clear direction specifically what is the importance of focusing on this speech. I would recommend identifying more with your main idea about the speech than focusing on the background of the speech. Overall you still wrote a good article.

  • this was a great article, very informative and gave us great details about Winston Churchill. I’ve heard about the iron curtain speech in history class n high school but It wasn’t very in-depth abut it. great job on giving is information about it. the article was interesting to read and I read some thing that didn’t know about the speech

  • I enjoyed this article. It is extremely cohesive information and flows as a story extremely well. I have learned about Winston Churchill’s accomplishments in war many times, but I was not aware so much about his political campaign. I like how you highlighted his character and positive traits in the text. His perseverance no matter his position in government highlights his morality. He truly wanted to improve the world, and his words and actions definitely have.

  • This was informative about Winston Churchill. However, half the article was about how he became prime minister and immediately how he lost the next election for prime minister. I would have like this article to have a bit more about the speech its self and the meaning of the warning he gives. Especially since the title is Winston Churchill’s “Iron curtain speech. Overall the article was good and got the point across.

  • Winston Churchill is such an iconic and important man. He helped shape our modern world and without his efforts I don’t think the modern world would be the same if Churchill didn’t stand up and do something about it. Your article was very informative and it left an impression on me. I liked the way you started and ended your article because it all flowed well. I also liked that you included a video of Churchill giving his speech to the students at Westminster.

  • When I was sitting in my high school history class, I remember the mention of Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech and how revolutionary it had been. This news article provided some back story that I did not know about Winston Churchill, such as him publically talking against Adolf Hitler before his policies were placed, that I had previously not know, which I highly liked. Great news article!

  • Very admirable that Churchill still tried making an impact after he was voted out of his position as prime minister. I like how he knew and acknowledged the fact that the U.S. had a great deal of responsibility to the world with the power it held and it still holds true nowadays with our current state. He definitely was able to understand and convey a message about nuclear weapons that still holds true to this day.

  • I must applaud Churchill for his speech and not hesitating to include the United States by stating that we too must be careful with our responsibilities. It is miraculous how some speeches can leave their messages for decades and that people truly take them into account. I admire any leader who takes action for peace and does not act out in selfish desires, like I see today. It is noble and honest people that live on in the hearts of millions.

  • Firstly, I loved how you included the video of Churchill giving the “Iron Curtain” speech and thought the article itself was interesting and easy to read. Furthermore, I really found this informative because it shed a new light on Churchill’s profound and inspiring character post-war, without undermining his work during the war. This article also did a really good job at providing information about world relations at the time after WWII (especially that of Britain’s and the U.S.’s).

  • What I respect most about a man like Churchill is that he knew trouble as it came, and sought for it be eliminated. A true leader does not appease the people that want him dead, but rather seeks to destroy them first. Leading up to Obama, and including him, I don’t believe the United States has had leaders capable of identifying our enemies quite well. In some cases they may have done well, but not enough. They instead appeased ideologies and people that wanted us dead. Hopefully that changes.

  • Church hill was a very interesting/inspiring individual yes he was a powerful man whose country loved him for his success as a leader. he “was an influential and inspiring leader.” many presidents can only imagine of having as much success as he did. Although he was put into a position where he needed to shine he truly did show his true colors. great article, very informative!

  • I was aware of Winston Churchill being the Prime Minister during World War II, and his leadership was a prime component of Britain’s victory over Nazi Germany. However, I was completely unaware of this powerful message of warning, peace, and hope. I enjoyed how this article included visual representation of Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech. Including the video allows myself and other individuals to experience a prominent political figure in action, which is very neat.

  • This article gives excellent background information on Churchill without distracting from the topic of the speech. The article is very informative about the intentions of Winston Churchill and his desire for peace post war, acknowledging the power of the United States and the potential dangers in Eastern Europe. There is a definite indication of his wisdom given that his word were prophetic. Great job capturing this great political figure.

  • Hi Victoria, nice article. Personally, I feel as though Churchill isn’t someone who spoken about enough in today’s world. I feel as though Churchill was one of the most important leaders during WWII. He led Britain through the most difficult world crisis. His speech seems relevant to me today, still, with the threat of nuclear war. He was right to state that America, and now other countries as well, have a huge responsibility when it comes to dealing with such weapons.

  • Hello Victoria, I really enjoyed reading your article on Winston Churchill who I personally believe to be one of the greatest statesmen that ever lived. Churchill as shown in your article like all great prophets in history was not celebrated in his own country after the Second World War but this did not stop the rest of the world from seeing him for the great leader that he was. What really stands out for me about Churchill is that even though he was not from a noble background or as eloquent as some people might have wished he had very great oratory skills as seen in the speech you highlight here. Churchill’s warnings before and after the war regarding Germany, and Italy seem to have come true so he was beyond a great orator and statesman but he had a good understanding of the politics of the world during this time. I like how you incorporated video and pictures into this article it helped one to travel and be in the presence of this great man. Thank you for this article Victoria.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *