Modern History Sourcebook:
Winston S. Churchill:
"Iron Curtain Speech", March 5, 1946
Winston Churchill gave this speech at Westminster College,
in Fulton, Missouri, after receiving an honorary degree. With
typical oratorical skills, Church introduced the phrase "Iron
Curtain" to describe the division between Western powers
and the area controlled by the Soviet Union. As such the speech
marks the onset of the Cold War. The speech was very long, and here excerpts are presented.
The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world
power. It is a solemn moment for the American democracy. For with
this primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability
to the future. As you look around you, you must feel not only
the sense of duty done, but also you must feel anxiety lest you
fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here now,
clear and shining, for both our countries. To reject it or ignore
it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches
of the aftertime.
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. We must, and I believe we shall, prove ourselves equal to
this severe requirement.
I have a strong admiration and regard for the valiant Russian
people and for my wartime comrade, Marshal Stalin. There is deep
sympathy and goodwill in Britain -- and I doubt not here also
-- toward the peoples of all the Russias and a resolve to persevere
through many differences and rebuffs in establishing lasting friendships.
It is my duty, however, to place before you certain facts about
the present position in Europe.
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 some cases increasing measure of control from
The safety of the world, ladies and gentlemen, requires a unity
in Europe, from which no nation should be permanently outcast.
It is from the quarrels of the strong parent races in Europe that
the world wars we have witnessed, or which occurred in former
times, have sprung.
Twice the United States has had to send several millions of its
young men across the Atlantic to fight the wars. But now we all
can find any nation, wherever it may dwell, between dusk and dawn.
Surely we should work with conscious purpose for a grand pacification
of Europe within the structure of the United Nations and in accordance
with our Charter.
In a great number of countries, far from the Russian frontiers
and throughout the world, Communist fifth columns are established
and work in complete unity and absolute obedience to the directions
they receive from the Communist center. Except in the British
Commonwealth and in the United States where Communism is in its
infancy, the Communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing
challenge and peril to Christian civilization.
The outlook is also anxious in the Far East and especially in
Manchuria. The agreement which was made at Yalta, to which I was
a party, was extremely favorable to Soviet Russia, but it was
made at a time when no one could say that the German war might
not extend all through the summer and autumn of 1945 and when
the Japanese war was expected by the best judges to last for a
further eighteen months from the end of the German war.
I repulse the idea that a new war is inevitable -- still more
that it is imminent. It is because I am sure that our fortunes
are still in our own hands and that we hold the power to save
the future, that I feel the duty to speak out now that I have
the occasion and the opportunity to do so.
I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire
is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power
But what we have to consider here today while time remains, is
the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions
of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries.
Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our
eyes to them. They will not be removed by mere waiting to see
what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement.
What is needed is a settlement, and the longer this is delayed,
the more difficult it will be and the greater our dangers will
From what I have seen of our Russian friends and allies during
the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much
as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect
than for weakness, especially military weakness.
For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound.
We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins,
offering temptations to a trial of strength.
Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow
countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up
till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved
from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have
been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind.
There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action
than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the
globe. It could have been prevented, in my belief, without the
firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous
and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were
all sucked into the awful whirlpool.
We must not let it happen again. This can only be achieved by
reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with
Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization
and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many
peaceful years, by the whole strength of the English-speaking
world and all its connections.
If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealth be added
to that of the United States, with all that such cooperation implies
in the air, on the sea, all over the globe, and in science and
in industry, and in moral force, there will be no quivering, precarious
balance of power to offer its temptation to ambition or adventure.
On the contrary there will be an overwhelming assurance of security.
If we adhere faithfully to the Charter of the United Nations and
walk forward in sedate and sober strength, seeking no one's land
or treasure, seeking to lay no arbitrary control upon the thoughts
of men, if all British moral and material forces and convictions
are joined with your own in fraternal association, the high roads
of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not
only for our time but for a century to come.
Winston Churchill - March 5, 1946
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997