March 15, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 60

By Philip White

When Hitler fatefully turned on Russia in the summer of 1941, Churchill embraced the necessity of accepting Stalin as an ally. In the end, this uneasy bargain helped turn the tide against the Axis powers.

But the world was not rendered free from tyranny. Stalin was already betraying the undertakings he had made at Teheran and Yalta when he, Churchill and Truman met at Potsdam in July 1945.

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Churchill believed that if he could spend more time with Stalin he could right those wrongs, but he lost the 1945 election. After a period of gloom, Churchill realized that he still had two potent weapons, his pen and his voice, to warn of a new “Gathering Storm.”

Enter Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who visited Churchill in London on a rainy October 26th, 1945. King had offered unwavering support to Churchill in World War II despite a conscription debacle that had split his nation. They dined on caviar and a snipe, conferring on the lamentable influence of far-left politics, Churchill telling King that Labour would redistribute wealth by “destroying the rich to equalize the incomes of all.”

Though he relished coming battles with the Attlee government, Churchill was preoccupied with the state of the world. As King recorded:

He said that Russia was grabbing one country after another…all these different countries, naming a lot of the Balkans, including Berlin, would be under their control. He thought they should have been stood up to more than they were. He spoke about the Russian regime as being very difficult but said there was nothing to be gained by not letting them know we were not afraid of them. He said that they would be as pleasant with you as they could be, although prepared to destroy you. That sentiment meant nothing to them—morals meant nothing…you must remember that with the Communists, Communism is a religion….He felt that the Communist movement was spreading everywhere.1

King, though he was used to Churchillian monologues, was ready to give his own opinion:

I said to him that I did not think the British Commonwealth of Nations could compete with the Russian situation itself, nor did I think the U.S. could. That I believed that it would require the two and they must be kept together. He said to me, ‘That is the thing you must work for above everything else if you can pull off a continued alliance between the U.S. and Britain…if you can get them to preserve the Joint [Combined] Chiefs of Staff arrangement…you will be doing the greatest service that can be done the world.’2

This conversation shows Churchill’s great appreciation for King, and for the sacrifices that Canada had made in the war. He would air these views, he told King, during his trip to the United States early in the New Year.3

The themes Churchill explored with King that day formed the bedrock for WSC’s conversations with U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes and financier Bernard Baruch while Churchill was holidaying at the home of Canadian Colonel Frank Clarke in Miami during January and February 1946. Churchill had already planned a trip across the Atlantic, but his invitation to speak at Westminster College in Fulton, endorsed by Truman, who offered to introduce him, was a golden opportunity to voice his concerns.4

We are all aware of the “Iron Curtain” metaphors Churchill voiced at Westminster College in 1946.5 It was certainly an apt description of the ideological divide. He also warned against complacency, saying the times marked “a solemn moment for the American democracy” and its allies.6

Aside from Russia’s near-hegemony in Eastern Europe, there were other grave challenges. The Canadian authorities had recently broken up a spy ring, which hinted at the infiltration of the Manhattan Project by Stalin’s agents.7 While the secret of the atomic bomb rested with America, the Canadian spy bust had brought a fear of proliteration. Churchill hoped, but wasn’t sure, that the U.S. would retain its atomic secrets.8

The old imperialist was concerned too over the crumbling of the British Empire, whose engine, the British economy, had seen almost a quarter of its wealth drained by the war. Britain now could scarcely stand on her own battle-weary feet, let alone fulfill her obligations to far-flung colonies. When Churchill at Fulton talked in rousing terms of the British Commonwealth, he was trying to preserve the concept of unity.

Churchill was the first statesman to show that the divide between the democracies and the communist bloc were not just those of geography or government, but one of belief systems. His words at Fulton complemented George Kennan’s February 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow, and the views of Averell Harriman. They did spur Secretary of State Byrnes to intensify demands for Russia to leave Iran—which she eventually did. They also enabled Truman to send up a “trial balloon” for the containment philosophy later represented by the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO.9

Churchill’s call for active diplomacy at Fulton cannot be underestimated, for it affected the thought of future leaders for a generation: Nixon and Kennedy, and later Reagan, Thatcher, and even Gorbachev.10

In proposing closer bonds between the U.S. and Britain, Churchill gave the example of the Joint Defense Board forged by the U.S. and Canada. This showed how a coordinated military arrangement could be effective without compromising sovereignty, a principle dear to Churchill and, he knew, to his North American allies.

The “special relationship” and the democratic tenets it was based on meant far more than arms. It involved Churchill’s lifelong themes of the shared heritage, language and traditions of the English-speaking peoples. As the Conservative Party thinker Daniel Hannan has pointed out, Churchill rhetorically created what we now call “the Anglosphere.”11

Thus, long ago, in that Westminster College gymnasium, Churchill reminded his listeners of democratic values: the values that he thought imperiled by Stalin and the Kremlin. His exhortations of what he called “the title deeds of freedom”—unfettered elections, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech and thought—are timeless. And they certainly outlasted the divisions of the Cold War.12

If leaders today are conscious of anything, they should know what we stand for and why—what we must celebrate in our own “anxious and baffling times”: the traditions, values and heritage of the Anglosphere.13 It is a different age. We face threats now from rogue states, international terrorism and other enemies that even Churchill did not anticipate. Tyrannies have erected digital Iron Curtains, attempting to keep their abuses, and their peoples from the world.

Despite these dangers we can and will endure—if the Great Democracies uphold the principles Churchill spoke of at Fulton, principles he gave everything to defend. Then perhaps, as he said in Fulton, “the high roads of the future will be clear, not only for us, but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.”14

Mr. White ([email protected]) is a guest lecturer at Mid-America Nazarene University in Kansas City, and author of Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. This paper was edited for space; for the full text please email the editor.


1. Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King, 26 October 1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, accessed January 2011. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 8, Never Despair 1945-1965 (London: Heinemann, 1988), 161-62.

2. Mackenzie King Diaries, 26 October 1945.

3. Ibid.

4. Franc McCluer to WSC, 3 October 1946, McCluer Family Papers, provided by Richmond McCluer, Jr.

5. The speech at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946, is in Winston S. Churchill, The Sinews of Peace (London: Cassell, 1948), 93-105.

6. Ibid., 94.

7. Mackenzie King Diaries, 28 February 1946.

8. Speech at Zurich University, 19 September 1946, in Churchill, The Sinews of Peace, 201.

9. Fraser J Harbutt, The Iron Curtain: Churchill, America, and the Origins of the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986),180-81; Larry P. Arnn, “True Politics and Strategy,” in James W. Muller, ed., Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech Fifty Years Later (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 129-38.

10. Shelley Sommer, John F. Kennedy: His Life and Legacy (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 17;  Thurston Clarke, Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America (New York: Macmillan, 2005), 81, 226; Richard M. Nixon, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978), 45, 158, 610; Margaret Thatcher, “New Threats for Old,” speech at Westminster College 9 March 1996, in Muller, ed. Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech, 161-68. Stephen F. Hayward, Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006), 139-40.

11. Daniel Hannan, “Winston Churchill: Father of the Anglosphere,” in the Daily Telegraph, 8 June 2012.

12. Speech at Fulton, in The Sinews of Peace, 97.

13. Ibid., 93.

14. Ibid., 105.

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