The term “Iron Curtain” was popularized by British statesman and former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He used the term in a famous speech he gave in Fulton, Missouri, U.S.A. on March 5, 1946.
In his speech, Churchill talked about the need to unite Europe against the Soviet Union and Soviet-led communist groups that were spread across Europe at the time. He referred to them as a “foe” that must be fought with re-armament and unity.
He also spoke about the need to rebuild West German industry and how communism had spread across Eastern Europe, creating barriers between countries (a reference to the Iron Curtain).
Churchill received an ovation after his speech and many journalists reported on his use of the term “Iron Curtain.” It quickly became a popular phrase to describe the separation between East and West during the Cold War.
The origins of the Iron Curtain
The term Iron Curtain was first used by British politician and statesman Winston Churchill. He did so in a speech delivered at Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946.
In this speech, called “The Sinews of Peace,” Churchill outlined a policy for a postwar world in which the major powers would work together to confront common threats, including the spread of communism.
He described what he perceived to be a growing divide between Eastern and Western Europe, one that had serious political and economic implications for the rest of the world.
In his speech, he referred to this new division as an “Iron Curtain” that had dropped across Europe. He linked this new barrier to Soviet influence and communist ideology, making it a symbolic as well as geopolitical division.
He wasn’t the only one to perceive such a divide- many Eastern European politicians at the time also recognized that there was a shift in the geopolitical landscape.
Who put up the iron curtain?
In 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin, a city in Germany, forcing any approaching persons or vehicles to pass through checkpoints.
There, they screened people for any anti-communist or pro-West sentiments. If someone was found to have these feelings, they were barred from entering West Berlin.
This act symbolized the separation of the Soviet Union and the rest of the world, especially Western Europe. The iron curtain separated communist countries from non-communist ones.
Although there was no physical barrier separating the two sides, there was a profound psychological one. People living on either side of the iron curtain had very different views about each other and about politics in general.
The term was first used by British politician and statesman Winston Churchill in a speech he gave on March 5, 1946.
What was behind the iron curtain?
In the years following World War II, a new leader took control of the Soviet Union. His name was Joseph Stalin and he remained in power until his death in 1953.
Stalin led efforts to improve the economy and build up military might. These efforts included moving people from rural areas to cities, where they would work in factories, and nationalizing important industries like steel production and transportation.
He also encouraged marriage and had children take parenting classes so that there would be more children born during this time. This was done as an effort to rebuild the Soviet Union’s population, which had suffered heavy casualties during World War II.
These efforts made the Soviet Union into a more developed nation, but also created what some called a “police state”. This meant that the government kept close watch over its citizens for the sake of national security.
Did anyone try to destroy the iron curtain?
Yes, several people and groups tried to bring down the iron curtain, but none were successful until 1989. The attempts made between then are part of the Cold War history.
Several world leaders, including US Presidents, tried to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss ways to lower tensions between the two superpowers. However, he was not allowed to meet any other leaders until he rid the Soviet Union of nuclear weapons.
By the late 1980s, it became clear that the cost of maintaining a standing military force and a nuclear weapons program was too much for the Soviet Union. In addition, public unrest over things like poor living conditions and corruption may have also played a role in Gorbachev’s decision to pull back on military spending.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush organized a summit in Madrid where 34 nations met to discuss ways to end the Cold War.
What happened to the iron curtain?
In the years following the fall of the Soviet Union, many have wondered what would become of the iconic iron curtain. Would it be melted down and used for new things? Would it be left to rust in forgotten places?
It appears that the iron curtain has been put to good use. According to a 2018 article in The Independent, a steel fence separating Spanish-controlled Ceuta from Moroccan territory was constructed of old Soviet-era border barriers.
The report quotes an official at a construction firm involved in building the fence as saying that around 60 percent of its components were made of Russian steel. He also said that while some of the newer sections were not made of iron, most of the older sections were.
Apparently, there was plenty of it to go around after nearly three decades of erecting such barriers along its borders.
What does “the iron curtain” mean to you?
In the speech, Churchill described the iron curtain as a “curtain of secrecy” being dropped across Europe. He linked this concealment to a lack of freedom, explaining that people would no longer be free to travel or trade.
He also suggested that there was some kind of collaboration going on between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, although he didn’t go into much detail about that.
Churchill referred to “all the little iron curtains which are being dropped across the face of Europe,” suggesting that this new division was not just a physical one, but also a cultural one.
And although it may have been unintentional at the time, his use of “the iron curtain” as a descriptor has since taken on a more general meaning: Of being separated or shielded from something else.
Was there any truth to Churchill’s speech?
Despite the fact that Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech was met with much controversy at the time, with many people believing that there was no iron curtain and that it was all in his head, history has proven him right.
The Soviet Union did indeed put up a wall between East and West, and it did serve as a physical and psychological barrier between the two sides. Unfortunately, this came at a great cost, as many people tried to cross over or through it.
Thousands of refugees attempted to escape communist countries for the west, only to be stopped by the iron curtain. Many were shot or drowned trying to cross the water to escape.
Furthermore, western nations were very aware of this wall and took appropriate measures to protect themselves from it. For example, NATO was established as a defensive alliance between nations in order to protect them from potential Soviet aggression.
Why did Churchill give his famous “iron curtain” speech?
In early 1946, Winston Churchill gave a speech to the American Congress in which he coined the term “the iron curtain.” In this speech, he called out the Soviet Union for their aggressive behavior and criticized their influence over other nations.
He did this by describing a new divide that had emerged in Europe after World War II, separating nations with democratic governments and freedoms from those that were being controlled by the Soviet Union.
He specifically referred to this new divide as an “iron curtain” that was dropped across Europe. By doing this, he made clear that there was no going back to the pre-war days of peace and friendship between the countries.
This speech was very important because it highlighted some of the emerging tensions in post-war Europe and put into words what many people were sensing at the time. It also had the effect of uniting many of the American Congress members in their support for Britain.