Both George Kennan’s “Long Telegram” and Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech were influential in shaping US foreign policy at the dawn of the Cold War. As senior American diplomat in Moscow and a legitimate expert on Russia and the Soviet Union, Kennan’s cable to the secretary of state provided an informative and persuasive picture of the nature of the Soviet regime and the challenges that regime would present in the years to come. Kennan’s analysis noted the distinction between the Soviet regime and the Russian people, with the latter congenial and peaceful and the former determined to expand its influence at the expense of the Western nations, the relationships among which would be ceaselessly targeted for subversion. As the father of the strategy of containment that would define US foreign policy for many years, Kennan’s emphasis on the expansive and determined nature of Soviet foreign policy in the post-war era set the tone for an official policy predicated upon an equally determined effort on the part of the United States to prevent or contain Soviet expansionism.
It is important to note that Kennan’s “Long Telegram” was an internal Department of State memo when drafted. It would form the basis for a subsequent article Kennan submitted to Foreign Affairs, a journal dedicated to discussions of foreign policy. That article, published anonymously under the pseudonym “X,” appeared in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs and served to more openly institutionalize the containment doctrine adopted by the administration of President Harry Truman. Between Kennan’s submission of his cable to the secretary of state and the publication of his “X” article was Winston Churchill’s March 1946 speech before assembled students, faculty, and dignitaries at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. While more forceful in tone than Kennan’s cable, Churchill’s speech was similar in theme and in providing a cautionary tone regarding perceptions of imminent war. Whereas Kennan’s analysis was official, secret, and bureaucratic, Churchill’s comments, befitting a public address, were more declaratory. Both documents emphasized the need for strength and resilience on the part of the West, as when Churchill noted the following: “From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.” Both rejected the notions, however, that war was imminent and that a forceful presence on the international stage by the United States was essential if Soviet power was to be contained.
Kennan’s cable to the State Department and Churchill’s speech were influential—the former internally and the latter nationally. Both captured the atmosphere of the time, when concerns about Soviet intentions in Europe were presumed to be hostile. Both helped set the tone for the policies that followed, nowhere more clearly and tragically than in Southeast Asia. Both the cable and the speech influenced American decision-makers tasked with formulating a policy toward the Soviet Union that would contain it without precipitating another global war.