Iron Curtain Speech | Study Guide

Winston Churchill

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Iron Curtain Speech | Quotes

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1.

I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times.


Winston Churchill

In his opening remarks, Churchill states his intention to speak freely to his audience at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. At the time of this speech in March 1946, World War II had ended only six months earlier. Churchill's opening words may have been intended to jolt an audience of Americans who live far from the ruins of postwar Europe. By characterizing the months following the war not as a time for basking in the glory of the Allied victory but as anxious and confusing, Churchill hints at the dark themes he will address in his speech.

2.

Let me, however, make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself.


Winston Churchill

At the time of the speech, Churchill had recently been voted out of office. The former prime minister claims to speak only for himself, not as a representative of the British people. This use of understatement belies Churchill's fame as an orator and his renown as a former leader of the free world. It also obscures his purpose, which is to entreat the United States to join with Britain as leaders of the postwar world.

3.

The United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American Democracy.


Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill acknowledges the United States' new status as a world power in the aftermath of World War II but warns of the responsibility that comes with power. He argues that the United States has a "clear and shining" opportunity to lead—along with Britain—the rest of the world "in peace as they did in war." Churchill warms to his theme about the potential benefits of the United States and Britain forming a military coalition whose purpose is to maintain peace in the postwar world.

4.

To give security to these countless homes, they must be shielded from the two giant marauders, war and tyranny.


Winston Churchill

Churchill identifies what he considers to be the two greatest threats to world peace in the postwar era—another war and the rise of tyranny. Throughout the first half of his speech, Churchill outlines steps that he believes the United States, Great Britain, and the United Nations should take to prevent further outbreaks of war. He considers tyranny the worse threat, and he perceives the rise of communism in eastern Europe to be its source. Much of the second half of his speech focuses on the seriousness of the rise of communism and how and why the Western democracies should stop it.

5.

We must make sure that [the United Nations'] work is fruitful ... and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace.


Winston Churchill

Founded in October 1945, the United Nations is an international peace-keeping organization that Churchill considers to be an essential actor in his plan for maintaining peace after World War II. Churchill witnessed the failure of the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, to stop World War II, and he hopes for a better outcome this time. He returns to the image of a temple of peace later in the speech.

6.

Anyone can see with his eyes open that our path will be difficult ... but if we persevere together ... we shall achieve our common purpose in the end.


Winston Churchill

Churchill states that it is obvious that the path to a peaceful world will be difficult but achievable if nations work together. Throughout the speech, Churchill uses the imagery of eyes open or closed and blindness to symbolize people's vigilance or indifference to world events. The second half of Churchill's speech warns against ignoring the rise of communism in postwar Europe.

7.

We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world.


Winston Churchill

Churchill emphasizes the importance of democratic principles and traditions, which he considers to be the legacy of English-speaking countries, specifically Britain and the United States. At this point in his speech, Churchill expands on his main argument about the need for a military alliance between the world's leading democracies, Britain and the United States.

8.

Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practise—let us practise what we preach.


Winston Churchill

Churchill envisions a world in which the citizens of every nation enjoy the liberties and freedoms protected by democratic nations, including the right to vote, to speak freely, and to be tried fairly in a court of law. Churchill means for Britain and the United States to promote democracy as part of his plan for maintaining peace.

9.

Neither the sure prevention of war, nor the continuous rise of world organisation will be gained without ... a special relationship between the British ... and the United States.


Winston Churchill

Churchill characterizes the relationship between Britain and United States as special, based on their shared heritage of democratic principles. He also describes the relationship between the two nations as kindred and fraternal. His choice of words suggests both a blood relationship between the two nations and an equal status on the world stage. Churchill envisions a merging of the two nations' military forces and intelligence.

10.

A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory.


Winston Churchill

Although Churchill's main purpose is to argue for an alliance between Britain and the United States, in the final section of his speech he turns his attention to the threat of Soviet communism in postwar Europe. He begins with an arresting image of a shadow falling over Europe, darkening a region that had only recently been "lighted by the Allied victory." Although the Soviet Union was an ally during World War II, Churchill fears an expansion of Soviet communism in liberated Europe.

11.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.


Winston Churchill

This line is the most famous from Churchill's speech. The shadow across Europe that Churchill described earlier is cast by the iron curtain. The iron curtain is a metaphor for the impenetrable ideological divide forming between Western democracies and communist states in eastern Europe. While Churchill did not coin the term, his use of it in this speech had a galvanizing effect on public opinion in the United States and elsewhere. The term entered the mainstream vocabulary and served as shorthand for the growing unease between Western democracies and the Soviet Union that would later erupt into the Cold War.

12.

In front of the iron curtain which lies across Europe are other causes for anxiety.


Winston Churchill

Churchill warns that no democracy is safe from communism, and that is cause for alarm. He describes the use of tactics that would become hallmarks of the Cold War, specifically the use of propaganda and fifth columns, or the infiltration of enemy sympathizers, in France and Italy.

13.

I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines.


Winston Churchill

Churchill bases his characterization of the Soviets on his experience of working with ally Soviet premier Stalin during World War II. Yet he warns that relying on the Soviets' disinterest in another war will not be enough to deter the spread of communism. In the next paragraph, Churchill argues that the Soviets admire strength and detest weakness, another reason for the United States and Britain to join forces with the United Nations to maintain peace.

14.

There is the solution which I respectfully offer to you in this Address to which I have given the title "The Sinews of Peace."


Winston Churchill

Churchill argues throughout his speech that prevention is the only way to avoid future wars and stop the spread of communism. Drawing on the failure of the previous generation of political institutions to thwart Hitler's ambitions and stop World War II, Churchill hammers his point about the need for the United States, Britain, and the United Nations to work together to achieve peace and understanding with the Soviet Union. For this reason, Churchill has named his speech "The Sinews of Peace." Sinews are the tough body tissues that bind muscles to bones. The image suggests that the peace process will require strength as well as endurance.

15.

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

Churchill ends his speech with an optimistic view of the future. He insists that cooperation among the United States, Britain, and the United Nations will stabilize a politically precarious world and make the "high-roads" clear the next 100 years. A high road is both a community's main road and a metaphor for doing the right thing. Churchill's word choice implies that he believes that an alliance between the British and the Americans not only will make the world safe for democracy but also that it is a good thing.

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