Author Philip White Discusses Winston Churchill’s Famous “Iron Curtain” Speech
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February 23, 2012
In 1946 Winston Churchill visited Fulton, Missouri, to make a speech that would redefine the post-war world and add a new phrase to the world's political vocabulary: The Iron Curtain.
Philip White, author of Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill's Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance, discusses that historic turning point on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
It began in the fall of 1945 when Franc McCluer, the president of Westminster College In Fulton, decided to extend to Churchill an invitation to deliver an annual campus lecture on world events. He went to WashingtonD.C. to enlist the aid of an old classmate and Westminster alumnus, Harry Vaughan, a member of President Harry Truman's inner circle.
Vaughan liked the idea and, discovering an empty slot in the President's schedule, led McCluer into the Oval Office where Truman read his invitation to Churchill, wrote something on the bottom and announced, "Now, you send him that."
A few days later Churchill received the invitation and read its handwritten postscript:
"This is a wonderful school in my home state. Hope you can do it. I'll introduce you. Best Regards, Harry Truman."
Churchill, now a former Prime Minister since his Conservative Party's defeat at the polls, saw an opportunity not only to boost his flagging political fortunes but to speak out on a situation he viewed with the greatest alarm.
By the end of 1945 Europe at last was at peace. Or so it seemed to millions weary of war.
Churchill saw things differently. Communism wasn't resting; rather, it was on the march. The people of Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Poland found themselves in the Soviet grip. The Red Army occupied a large chunk of Germany and the Kremlin was manipulating post-war food shortages, labor disputes, and social unrest in Greece, France, and Italy.
Churchill began writing what officially was titled the Sinews of Peace speech, though today nobody calls it by that name.
Churchill delivered his oration on March 5, 1946, on the Westminster campus with Harry Truman listening intently. At a key moment in the speech the former Prime Minister declared:
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriactic 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 some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."
Churchill's commentsinitially were met with indifference or hostility. His call for increased Anglo-American solidarity in the face of Soviet aggression sounded to many like a recipe for yet more conflict at a time when the world wanted nothing but peace and quiet.
But Churchill was vindicated as the West came to accept his warnings about the perilous divide between democracy and Soviet totalitarianism. In time the "Iron Curtain" speech came to define an era, and it continues to inspire today.
Philip White is a writer and lecturer at MidAmericaNazareneUniversity in Olathe, Kansas, and writes about both history and business. He has won awards from the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP online or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.
Co-sponsored by Westminster College, the National Churchill Museum and MidAmerica Nazarene University.