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Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The term iron curtain was coined by the British author and suffragette Ethel Snowden in her book Through Bolshevik Russia (1920). In her very early and negative critique of the Bolshevik form of communism, this British feminist referred to the iron curtain simply as the contemporary geographical border of Bolshevik Russia in 1919 (We were behind the iron curtain at last). At the end of the Nazi regime in Germany the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, used the term in a journal article and several times in his private diary in February 1945, and the minister of finance, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, used it in a radio broadcast on May 2, 1945. Both Nazi leaders argued that the Soviet Army is occupying one country after the other, lowering an iron curtain immediately afterward on these occupied countries in order to commit war crimes, without being observed and controlled by the outside world. During the last months of the Third Reich, both ministers regarded the iron curtain as a moving part of the ongoing occupation process by Soviet troops within the territorial scope of the Yalta agreements from 1943. This analogy with an iron curtain in a theater (Goebbels was in charge of German theaters and culture) in this usage of the notion refers to the fact that events behind the theater curtain are not visible by the audience and somehow cut off from outside observation. The British prime minister Winston S. Churchill used the term in a diplomatic telegram to President Harry S. Truman in May 1945, and in a public speech in the British Parliament on August 16, 1945, but the term was not popularized until the following year, with Churchills speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe, Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but also to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow. (Cannadine 1990, pp. 303304)

The iron curtain refers to the boundary that divided Europe politically and militarily from the end of World War II until the end of the cold war. Geographically, the borderline ran from Estonia in the north to Yugoslavia in the south. Churchills famous 1946 address, which is sometimes referred to as the Iron Curtain Speech, is regarded as marking the commencement of the cold war between the democratic Western world and the Communist Eastern bloc with the Soviet Union as its political center. Between 1946 and 1989, the existence of this symbolic boundary forced many Central and East European countries to join the Communist bloc under the control of the Soviet Union. These countriesBulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and (until the 1960s) Albaniawere labeled Iron Curtain countries.

The iron curtain was manned and defended militarily against the West by the Warsaw Pact, which combined the Soviet Red Army and troops from the new Communist one-party states after the end of World War II. It also served as a wall to prevent citizens of Eastern bloc countries from migrating west. In Berlin, the section of the iron curtain dividing West from East Germany took the form of the Berlin Wall, a long concrete wall separating Berlin into democratic and Communist parts; many East Germans lost their lives trying to escape over the wall to the West. In other areas, the iron curtain was constructed of nearly impenetrable steel fencing, creating a long and narrow strip of no-mans-land of untouched wildlife.

The iron curtain was finally lifted on June 27, 1989, at the border between Austria and Hungary by the foreign ministers Gyula Horn (Hungary) and Alois Mock (Austria), forty-three years after Churchills historic speech. This first crack in the long border between the free world and the Communist world was the beginning of the final collapse of communism in November and December 1989, and the first sign of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The fall of the iron curtain coincided with the end of the cold war, signifying the end of a crucial and dramatic period of European and world history.

SEE ALSO Berlin Wall; Churchill, Winston; Cold War; Communism; Democracy; Diplomacy; International Relations; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cannadine, David, ed. 1990. The Speeches of Winston Churchill. London: Penguin.

Harbutt, Fraser J. 1989. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press.

Muller, James W. 1999. Churchills Iron Curtain Speech Fifty Years Later. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Rose, Brian. 2004. The Lost Border: The Landscape of the Iron Curtain. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press.

Snowden, Ethel. 1920. Through Bolshevik Russia. London: Cassell.

Wright, Patrick. 2007. Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press.

Christian W. Haerpfer

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Iron Curtain

IRON CURTAIN

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." With these words on March 5, 1946, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill marked out the beginning of the Cold War and a division of Europe that would last nearly forty-five years. Churchill's metaphorical iron curtain brought an end to the uncomfortable Soviet-Anglo-American alliance against Nazi Germany and began the process of physically dividing Europe into two spheres of influence. In his speech Churchill recognized the "valiant Russian people" and Josef Stalin's role in the destruction of Hitler's military, but then asserted that Soviet influence and control had descended across Eastern Europe, thereby threatening the safety and security of the entire continent through "fifth columns" and "indefinite expansion of [Soviet] power and doctrines." In even more provocative language Churchill equated Stalin with Adolph Hitler by telling his American audience that the Anglo-American alliance must act swiftly to prevent another catastrophe, this time communist instead of fascist, from befalling Europe.

In response, Stalin also equated Churchill with Hitler. Stalin rebuked Churchill for using odious Nazi racial theory in his suggestion that the nations of the English-speaking world must unite against this new threat. For Stalin this smacked of racial domination of the rest of the world. He noted that Soviet casualties (which he grossly under-counted) far outweighed the deaths of the other allies combined and that therefore Europe owed a debt to the USSR, not to the United States as Churchill claimed, for saving the continent from Hitler. Stalin explained his intentions in occupying what would become known as the Eastern Bloc: After such devastating losses, was it not logical, he asked, to try to find peaceful governments on the Soviet border? Stalin conceded Churchill's point that communist parties were growing, but argued that this was due to the failures of the West, not Soviet occupation. The people for whom Churchill had such disdain, according to Stalin, were moving toward leftist parties because the communists throughout Europe were some of the first and fiercest foes of fascism. Moreover, he noted that this was precisely why British citizens voted Churchill out of power in favor of the Labor Party.

By linking the other to Hitler, both men sought to demonize their one-time ally and convince their audiences that a new war against an equal evil was on the horizon. This set the tone for the rest of the Cold War as the western powers established the Truman Doctrine, Marshall Plan, and NATO, to which the USSR responded in quick succession. The chief battleground was divided Germany and Berlin. Any escalation by one side was quickly met by the other, as both sides operated on mistaken assumptions that a war for world dominance (or at least regional dominance) was at hand. In short, the "Iron Curtain" speech, the real title of which was "Sinews of Peace," created a metaphorical division of Europe that soon became a reality. This division only began to erode in 1989 with the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

See also: cold war; germany, relations with; stalin, josef vissarionovich; world war ii

bibliography

Alperovitz, Gar. (1965). Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam; The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Gaddis, John Lewis. (1997). We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kort, Michael. (1998). The Columbia Guide to the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press.

McCauley, Martin. (1995). The Origins of the Cold War, 19411949. New York: Longman.

Karl D. Qualls

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Iron Curtain

IRON CURTAIN

IRON CURTAIN, a phrase made popular by the former British prime minister Winston S. Churchill in a speech in Fulton, Missouri, on 5 March 1946. He referred to the influence of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." As the Cold War emerged, President Harry S. Truman and other politicians used Churchill's metaphor to describe a dividing line in Europe between "West" and "East." The expression "behind the iron curtain" conjured an image of "captive peoples" suffering in a Soviet "bloc." Although Soviet influence over its neighbors varied country by country and the "curtain" did not move westward, the dark symbol served as anticommunist propaganda and helped spur the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Radio Free Europe. The Berlin Wall, erected by the Soviets in 1961, gave the symbol credence. In 1989 the communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed and the Berlin Wall came down, and in 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. Consequently, the term lost its relevance and its value as a Cold War epithet.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Harbutt, Fraser J. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Paterson, Thomas G. On Every Front: The Making and Unmaking of the Cold War. Rev. ed. New York: Norton, 1992.

Thomas G. Paterson

See also Anticommunism ; Cold War .

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iron curtain

i·ron cur·tain • n. a notional barrier that prevents the passage of information or ideas between political entities, in particular: ∎  (usu. the Iron Curtain) the notional barrier separating the former Soviet bloc and the West prior to the decline of communism that followed the political events in eastern Europe in 1989.

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Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain Term describing the barrier between communist East Europe and the capitalist West during the Cold War. The term passed into common use after its appearance in a speech by Winston Churchill at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946.

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