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

Source 7

Draft notes for a speech in New York


CHUR 5/4C/100-116 [images 1, 2, 3]

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript

When I gave my Iron Curtain speech at Fulton ten days ago I felt it was important for someone who was not a president or prime minister to make a very clear statement about the situation in the world today. I stand by what I said. I do not think the Russians want a war at the moment. I think that if countries stand by the principles of the United Nations Organisation then the cause of peace and freedom will win. We shall be able to carry on the good work of healing the wounds caused by war and the USA is taking a glorious lead in this.

I was surprised that Stalin condemned my speech two days ago. It is extraordinary that the head of such a powerful government should take the time to argue with a man who has no official position, and who had been careful to state that he was not speaking on behalf of any government.

I will certainly not change my view of the Russian people, whom I admire. I wish Russia to be prosperous. I wish Russia to be a respected power. For that to happen depends on the men who rule Russia. We all sympathise with the terrible suffering of Russia in the war. We are ready to work with Russia on fair and even terms to help Russia recover. If the Soviet government does not accept our offer to work together then it will be the fault of their leaders.

Original Transcript

When I spoke at Fulton ten days ago I felt it was necessary for someone in an unofficial position to speak in arresting terms about the present plight of the world. I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word. ........ I do not believe that the rulers of Russia wish for war at the present time. I am sure that if we stand together calmly but resolutely in defence of those ideals and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, we shall find ourselves sustained by the overwhelming assent of the peoples of the world, and that, fortified by this ever-growing moral authority, the cause of peace and freedom will come safely through and we shall be able to go on with the noble work – in which the United States has a glorious primacy – of averting famine, of healing the awful wounds of Hitler's war and rebuilding the scarred and shattered structure of human civilisation.
I was surprised to read the cataract of condemnation poured out upon my head two days ago by Generalissimo Stalin. It is extraordinary that the head of a mighty victorious government should descend from his august seat of power to enter into personal controversy with a man who has no official position of any kind and had been and had been particularly careful to say that he spoke without the authority of any government.
I certainly will not allow any angry words said by others when spoken by an old wartime comrade to weaken my regard and admiration for the Russian people or my earnest desire that Russia should be safe and prosperous and should take an honoured place in the van of the World Organization. Whether she will do so or not depends only on the decisions taken by the handful of able men who, under their renowned chief, hold all the 180 million Russians, and many more millions outside Russia, in their grip. We all remember what frightful losses Russia suffered in the Hitlerite invasion and how she survived and emerged triumphant from injuries greater than have ever been inflicted on any other community. There is deep and widespread sympathy throughout the English-speaking world for the people of Russia and an absolute readiness to work with them on fair and even terms to repair the ruin of the war in every country. If Marshal Stalin and the Soviet Polit Bureau the Soviet Government does not take advantage of this sentiment, if on the contrary they discourage it, the responsibility will be entirely theirs.

What is this source?

Draft speech notes for a speech given by Churchill soon after the Iron Curtain speech (City Banquet, New York), 15 March 1946.

Background to this source

Following the Iron Curtain speech at Fulton on 5 March, this speech is Churchill's attempt to deal with some of the furore surrounding his earlier speech. It was given to a gathering of wealthy American businessmen.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Churchill made the Iron Curtain speech in 1946. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. According to Churchill, why was he able to speak so freely?
  2. Why did he need to speak so freely?
  3. What role should the UNO play?
  4. Does he expect the UNO to be able to play that role?
  5. Is Churchill right to make a distinction between the Russian people and the Soviet Government? Does that make it easier – or harder – to follow his argument?
  6. Is this speech any different to the one of 5 March? How?
  7. Why do you think Churchill deleted the references to Stalin in this extract?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Churchill's speech at Fulton on 5 March caused a bit of a stir

Churchill is not trying to explain the message delivered at Fulton

Churchill doesn’t have an official position and feels that he is no longer powerful and influential

Churchill hates the Russian people and its Soviet Government

Churchill wants to pacify Stalin and the Russians

Churchill is trying to appear more moderate in this speech

The cause of the problems in the world is Stalin

This source helps to understand why Churchill gave the Iron Curtain speech

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • These are draft speech notes, not the actual speech, but the final speech was not very different. For historians, the notes provide some interesting possibilities. Can we get a sense of reactions to the Iron Curtain speech? Did Churchill change his position? Another interesting issue is whether this source gives us an insight into why Churchill gave the Iron Curtain speech, even though the speech in New York came afterwards.

Explore the guide to interpreting speech notes

Source 8

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