How might Churchill's Iron Curtain speech have increased tension between the superpowers?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In March of 1946, when Churchill gave this speech, the Cold War was not yet in full swing.  The US and the USSR were suspicious of one another, but not yet to the point of open conflict.  Churchill’s speech pushed both sides towards conflict.  It did so by comparing the threat of communism to the threat posed by Hitler.

In this speech, Churchill says that appeasing the Soviets would be like appeasing Hitler.  By saying this, he encouraged the US to take a hard line against communism.  By saying it, he also encouraged the Soviets to feel that the West was strongly opposed to them.  Less than a year after they were allies, Churchill is comparing them to the common enemy that they had just faced.  This would clearly have caused the Soviets to have less trust for the West.

In this way, Churchill’s speech gave each side more reason to mistrust the other.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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Churchill delivered his famous "Iron Curtain Speech" in March of 1945, after he was no longer Prime Minister of Great Britain. Invited to speak at Fulton College in Missouri, he said that "an iron curtain has descended across the continent." Churchill was referring to the Soviet Union's takeover of buffer states in Eastern Europe after World War II. He also spoke about "fifth column" Communist activity--meaning espionage and other secret activities meant to undermine existing governments--in Western and Southern Europe.U.S. President Harry Truman was on the stage with Churchill and was receptive to his message of working with Great Britain to defer Communism.

Churchill's message might have inflamed post-war tensions between the West and the Soviet Union by first producing a metaphor of an iron curtain that alarmed the West and made the Soviet Union seem impenetrable. His speech positioned the one-time allies as oppositional in their aims, rather than as potentially able to work together to reshape the post-war world. Churchill also aroused paranoia on the part of the West that spies were at work to destabilize Europe and turn it Communist, and the Russians, for their part, saw the speech as the first attack in what would become the Cold War. 

 

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