How was it that Winston Churchill came to give is historic “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri?
By Brian Burnes
THE KANSAS CITY STAR, 7 March 2012—The president of Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., which then had approximately 300 students, already had displayed a gift for persuading big fish to come to his small pond: New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had lectured there, as had FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
But when McCluer asked his wife, Ida Belle, what she thought of inviting arguably the most recognizable face in world politics — British prime minister Winston Churchill — her first thought was to think him sarcastic.
“But I replied that we could dream,” she added.
As described in “Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance,” a sequence of fortuitous events, set in motion by McCluer, resulted in Churchill’s improbable appearance.
McCluer, writes Olathe author Philip White, wrote a five-paragraph invitation on Westminster stationery and brought it to Washington, where an old Westminster classmate, Harry Vaughan, served as Harry Truman’s military aide.
Vaughan found a five-minute window in Truman’s schedule and brought McCluer into the Oval Office.
Truman read the letter and said “That might work. Wait a minute.” Truman then inscribed a personal note, saying he would introduce Churchill at Westminster.
On March 5, 1946, that’s what happened.
If he were alive today, said White, McCluer likely would command a vast social network.
“He didn’t have Twitter feeds or Facebook posts,” said White, “but for his day he had a full address book and a crowded social calendar. He didn’t know how to sit still.”
White, who grew up in Dorset in southwest England, details the origins of the speech, in which Churchill declared that an “iron curtain” had descended upon increasingly Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe.
“That was a message that only he could deliver,” White said.
But White sees more in McCluer’s story.
“We all only tap into a small percentage of what we are capable of,” White said. “If we can just be audacious and try great things, sometimes we will do them.”
White speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. For details, go to kclibrary.org.
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Brian Burnes, firstname.lastname@example.org