Last modified on February 3, 2023, at 15:34

Iron Curtain

A caricature published by the Daily Mail in 1946 following Churchill's speech.

The Iron Curtain was a metaphorical term referring to the physical and ideological division across post-World War II Europe, which restricted travel, commerce and communication between the nations of the West and the nations under the control of the Soviet Union.

It was erected by the Soviet Union after the war and was the first part of the Cold War. Although drawn from the use of actual "curtains" of iron used in theaters to prevent the spread of fire, the phrase was probably first used in a metaphorical sense by H. G. Wells in 1901, and later by Joseph Goebbels (February 1945) and German politician Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk (May 1945). It achieved wider exposure and popularity when it was used by Winston Churchill in a speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri on 5 March 1946: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."[1] Stalin responded to Churchill's speech by calling it a "declaration of war".[2][3] The Berlin Wall became its most visible symbol, dividing the German city into the free West Berlin and East Berlin under Soviet dictatorship.

The Iron Curtain fell after a series of events in the 1980s, perhaps best symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991.[4]

The shootdown of Korean Airlines Flight 007, carrying 269 people, including Congressman Larry McDonald from Georgia, being a catalyst for the collapse of the Soviet Union may be inferred from the fact that NATO had decided, under the impetus of the U.S. administration, to deploy Pershing II and cruise missiles in Europe, primarily West Germany. This deployment would have placed missiles just 6–10 minutes striking distance from Moscow. But support for the deployment was wavering and many doubted that the missile deployment would find enough support to effect it.When the Soviet Union shot down Flight 007 with 269 people aboard—an act which U.S. President Ronald Reagan characterized as a "massacre"—enough support was galvanized for the deployment. Many believe this U.S. confrontational demonstration of strength to be a factor in the demise of the Soviet Union.

In popular culture

  • In the 2004 film C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, a similar "Cotton Curtain" is erected between the Confederate States of America (in that universe having won the American Civil War) and Canada for almost identical purposes to those of the Iron Curtain.
  • Black and white film: The Iron Curtain (1948) starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, June Havoc. The story of Soviet cypher-clerk Igor Gouzenko who was posted to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa,Canada in 1943 and defected in 1945 to reveal the extent of Soviet espionage activities directed against Canada. William Stevenson states that the Soviet request to forcibly turn him over went all the way to Prime Minister Mackenzie King who "saved western civilization" by refusing.[5]

Further reading

  • Harbutt, Fraser J. The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War (Oxford University Press, 1989) ISBN 0-1950-5422-9
  • Rose, Brian The Lost Border: Photographs of the Iron Curtain (Princeton Architectural Press, 2004) ISBN 1-5689-8493-6.

See also


  1. Sinews of Peace Speech by Winston Churchill The History Guide. Accessed 5 February 2008
  2. Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe International Relations 1945-1991 BBC Schools. Accessed 5 February 2008
  3. Zubok, Vladislov Stalin used Churchill speech to tighten Iron Curtain CNN Interactive. Accessed 5 February 2008
  4. Berlin Wall Timeline Berlin Wall Online. Accessed 5 February 2008
  5. Intrepid's last case. New York : Villard Books, 1984, ©1983.