Cold War: Churchill and the Iron Curtain Speech Return to the gallery menu
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Did Churchill cause the Cold War?

Churchill's speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, USA on March 5th 1946 is one of the most famous speeches in 20th century history. Historians have asked themselves many questions about the speech and its impact:

  • Did Churchill's speech force the Americans into an anti-Soviet policy?
  • Did Churchill's speech simply allow President Truman to make public his anti-Soviet policy?
  • Did Churchill's speech force Stalin into a conflict with the USA?
  • Did Churchill's speech threaten the USSR and give Stalin an excuse to take an even tighter grip on Eastern Europe and his own country and make the Cold War worse as a result?

Churchill was not even Prime Minister when he gave the speech in 1946, so why did this one speech have such an impact?

  • One reason for the impact was that the world still respected him for his wartime leadership of Britain. His views were still enormously influential, especially when it came to international affairs. Stalin respected his abilities, even if he often disagreed with his views

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  • Another reason was that it was widely believed that the British and US governments knew what he was going to say and approved of it
  • The major reason was the controversial nature of what he said. In his speech he …
    … effectively accused the USSR of expansionist policies which would eventually lead to world domination
    … called for a military alliance between the British Empire and Commonwealth states and the USA to stop Soviet expansion.
  • There was a furious reaction to Churchill's speech in the USSR. Stalin himself gave an interview to the Soviet paper Pravda attacking Churchill's views. Other Soviet media followed up with attacks on Churchill. So there is no doubt that Churchill's speech caused controversy, but did it cause the Cold War?
  • Your task is to examine the sources in this case study and reach your own decision.
  • The worksheet should help you to keep your ideas together.