What was the significance of the "iron curtain speech"?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Churchill was the first major political figure to proclaim publicly the dissolution of the Grand Alliance that had defeated Hitler in the Second World War. He wanted his audience, both in Fulton and in the wider world, to recognize that geopolitical realities had fundamentally changed. The Soviet Union now exercised effective control over a large swathe of territory in Eastern Europe, and was likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Although this was largely a holdover from World War II, it was also, for Churchill, a demonstration of the Soviets' territorial ambitions as well as their contempt for the principles of democracy and national self-determination.

Churchill urged a robust response to the Soviets from the West. He called for a greater level of formal cooperation between democratic nations in order to contain the growing Communist threat. Although the "Iron Curtain" speech was predictably denounced as war-mongering by the Soviets and their fellow-travellers in the West, Churchill was actually making a plea for peace, warning against the dangers of nuclear conflict. It was only by the Western nations coming together to show strength and resilience in the face of Soviet aggression that such a conflict could be avoided. To that end, Churchill recognized that, though the Soviets were set on territorial expansion, they did not want war. The Soviets acted in what they perceived to be their national interest, and the Western democracies must do likewise.

The "Iron Curtain" speech helped draw the battle-lines of the Cold War, which remained largely unaltered for the next forty years or so. On the one hand, it showed that the Western democracies were committed to contain the Soviets by forging a new alliance amongst themselves rather than through armed conflict in a nuclear age. On the other hand, Churchill held out the prospect that some kind of accommodation could be reached with the Soviets at the diplomatic level, however remote.

Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech was, then, a synthesis of the ideological and the practical, the idealistic and the realistic. As such, it epitomised in spirit, if not always in actuality, the general approach of the Western powers in relation to the conduct of the Cold War.




pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain Speech," delivered in Fulton, Missouri at the start of the Cold War, set the tone for the rift that would grow between the two superpowers during the Cold War. Churchill begins by praising the United States and its efforts on maintaining democracy during WWII. He then goes on to describe how Communism is the new tyranny which threatens democratic ideals.

In Churchill's eyes, the end of the war has brought a mixed victory as Eastern Europe still lives under tyranny; this tyranny makes up Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" metaphor. Churchill implies that the United States and Britain are the two major powers left, but Stalin's regime is just as toxic as Hitler's German one.

The "Iron Curtain Speech" is the rhetorical opening salvo in the Cold War where the former Allies state that the Soviet Union is not like the other democratic nations and must be regarded as the new enemy to peace and freedom in the world. An iron curtain implies that Eastern Europe is lost to democratic reforms as long as the region is controlled by the Soviet Union.  

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major significance of this speech was just that it set the tone for the Cold War.  It was not a statement of any sort of policy, but it was a statement that set out the basic attitude that the West would have with regard to the Soviet Union and communism.  In this speech, Churchill described the Eastern bloc as a region that was essentially being held prisoner behind the "iron curtain."  By characterizing it in this way, he helped to give Americans and other Westerners the idea that they needed to resist communism so as to avoid being imprisoned in that way.