Iron Curtain Speech

Published: 2021-06-26 19:05:04
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Category: British history

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In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied Powers were no longer in alliance. The Soviet Union was viewed as an Eastern threat to the democratic ideals of the West. This is certainly reflected in the Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech when he states that the Soviet Union desires the “fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines” (Churchill, 2009). Ironically, several centuries before England was the expansionist empire seeking to control much of the world. Nevertheless, Churchill recognized the Soviet Union’s desire to continue its expansion and be the world’s hegemonic power. Churchill’s use of the term “iron curtain” represented stiff metaphorical wall that was erected by the Soviet Union separating the West from the Soviet-dominated East. The uncertainty of the Soviet Union’s power and capabilities was already a reality for the West. The Soviet’s expansionist intentions contrasted starkly with Western principles of national sovereignty and self-determination. The Soviet Union, in certain ways, mirrors Nazi Germany in its potential for expansion through the acquisition of land from sovereign states. Churchill’s speech struck at the heart of Western ideals, encouraging the West as a whole, and particularly those in the U.S., to take a firm stance against the Soviet Union.
In arguing that Russia has a need to secure its western borders, Churchill meant that the Soviet Union was still wary of residual German aggression after World War II. After all, Eastern Germany was still under the control of the Soviet Union at the time of the speech. Churchill’s recognition that Russia, as a deserving nation of the world, has a right to protect itself against German aggression does not mean that Churchill condones Soviet expansion, especially as it concerns impeding on the national sovereignty of other countries. In fact, Churchill mentions frequently the place of Russia among the world’s leading powers. However, Churchill tempers such remarks with warnings against Russian expansion. Thus, Churchill is not inconsistent in his position that Russia is both a deserving world power but should not use its power to impose expansionist foreign policy against its neighbors.
In stating that Russians admire national strength greatly and have no respect for military weakness, Churchill is implicitly warning that Russia may take advantage of other countries it perceives as having weaknesses. From another perspective, the Cold War became an arms race that is captured quite well by Churchill’s comments here. The Soviets were trying to growth their military power and capabilities to be greater than that of the U.S., such that the U.S. would be the weaker power. Many argue that there is no room for a bipolar world order. Rather, one country must either be hegemonic or there is no great world power. England and France had each been world powers, while the U.S. held the hegemonic role after World War II. Yet, the Soviet Union challenged this hegemony with an arms race. Churchill is not advocating for an armed conflict, as he even states that Russia is not seeking war, but merely the spoils of war, which may be obtainable as the hegemonic power of the world. Churchill is warning the West, and especially the U.S., of the growing Soviet power.
However, this warning is, in some ways, directed at the Soviet Union, warning the Eastern power of a Western response to any zealous expansionist movement by the Soviet Union. Churchill uses terms such as “shadows”, “anxiety”, and “darkest hour” to give a chilling warning of the dangers of being idle when a power such as the Soviet Union begins seeking the sort of expansion that was witnessed under Nazi Germany. While Churchill did not present any strong references to the Soviet Union being very similar to Nazi Germany, the warnings of Churchill to the West served as a warning to the Soviet Union to not engage in actions similar to those of Nazi Germany. Churchill also seems to be recruiting other countries in the stance against the Soviet Union, such as when he makes references to Greece, Czechoslovakia, and several other countries who may be in danger of being a casualty of Soviet expansion if the West and such countries do not stand against the Soviet Union. Thus, although Churchill is not advocating for violence or war in this speech, he is warning the Soviet Union that the West will be prepared for war if it believes that it must halt Soviet expansion.
Churchill chose an American audience to deliver the Iron Curtain speech to because the U.S. was served as the strongest country against the Soviet Union. This is evidence in Churchill referring to the U.S. as standing “at the pinnacle of world power”. In addition, of course, the U.S. was seen as great ally to the U.K. Finally, the U.S. was the strongest democratic power against the communist Soviet Union. The political division between communist countries and democratic countries divided much of the world during the Cold War. It is only natural that the U.K. and its representatives, such as the former Prime Minister Churchill, would seek to partner with the democratic powerhouse of the West. The economy of the U.K. could not keep pace with that of the U.S. during the Cold War. Therefore, the attempt by Churchill to press for a close partnership between the U.K., specifically England, and the U.S. can be interpreted as an attempt to persuade the U.S. to further aid the country in its economic recovery.

Churchill, W. (2009). Iron curtain speech. Great Neck Pub.

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