Analysis Of Winston Churchill’s The Sinews Of Peace Speech

Winston Churchill´s famous The Sinews of Peace speech (also known as the ´Iron Curtain Speech´) was delivered on March 5, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, USA. It is a political/ geopolitical speech addressed to the College (faculty and students), with the clear intention of reaching wider repercussion. It was abundantly reproduced in later times due to its relevance and importance, despite the fact that it had not been very well received at the time. As Lindsay (2012) notes, it was criticized in the US for fostering animosity towards the USSR and how Stalin referenced it to mark a presumed supremacy of the English speaking world.

This speech is a masterfully crafted exposition by Winston Churchill entailing his views regarding the aftermath of WWII, his take on how western geopolitics should evolve (a true new world order), and a piece of dramatic warning for generations to come.

Churchill´s presentation starts by honoring his hosts, highlighting the remarkable and infrequent honor of being introduced by a president of the US, and by putting forth that his opinions are solely representing his views. As a side note, it is rather preposterous to believe his intentions were such, as one can argue that the victory in the war and his prestige enabled him to be a de facto spokesperson for the United Kingdom. Be it as it may, he then honors the fallen and underlines the tremendous human and material cost of the war that had ended the year prior. Churchill, in a moving and compassionate passage, acknowledges the horror of armed conflict, the threat of poverty and hunger and destruction on the most vulnerable layers of society and puts forth the importance of protecting humankind from bloodshed.

In the ensuing paragraph, he praises the United States´ military supremacy and calls for a solid grasp of the opportunity of leadership and strength that is bestowed upon the US. It could be argued that Churchill is, in fact, acknowledging the decline in geopolitical supremacy of the British Empire in favor of the USA, with which he so strongly seeks to establish more solid ties.

The second part of the speech dredges on the urgent, important task of supplying the recently minted United Nations with a solid, common military force. He does so with a surprising level of detail, expounding how air squadrons and allegiance of forces should operate within this new military structure. The final part of the speech praises the respect felt by the British and the American towards the Russian people for their colossal human sacrifice in the war while warning, in a chilling turn, of the perils of a Soviet expansion in Europe behind what he calls the ´iron curtain´. Despite what many commentators have traditionally said, there is ample evidence that this epithet had been used prior to Churchill´s speech in one form or another. Be it as it may, the iconic usage by the former Prime Minister would cast the term with vigor into the common parlance. In a way, it could be argued that Churchill´s speech somewhat marks the beginning of the Cold War by acknowledging that a former ally may be turning into a formidable rival. It is a gross understatement not to recognize Churchill as a sharp and insightful observer of the intentions of powerful rulers such as Stalin.

Lastly, the speech ends with yet another appreciation of the strong will and industrial might of the British Empire, the Commonwealth and the United States. In his view, this alliance paves the road towards a more prosperous, peaceful future for the entire world.

Churchill´s Missouri speech represents a pivotal time in geopolitics and, in particular, it signals the crucial shift in world power from the fading British Empire to the rising (if not already consolidated) supremacy of the American stance in the world. Indeed, Churchill was well aware of the symbolic importance of his presence in the USA to signify this paradigm change, while also to strengthening the ties between the two countries. Churchill was also aware of the uneasy relation of the UK with continental Europe and in a way this speech represents an unambiguous glance towards the west of the Atlantic. This is more evident now than ever with the current Brexit process in which the United Kingdom has gone after- not without its tremendous challenges- to sever its ties with continental Europe.

The context of the speech is of enormous importance. The whole world had just experienced the most devastating war to date, with a whopping 75-80 million casualties and which brought about a new stash of most lethal weaponry: the atomic bomb, the widespread use of the aircraft carrier, and at the very end, the use by the Germans of the first self-propelled missiles. In addition, the world watched in horror the premeditated, dispassionate extermination of six million Jews in Germany and Poland. In total, a war that caused unfathomable destruction in lives, property, and that caused the displacement of countless millions of people in two war scenarios: Europe and the Far East.

Churchill, who had completed his first term as Prime Minister, was enjoying international recognition as a stern leader, able to keep a cool, contained attitude during the conflict and bravely capable of inoculating morale and a certain stoicism. In sharp contrast with his unremarkable aspect, he was able to galvanize troops and civilians alike (recall his famous ´we shall never surrender´ speech). In addition, Churchill had always been a devoted ally of the United States and an enemy of Communism, so his speech is particularly telling given the temporal and spatial circumstances.

Churchill´s presentation seems now, in retrospect, an exercise in clairvoyance: it forecasts the shadow of the overwhelming control of the USSR on its satellite countries, the future climate of mutual distrust by the eastern and western bloc, the strengthening of the relations between the United States and the UK, and the risk of oppression that the USSR would eventually impose, under Stalin´s brutal regime, on the Russian people. Churchill suspected all too well that Stalin´s decisive and indestructible resolve to trap and destroy Hitler´s armies in Russia and its formidable toll would not be altruistic. Indeed, the price revealed itself as a totalitarian approach to conquering Eastern Europe and to join countries under the USSR zone of influence. As Churchill rightly points out, he had raised his concerns related the beginning of WWI to no avail. This time around, his admonition to the subjacent imperialism of the Soviet Union would prove truthful yet again. According to Ryan (1979), Churchill´s mood prior to the talk was of despair, as he was fully aware of his limited power in deterring an advancement of the Soviets in Europe.

In my view, Churchill shows his intellectual brilliance and craftsmanship in structuring a speech. His delivery is equally impeccable; even if it stylistically sounds outdated to current day English speakers (expressions such as ´morrow´ clearly denote a certain time period and hyper formality). In terms of Churchill´s message, I think he accomplishes many things: he expresses his true sorrow about the devastating effect of war as well as his unshakeable determination to avoid another armed conflict at all costs, his recognition of the shift in the world´s superpowers ranking, his compassion for the suffering of the consequences of war by the most vulnerable and his spot-on vision of the expansionism of the USSR in eastern Europe. My only critique is concerned with the outdated white Anglo-Saxon supremacy that percolates throughout the text. Finally, it is a joy to read a speech so beautifully crafted, so well thought out and delivered so gracefully. 

16 August 2021
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