An Iron Curtain Now Falls: Winston Churchill Alerts West of Communist Ascendancy

By Wyatt Chinn ©

MANY PROMINENT SPEECHES have emerged from the World War II period and their presenters have been recorded in the world’s history as master orators who spoke with universal messages which resounded in the hearts of millions.  Among these individuals stands Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  The future of the world depended upon agreement concerning the values of freedom, democracy, justice and peace.  These were the principles that Churchill was hoping to instill upon the minds of nations who had recently received assurance that the war of the century was over.  However, the threat of communism and the Soviet Union’s decision to not become partners in the spread of democracy and freedom led to a worldwide state of fear and anxiety.

Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech — which he called “The Sinews of Peace” — outlined the current situation facing the European nations as well as what he believed would be the Soviet Union’s quest for establishing communism in governments around the world.  The “Iron Curtain” speech alerted the world’s nations about the intentions of the Soviet Union wanting to impose a communist form of government to Eastern European countries.  This speech has presented one of the twentieth century’s most notable metaphors, an “iron curtain” to describe the worldwide climax of the political and moral controversy between democracy and communism.

Preview

In this paper, I will analyze the speech “The Iron Curtain” by covering the historical context leading up to the speech beginning with the speaker and then the content of the speech.  I will deconstruct portions of the speech itself by identifying the rhetorical devices and figures of sound used by the speaker.  I will explain their significance and the reasons why the speaker chose to use them.  I will conclude with interpreting the overall purpose of the speech and explain the lasting effects the speech had on the twentieth century.

Historical Background

Winston Churchill first served in Her Majesty’s military before becoming involved in politics.  He served in many campaigns including the Second Boer War and became well known by his comrades after writing several books describing the nature of his campaigns.  During the First World War, Churchill served as the First Lord of Admiralty, whose position was to lead the Royal Navy, while seeking to develop warships and new naval aviation.  During the years between the World Wars, Churchill served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the conservative party.

World War I left a grave desire on the nations involved to prevent any possibility for another world war.  The League of Nations was an idea for a world organization that was strongly advocated by the American President Woodrow Wilson, and was formed as part of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.  Although the U.S. Senate voted against membership, the League’s main powers were Britain and France whose main concern was to prevent the possibility of grand scale war.  One of the League’s intentions was to impose disarmament on all nations; however, is was argued whether this policy was possible or desirable considering how the organization would enforce a nation to disarm its military without using military force.  Another problem with the League’s ineffectiveness was the amount of countries represented in the League, especially the United States not being a member who would have been considered one of the most influential nations represented and a large financial contributor.  The League adopted a collective security position as the basis for providing allied nations with support should there be any threat against their national interests.  This was a way of discouraging a hostile conflict from occurring.  The weakness of this position became evident after the Abyssinia Crisis in which Britain and France lacked the effort to restrain Italy’s war with Abyssinia.  As a result, Britain and France adopted a new position of appeasement while Germany was beginning to militarize with the rise of Adolf Hitler.

During the period of Germany’s rearmament, Churchill was a chief spokesperson in the House of Commons with the need to address the threat of war with Germany.  He advocated the need to rebuild the Royal Air Force and to create a Ministry of Defence.  His warnings were given little heed by the appeasing British, and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.  During the early 1930’s, Churchill was able to receive secret information concerning Germany’s military progress with the help of Lord Swinton who was the Secretary of State for Air at the time.  Churchill also strongly criticized British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attitude of appeasement toward Hitler.

Churchill was appointed to his former position of Lord of the Admiralty on the day Britain declared war on Germany.  He advocated for the pre-emptive occupation in parts of Norway and Sweden but the War Cabinet was opposed and the result was a German occupied Norway.  It became increasingly evident after the German’s advance into France, and the invasion of Norway, the British had little confidence in Chamberlain’s leadership for war.  He therefore decided to resign.  Churchill soon became the nation’s Prime Minister advocating action on behalf of Britain that would prepare the nation for war while abandoning the thought of armistice with Hitler’s Germany.  Churchill also created for himself the position of Minister of Defence which was a Cabinet level position representing the three service ministers of the military.  This way the government parties and Cabinet would be brought together for the purpose of war with Churchill as the commander.

By the end of the war it became obvious Stalin and the Soviet Union were not keeping with what had been agreed upon in the Yalta Conference and had already advanced into many eastern European countries.  Churchill was ready to order an attack against the Soviets that could have led to the outbreak of another world war beginning as early as July 1945, but the plan was turned down by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee.  Churchill was defeated at the next general election of the United Kingdom in 1945, but he severed as the Leader of Opposition as a member of the Conservative party.  It was then, in the next year, Churchill traveled to America and delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech informing the western world of the tensions between the interests of the Soviets and Western Europe.

Analysis of the Speech

The speech is informative and is structured both topically and chronologically as Churchill covers many topics ranging from what happened before the war to the current situation the world is faced with.  The speech was delivered on the fifth of March 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri.  Most Russian historians consider this speech as the starting point of the Cold War.  Churchill begins by recognizing the institution he is speaking at and formally thanks President Truman for offering his time to listen and giving him the opportunity of addressing the nation as well as his own.  Churchill then moves on to say that he is not representing the government of Britain but he is solely speaking for himself which is surprising considering the fact that he served as the British Minister of Defence throughout the war and was the face of Britain in the war.  Churchill seeks to identify with the audience by describing to them his observation of America as being a dominate leader for the spread of democracy.  He uses assonance in this sentence, “It is necessary that constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall rule and guide the conduct of the English-speaking peoples in peace as they did in war”.   This draws attention to the notion that in order to succeed in an effort to promote democracy, one must follow these criteria, which he hopes both Britain and the U.S. will follow.

Churchill moves on to the topic of what he defines as the “over-all strategic concept” which refers to as a post war approach of keeping the peace among the common people to prevent the outbreak of yet another war.  He then presents a three step method for what he believes must happen if such peace is to be accomplished which includes the achievement of the United Nations, the proclamation of freedom, and the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples.  Churchill identifies the two main aggressors of peace as being war and tyranny and refers to them as “gaunt marauders” using the rhetorical device of personification to point out the brutality of war.  He continues with the use of personification in the rest of the paragraph to describe in detail the curse of war “swooping down” upon the homes of commoners, while Asia “glares us in the eyes” all having to do with the threat of communism from the Soviet Union and China.  Churchill creates identification with the audience on the situation concerning the notion of the threat of communism by having them try to visualize what is happening to those nations under communist oppression.

Churchill presents what he thinks will be a feasible solution to combat the threat of war by relying on the efficiency of the United Nations.  Churchill gives new hope to this organization and makes the distinction that this new world organization will be built on a rock and will not be a “sham” as he calls it nor a of mere “frothing of words”.  He pays particular attention to build up the credibility of the United Nations calling it a “temple of peace” because of the League of Nations failure and ineffectiveness to prevent war.  Churchill further calls for the United Nations to be equipped with an international armed force as opposed to the League of Nations adopted policy of appeasement which resulted in the militarization of the German and Italian Fascists.  Churchill then speaks on to the reality of tyranny and proposes that those who enjoy the benefits of freedom should proclaim freedom and the rights of man but at this point in time, no form of enforcement should be exercised upon the nations with dictators due to the numerous difficulties of recent post war trauma.

Churchill concludes his plan for the prevention of war by promoting the idea of camaraderie between the English-speaking peoples, namely the United States and Britain.  If there is to be any hope in the effort for peace or any achievement reached in striving for freedom, then this sense of special relationship between both nations must be placed above all other concerns.  For Churchill this relationship is the universal theme uniting both parties under a common interest of peace.  He uses rhetorical questions to answer the main concern whether of not a special relationship between the United States and Britain would undermine their commitment to the United Nations.  Churchill argues the opposite by informing the audience that this type of relationship must be established to ensure the stability of the United Nations while further pointing out the fact that many alliances between the United States and other nations are in the best interests of Britain.  He emphasizes this point further by stating this type of relationship is beneficial to the United Nations and is in fact one of the organizations ambitions with reference to John 17:2, “In my father’s house are many mansions.”

Churchill begins to transition into the most notable portion of the speech which describes the current situation in regards to the struggle between Western Europe and the Soviet Union.  He begins by acknowledging the mutual wartime relationship between the British and the Soviets stating that he has a high regard for Stalin and welcomes the Soviet Union’s position as a leading nation.  It is here however, that Churchill introduces the situation at hand using the striking metaphor of an “iron curtain” to explain the ideological division of the Soviet influenced States of Eastern Europe and the self-governed Free States of Western Europe.  This is a platform Churchill uses to distinguish the ideological intentions of democracy versus communism.  In relation to the United States, Churchill uses the literary device of repetition by using the word “twice” three times to describe America’s involvement and sacrifice in the context of world wars overseas but he makes a stark contrast with the impression that now war can find any nation with the threat of communism.  However, Churchill repulses the idea that a new war is inevitable because he believes that the Soviets do not desire war but rather the fruits of war as an expansion of power.  Indeed, he realizes the precautions that must be taken to prevent the dangers of war as well as seeking to establish conditions for freedom and democracy.  He uses repetition again with the words “they will not be removed” to stress that there must be a tangible response involving the cooperation of free nations to the dangers they are faced with.  Churchill reminds his audience about the lack of effort on behalf free nations to pay attention and to take action to prevent a war given the fact Churchill considered World War I could have been avoided without the firing of a single shot.  This instance must not be allowed to happen again for the world could not bear to suffer the catastrophic losses of yet another world war.

Churchill concludes the speech with an inspiring message of a call to cooperation between the United Nations and Russia as well as a partnership between the United States and Britain.  The result of partnership between the United States and Britain would be that of what Churchill explains as an “overwhelming assurance of security” against the possible overly ambitious ideologies threatening the balance of power.  He calls for the two nations to join the basis of the United Nation’s Charter and to be of “sober” and “sedated” strength with the intention of promoting and maintaining peace and security without seeking to lay hold of any nation’s power or wealth.

Conclusion

The primary purpose of the speech was for Churchill to present the goal of maintaining peace in a climate of opposition from communist influenced nations.  Containing one of the most memorable of all rhetoric devices, the “iron curtain” speech described the global controversy between two of the world’s greatest political ideologies that lasted to the end of the twentieth century. Churchill advocates the use of deliberate action on behalf of nations to join the United Nations in a collaborate effort to prevail against the dangers of war and tyranny as well as proposing a special partnership with the United States and Britain to serve as a prototype of the relations between nations in the United Nations.

The reason for the success of this speech is due to Churchill’s ability to identify with his audience on the concept of victimage.  He extrapolates the concept of victimage by visualizing the possibility of another world war if, on the other hand, no attempt is made to constrict the outbreak of communism.  This particular use of rhetoric reflects the same style he maintained throughout his position as Prime Minister by presenting the need for initiation on behalf of those already within the sphere of freedom or democracy.  It is on this basis that his audience felt a sense of belonging to a particular and noble cause on a global scale.
The immediate affects of the speech gave rise to awareness and concern particularly impacting the United States to prepare for the future onset of what would be known as the Cold War.  Although the possibility of war was imminent, Churchill’s words left their mark, resulting in the peaceful disarmament between the two world super-powers near the end of the century.