Rhetorical Analysis Of Churchill’s Speech At Westminster College

Winston Churchill was a British statesman, wartime leader, and author, known to be a great public speaker. He authored over 43 books, including The World Crisis (1923-31), The Second World War (1940-53), The Sinews of Peace (1948), Europe Unite (1950), and A History of the English Speaking Peoples (1956-1958).

He was born in Oxfordshire to a wealthy family from aristocratic lineage. He started in politics in 1900 when he was chosen to become a member of parliament for the conservative party. He was a conservative during his career as a politician, but he was a member of the Liberal Party from 1904 to 1924. He was appointed to numerous cabinet posts, and was in government during both World Wars. He was First Lord of Admiralty prior to World War I and World War II. One of his main responsibilities was to prepare the British fleet for war. He was a British Prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and 1951 to 1955. He is famous for his position against appeasement, which had its worst reflection in the 1938 Munich Settlement. This agreement between European powers accepted German territorial claims in Czechoslovakia.

Winston Churchill was invited to give a speech at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. This was a geopolitical speech given on March 5th 1946, ten months after the VE day (the Allied victory in Europe against Nazi Germany) and seven months after the surrender of Imperial Japan. Large parts of Europe and Asia lay in waste after World War II and the threat of famine hung over a large part of the populations in those territories.

In his speech he warned of conflict with the Soviet Union as a consequence of the actions it was taking throughout the world, which resulted in the dispute between communism and democracy, referred to as the Cold War. It is said that Stalin felt like this speech was a declaration of war, and many Russian historians claim the speech to be the starting point of the Cold War.

Churchill brings to attention past mistakes, which in the end resulted in conflict. There was, he says much hope after the Versailles Treaty was signed. It had ended World War I, setting the rules on how the countries would behave in Europe. However, it imposed severe obligations on Germany. It prevented Germany from rearming and limited the size of the German army, hurting their national pride. As a consequence they increased their army to recover their power status. The perceived humiliation caused by the Treaty was one of the motivations for World War II.

Moreover, he seeks to pass on his fear of ongoing war and tyranny. He communicates the significance of “Freedom of speech and thought” for world peace. As Churchill pointed out, the League of Nations, which the US was not a member of, was not effective. Churchill focuses and puts hope in the United Nations, where the United States is a part of. He speaks about uniting the American and British army to work together, be stronger and influence the United Nations, which he refers to in his speech as the Temple of Peace and road to permanent world peace. The Atlantic Charter, signed by Roosevelt and Churchill in 1941, included principles of national self-determination, opposition to aggression, disarmament and equal access to trade and raw materials. These principles are similar to those which Churchill suggests to do at the time of the speech. He also points out the importance of eliminating poverty and privation of basic things, while promoting principles of democracy throughout his speech.

Directed to the American public and politicians, Churchill himself recognizes and praises the presence of the president in his speech. Harry S. Truman was president of the US from 1945 to 1953. He carried out the Marshal plan, which was an initiative to help rebuild the Western European countries after WWII, and helped establish NATO in 1949.

In his speech he anticipates the Cold War, referring to the conflict between Soviet Russia and the western democracies. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies were positioned against the United States and its Western European allies. It is safe to say that the control of Eastern Europe was the goal of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy, as it was for Russia throughout its history. Stalin’s main targets were Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, and South Korea.

His famous phrase, “An iron curtain has descended across the continent”, directs his concerns about the Soviet influence on the Eastern European countries, which he called the “Soviet sphere,” and the importance of finding a solution to prevent them from growing stronger to avoid another war.

He outlined communist threats throughout the world, how they had gained power in Eastern Europe and how they were seeking to “obtain totalitarian control”. He speaks about his uneasiness of an Eastern Europe without true democracy, except for Czechoslovakia, which despite his warnings, was later taken over by the communists during the Cold War.

Both Iran and Turkey were important targets for the Soviets at the beginning of the Cold War. The Soviet Union (and Imperial Russia before) had historically wanted access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Churchill refers to this when he mentions Turkey and Persia and “the pressure being exerted by the Moscow government”. Turkey, which had been neutral during World War II, was pressured to give back the provinces of Ardahan and Kars by the Soviet Union, which had been part of Russia during the late 1800’s. Moreover, Stalin requested military bases on Turkish territory to achieve the Russian strategic goal of obtaining access to the Mediterranean Sea through control of the Dardanelles and the Bosporous.

Furthermore, he refers to the occupation of Northern Iran by the Soviets during World War II, which would help allow access to the Indian Ocean, while southern Iran was occupied at the time by the British and Americans. The three powers agreed to remove their troops from Iran within six months after the war against Japan ended. Both the US and British troops evacuated when accorded, but Moscow kept its troops in place. Stalin finally removed his troops in the spring of 1946, weeks after Churchill’s speech.

He then says “An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-Communist party”. He was warning the world about the big mistake they had done by withdrawing their troops from Berlin and Eastern Germany. By 1948 the countries in Eastern Europe that had been liberated by the Red Army were dominated by left-wing governments heavily influenced by Moscow.

He continues warning the world that allowing the communists to grow in the Soviet controlled areas of Germany would not permit the “permanent peace” they were seeking, and that it was “certainly not the Liberated Europe we fought to build up” after World War II.

He refers to a “Russian-dominated Polish Government” and his worry about the mass expulsion of the Germans in territories that were obtained after World War II.

He also mentions his concerns about the Communist Parties in Italy and in France, pointing out France’s darkest hours, which were during World War I where they lost many people because the war was fought on French soil, and during World War II when they were occupied by the Nazis. The goal of the war was not to be liberated from the Nazis and then be taken over by the communists.

In regards to Italy, he mentions Josip Broz Tito, a communist trained Marshal who fought against the Germans in the war, and later on became the leader of Yugoslavia. When he says “the future of Italy hangs in the balance.” he is referring to the conflict between Italy and Yugoslavia over the “territory over the head of the Adriatic” and its communist party. Both the French and Italian communist parties were very strong until the 1970’s.

He refers to the Soviet occupation of Manchuria during the last weeks of World War II. Japan had taken over Manchuria in 1931.At the end of the war it was to be given back to the Chinese, and Soviet intentions as he said at the time of the speech were not clear.

Churchill is also concerned and mentions the possibility of an atomic war. He speaks about the “Temple of Peace” throughout his speech. He seeks to pass on the message that they need to “work together at the common task” to avoid another war, and most importantly, he mentions the return of the “Dark Ages” and the “Stone age” “on the gleaming wings of science”, referring to the atomic bomb. Later on he again mentions his concern about it by saying “war can find any nation” and also referring to how the United States, “against their wishes”, has had to fight in both World Wars and how this can happen to any country.

Winston Churchill was an intellectual who had learnt about history throughout his life by writing and participating in it. His experience gave him a deep understanding of geopolitics. When he described the “Iron Curtain” he was describing circumstances that could give rise, and did, to the beginning of the Cold War. The Allies had just won a World War, and he wanted to avoid committing the same errors, such as commending to an ineffective League of Nations security and permanent world peace. He supported the nascent United Nations and called out for a common army among the English-speaking countries. Throughout the speech he mentions the importance of promoting democracy and standing together for freedom of speech and thought across the world.

In my opinion, Churchill was a man determined to inspire the world to become strong and unified to help the ordinary people in their cottage homes live peaceful lives. He made a call to build a stronger world in the hands of the United Nations including all countries to work together and achieve permanent world peace. His speech spoke about the tragedy of war, the ego behind the so many different conflicts, and to take into consideration the balance of powers to, in principle, avoid confrontation. He knew, through experience, how leaders of the world reacted in accordance to the situations that were being lived and was capable of warning the world of situations that could cause future conflicts. 

16 August 2021
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