Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech is often considered one of the first examples of Cold War action as it drew a distinct line between the western and the eastern world. He presented a number of ideas through this speech, but the main one concerned the actions of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe. His warnings became emblematic of the period and shaped an early alliance between the United States and Great Britain. This paper will examine some of the points that were brought up by Churchill.
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Expansionist Desires and Self-Determination
One of the core beliefs of the United States is independence. It is described in some of its most sacred documents, and it was one of the driving forces for the west during the Second World War. However, the division of territory after the war ended went partially against this ideal due to the territories annexed by the Soviet Union during the time of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Their governments were already liquidated, and due to the difficulty of negotiations with Stalin, the west did not oppose the annexation. However, a number of territories that were taken by the Soviet side after the war were not agreed upon, which showed that Stalin was willing to expand his territory without regard for self-determination of other nations (Holtsmark, Neumann, & Westad, 2016).
Security of Western Borders
Churchill stated that the western border of the Soviet Union requires protection, but at the same time opposed its actions in Eastern Europe. This discrepancy is due to the concern about the actions of the Soviet Union in the Baltic States, and other occupied territories where previously established governments were being replaced with Soviet-supported communist parties. The division of Berlin was also an argument towards this idea that Churchill voiced (Holtsmark, Neumann, & Westad, 2016).
Churchill emphasized the importance of developing a strong military presence in Western Europe not for a direct military confrontation with the Soviet Union but as a show of power. He presumed that the currently occupied countries were unable to defend themselves against the Soviet Union. Therefore, to prevent a further spread of annexation, Western Europe should be protected with a strong military force. However, historical records show that Churchill was not fully opposed to the idea of attacking the Soviet Union preemptively, to topple Stalin’s regime (Larres, 2018).
The Reason for the American Audience
The United States was chosen as a location due to the diplomatic ambitions of Churchill. He aimed to inform the American population and put them on alert due to the new threat coming from their recent ally. The government of the United States was not ready to enter another war, and its people have not yet finished celebrating the victory in the last one. The United States responded with attention to Churchill’s speech, but its alliance was not as firm as he wanted due to the differing power dynamics between the nations (Larres, 2018).
Winston Churchill’s speeches often became iconic, as his oratory skill was paramount. Despite losing his position as a prime minister before the speech, he was able to leave a significant mark on history through his words. The term “iron curtain” became one of the main elements of the Cold War, and defined it for generations to come.
Holtsmark, S. G., Neumann, I. B., & Westad, O. A. (2016). The Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, 1945–89. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
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Larres, K. (2018). Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech in context: The attempt to achieve a ‘good understanding on all points’ with Stalin’s Soviet Union. The International History Review, 40(1), 86–107.