Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Churchill and the

Churchill and the Cold War: Why did Churchill make his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946?

The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to lead to discussion and argument surrounding Churchill's Cold War speech. They deliberately cover the whole period from 1945 to 1948, and include a range of source types. One way in to the sources might be to ask students to classify them – letters, official papers, telegrams, etc, and then rank them for utility.  It is much better to use the whole collection of sources rather than split them – it is essential that students get the ‘big picture’ to be able to answer the question.

Activity 1

You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this enquiry. Use the table to indicate how far each source supports one or more of the possible explanations.

Source Churchill was alarmed by the actions of the Soviet Union and wanted the USA to take action against Stalin Churchill was a warmonger – he relished international conflict Churchill hated the Soviet Union and wanted to cause problems for it Churchill was worried that the USA would withdraw from international affairs as it had done in the 1930s Other reason(s)

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Once they have sorted the sources it should be relatively easy for them to decide that they do [mostly] support our view of Churchill as the original Cold Warrior.

Activity 2

In which of the sources  does Churchill first use the term 'Iron Curtain?' Is it at Fulton, or is it earlier? Is Churchill more afraid of Soviet expansion, or the fact that it is nearly impossible to discover exactly what is going on behind the Iron Curtain? Can you quantify Churchill's cold warrior attitudes? For example, is it as strong in 1945 say, as in 1946 or 1947?  You might like also to explore the distinctions, if any, Churchill makes between his repeatedly stated admiration for the Russian peoples and in fact his war-time comrade Marshal Stalin, and the Soviet Government. Does this distinction make any sense in the context of this investigation?

You might take a similar approach to Truman and his attitude to the Soviet Union. Is he as anti-Soviet in 1945 for example [see source 4] as in 1945 [see source 7 and source 8]? In 1947 we have both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan – do you think Truman would or could have introduced both these policies in 1945 or 1946? And is Truman leading the anti-Soviet rhetoric and action, or is it Churchill? And exactly what part in the process was played by that speech in Fulton on 5 March 1946?

Finally, you might discuss whether Churchill (and Truman, if you wish) consistently, as far as we can tell from these sources, act against Stalin and the Soviet Government, or if it is an escalating response to the events of 1945, 1946 and 1947.

Activity 3

You might explore with your students exactly what we use sources for. Do we use them:

  • for information
  • for opinion
  • for an ‘angle’
  • to be critical of
  • to compare
  • to analyse
  • to change our student’s opinion
  • to pose a problem
  • to challenge perceptions
  • to create a narrative
  • for utility
  • any others?

If we look at these eight sources in this way do we get a different angle on them? How much can we use both the context, and our existing knowledge of the period, to bring added value to our understanding of these sources. We have to wean our students away from reading sources for facts, for information. They can tell us so much more than that.

Finally, to return to the theme of this investigation. Do these eight sources give us an answer to the question? Some historians believe the evidence shows us that Churchill was the 'original Cold Warrior.' Do you agree?

As ever in history there is no one ‘correct’ answer – it all depends on which sources you use and your particular reading of that source.

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