What is the Iron Curtain and who popularized the term?
The barrier between the Soviet Union and the West after World War II was the “Iron Curtain”, with the communists on one side and the capitalist democracies on the other.
The term referred both to the physical blockade that stretched for thousands of miles across Europe – including the intimidating Berlin Wall – and to the ideological barrier.
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The term was used long before the Cold War. Elisabeth of Bavaria, Queen of Belgium, used the term to describe the political division between Belgium and Germany in 1914, and several authors employed the phrase throughout the early 20th century. Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, worried that an iron curtain would fall if Germany lost the war.
Which statesman popularized the term “Iron Curtain” in a 1946 speech?
The term only became common parlance after a speech given on March 5, 1946, by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Churchill had been invited to speak at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, by President Harry Truman. In his speech, he condemned the expansionist policy of the Soviet Union: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended on the continent. Behind this line are all the capitals of the former states of Central and Eastern Europe.
It is unclear where Churchill picked up the phrase. He used it before the speech in telegrams and letters to Truman, including the ominous words of May 1945: “An iron curtain is drawn across their brow. We don’t know what’s going on behind.
Russian Prime Minister Joseph Stalin called the speech “warmongering,” but the Iron Curtain became an important definition of Cold War politics over the next 45 years.
This content first appeared in BBC History Revealed