Seventy years ago today, in a little Midwestern town just down the road from where I was raised, a very famous British person came and gave a speech that would galvanize the Western world against the growing threat of Soviet domination in Europe. It was widely regarded as the most important post-WWII speech given by Winston Churchill. Russian historians consider it the opening salvo in the conflict between Western Europe and the Soviet Union, and mark this date as the official beginning of what would come to be known as the Cold War.
Although the official title was “The Sinews of Peace,” we generally refer to it as The Iron Curtain Speech. Given in the gymnasium of a tiny private Presbyterian college as part of the John Findley Green Foundation Lecture series, it stands as a technical masterpiece – Churchill pulling together multiple themes into a singular climax that captured his audience. And while he wasn’t the first to use the phrase Iron Curtain to describe separation of East and West along the lines of ideology, he certainly made it stick.
On this unseasonably warm March day, my father was still two years from being born. My grandfather, his brother, and hundreds of young men from the farms and small towns around Fulton were just home from the war, finding jobs and settling down with the girls who had waited for them. One can imagine the former Prime Minister, being driven down narrow Missouri farm roads with Harry S. Truman in a great, dark car, slowing to make way for the tractors and the occasional drawn cart. Many great speech-makers have come to Fulton since this day seventy years ago – Thatcher, Reagan, Walesa, even Gorbachev – but we’ve forgotten those speeches. This one stands.