Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' speech as prophetic -- and chilling -- today as it was 72 years ago

Monday marks the anniversary of the delivery of a critical address by one of the most important figures of our time: Winston Churchill’s “Sinews of Peace” speech.  This stirring oration delivered on March 5, 1946 at Fulton, Missouri, in the presence of President Truman, was vitally important to defining events and inspiring sentiment unique to the time, but its messages have significance and lessons far beyond.

Known colloquially as “the Iron Curtain Speech,” this event had an important impact on framing the primordial threat to world peace in the post-World War II period – the Cold War – and to focusing attention on the leading global alliance motivated to protect world peace, the Anglo-American Special Relationship.

In the speech, Churchill sounds a chilling warning to the West to be vigilant against the gathering clouds in Europe: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent…seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control.” Worse still, he cautions as to the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the hands of our enemies.

He reminds us with an authority no one else could have that, “Last time [World War II] I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my fellow countrymen and the world, but no one paid attention…It could have been prevented, in my belief, without the firing of a single shot… but no one would listen, and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool.”

Even with his legacy of having saved the free world, and his great oration, Churchill’s speech earned scorn from many sides, unsurprisingly fueled by the media, both American and British.

The great war leader went on to outline his hope for the outcomes of the Marshall Plan and the formation of global organizations committed to peace-keeping.  The subsequent history of these, one fears, would have left Churchill sadly disappointed. Of particular note, the United Nations and the European Union, with their sovereignty-leeching tendencies to stifle nation states and great bi-lateral friendships such as that of the U.S. and United Kingdom, would have confounded as well as disappointed Churchill.

Notably, he coined a phrase in this speech, “THE Special Relationship”—referring to the Anglo-American alliance— which suggests the importance it deserves.  At Fulton, Churchill highlighted the need, for the whole world, of our great alliance—a relationship based upon a compassionate world view underpinned by “the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world,” undergirded by the resources of our combined military might.

While he would have been let down by the trajectory of many global organizations, Churchill would have been reassured by the achievements of the Special Relationship, which endures to help stabilize the world, notwithstanding new global threats and all manner of heads of government in both countries.

Indeed, thank heaven for a bi-lateral alliance that has not only the strength, but the resolve to take on the world’s great menaces, undeterred by the voices of protest.

If not for leadership like that of Churchill, and Reagan and Thatcher after him, freedom would surely not prevail today.

What if, for instance, Churchill had bent to public opinion favoring appeasement in Britain before she entered the war?  The period of darkness and inhumanity unleashed by the Nazis likely would have penetrated the whole world, including our own shores.

Even with his legacy of having saved the free world, and his great oration, Churchill’s speech earned scorn from many sides, unsurprisingly fueled by the media, both American and British. The New York Times said Churchill had painted "a dark picture of post-war Europe." He was accused after the speech for positing “poisonous doctrines” that were tagged as alarmist, racist, and imperialist.  Even Truman initially backed away, but once again, under Stalin’s leadership, events proved Churchill prophetic.

Contemporary detractors wail against the American Exceptionalism embodied by President Trump’s approach and protest on the streets of San Francisco and elsewhere. In the UK socialist-embracing Corbynistas and American Sandersites wail against capitalism and free markets and wring their hands over holding our enemies in the Middle East and North Korea to account.

Happily good sense still prevails in some quarters.  The stirring new film “Darkest Hour” is an example.  It portrays for a new generation Churchill’s stand against the whirlwind of adversity and reminds us just how close we came to losing everything we fight for.    And for its part, Fulton, Missouri, has a museum dedicated to the inspiring statesman.

In the end, Churchill’s instincts were right—about nearly everything that counts.  Thank you, Winston for Fulton and for your courage and resolve.

Lee Cohen is a Senior Fellow in Western European Affairs at the London Center for Policy Research, and the New York Director of the Anglosphere Society.  He was formerly the Director of the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.