The Iron Curtain

In 1946, which historical figure first used the term "Iron Curtain," during a speech in the American state of Missouri?  

And the answer: Winston Churchill.

The Iron Curtain - Map
Photo courtesy: shutterstock.com

Between 1945 and 1991, the Iron Curtain was a boundary, separating Soviet-controlled areas in Eastern Europe from those in the West. The Iron Curtain's popularity as a Cold War symbol is attributed to its use in a speech by Winston Churchill, given in March 1946 at Westminster College in the United States.

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent," declared former British prime minister Churchill. Today known as one of the first defining moments of the impending Cold War, Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech introduced a phrase whose impacts on the cultural vernacular are felt even today. Interestingly, "iron curtain" was used as a metaphor long before Churchill popularized it. Somewhat ironically, it was several Russian (and German) authors who engaged the term in the 1920s, using it to describe the "iron curtain descending on Russian history."

Regardless of origin, Churchill’s speech assigned the "iron curtain" a new power. Perhaps most significantly, the phrase began to erect the ideological walls of the Cold War – walls that would only grow in the following decades. While much of the western public at the time still regarded the Soviet Union as an ally following the close of World War II, "iron curtain" gained popularity as a shorthand reference to the division of Europe as the Cold War strengthened.

Eventually, the iron curtain became palpable in its political, economic and military effects. The line of the iron curtain was drawn, and on either side of it states developed their own international military alliances, namely the Warsaw Pact and NATO. Physically, the iron curtain took the form of border defenses between the countries of Europe in the middle of the continent, most notably the Berlin Wall.

To learn more about Churchill’s iron curtain and its long-lasting effects, check out the video below.


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