Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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“Sinews of Peace” Speech (March 1946)

Speech given by Sir Winston Churchill, viewed by many historians as the opening rhetorical salvo of the Cold War, in which the term "iron curtain" was coined. On 5 March 1946 Churchill, who had been Britain's wartime prime minister, presented his "Sinews of Peace" address—also referred to as the "Iron Curtain" speech—at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Churchill's comments strongly denounced Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe and warned that the Western powers must once again gird themselves for a potential conflict.

In October 1945 President Harry S. Truman forwarded an invitation from the president of Westminster College to Churchill, who had been defeated in the British elections of July 1945, to speak at that institution. Churchill accepted in November. He arrived in Washington, D.C., on 2 March and joined Truman on a three-day train trip to Missouri; the excursion had been Churchill's idea.

Churchill and Truman were cheered by some 30,000 people en route between Jefferson City and Fulton. More than 2,000 faculty, students, and invited guests filled the gymnasium at Westminster College on 5 March, a friendly audience for both Churchill and Truman.

In his speech, Churchill reviewed the history of the twentieth century with special emphasis on the period since the 1930s. He also painted a rather bleak and disappointing picture of Soviet behavior since the Allied victory over Germany a year earlier. Churchill argued that Soviet expansionist policies had drawn an "iron curtain" between Eastern and Western Europe. To counter the Soviets' threat to world peace, Churchill called for a mutual defense agreement among noncommunist states. He also called attention to the long-standing "special relationship" between the United States and Britain.

The speech had considerable impact. Americans and West Europeans were alerted to the new Soviet threat, and their governments appeared ready to respond to the challenge. Because of Churchill's Cassandra-like role in warning against appeasement in the 1930s and his defiance of Adolf Hitler in World War II, his remarks struck a responsive chord, although Truman was at the time noncommittal.

Churchill gave other speeches in Zurich, Strasbourg, Boston, and The Hague. These hugely successful speeches revitalized a political career that seemed to have ended in July 1945. His rhetorical success as leader of the opposition sustained his leadership of the Conservative Party and prepared the way for his political comeback in 1951. It also confirmed his constancy as an opponent of communism.

William T. Walker


Further Reading
Harbutt, Fraser J. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.; Muller, James W., ed. Churchill's "Iron Curtain" Speech Fifty Years Later. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.; Ramden, John. Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and His Legend since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.; Thompson, Kenneth W. Winston Churchill's World View: Statesmanship and Power. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
 

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