Primary Documents

Winston Churchill - Iron Curtain Speech - 1946

In 1946, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech to an audience at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. It is one of the most influential speeches of the period.

Excerpts from “The Sinews of Peace,” Winston Churchill, March 5, 1946

. . .The dark ages may return, the Stone Age may return on the gleaming wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind, may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say; time may be short.  . .

A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies. . . It is my duty . . . to place before you certain facts about the present position in Europe.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone—Greece with its immortal glories—is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation. The Russian-dominated Polish government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed of are now taking place. The communist parties, which were very small in all these eastern states of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy.

Turkey and Persia are both profoundly alarmed and disturbed at the claims which are being made upon them and at the pressure being exerted by the Moscow government. An attempt is being made by the Russians in Berlin to build up a quasi-communist party in their zone of occupied Germany by showing special favors to groups of left-wing German leaders. At the end of the fighting last June, the American and British armies withdrew westwards, in accordance with an earlier agreement, to a depth at some points of 150 miles upon a front of nearly 400 miles, in order to allow our Russian allies to occupy this vast expanse of territory which the Western democracies had conquered.

If now the Soviet government tries, by separate action, to build up a pro-communist Germany in their areas, this will cause new serious difficulties in the British and American zones, and will give the defeated Germans the power of putting themselves up to auction between the Soviets and the Western democracies. Whatever conclusions may be drawn from these facts—and facts they are—this is certainly not the liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace.

. . .I have felt bound to portray the shadow which, alike in the West and in the East, falls upon the world. I was a high minister at the time of the Versailles Treaty and a close friend of Mr. Lloyd-George, who was the head of the British delegation at Versailles. I did not myself agree with many things that were done, but I have a very strong impression in my mind of that situation, and I find it painful to contrast it with that which prevails now. In those days there were high hopes and unbounded confidence that the wars were over, and that the League of Nations would become all-powerful. I do not see or feel that same confidence or even the same hopes in the haggard world at the present time.

On the other hand I repulse the idea that a new war is inevitable; still more that it is imminent. It is because I am sure that our fortunes are still in our own hands and that we hold the power to save the future, that I feel the duty to speak out now that I have the occasion and the opportunity to do so. I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. . .Our difficulties and dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them. They will not be removed by mere waiting to see what happens; nor will they be removed by a policy of appeasement. What is needed is a settlement, and the longer this is delayed, the more difficult it will be and the greater our dangers will become.

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. We cannot afford, if we can help it, to work on narrow margins, offering temptations to a trial of strength. If the Western democracies stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter, their influence for furthering those principles will be immense and no one is likely to molest them. If however they become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.

Last time I saw it all coming and cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in all history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again. This can only be achieved by reaching now, in 1946, a good understanding on all points with Russia under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the world instrument, supported by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections. . .

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/25 at 09:48 PM
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Looking Back, David Horowitz-Peter Collier, 1985

Peter Collier and David Horowitz, “Lefties for Reagan” ( 1985), in Major Problems in American History Since 1945: Documents and Essays, ed. Robert Griffith ( Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1992), pp. 467 474.

When we tell our old radical friends that we voted for Ronald Reagan last November, the response is usually one of annoyed incredulity. After making sure that we are not putting them on, our old friends make nervous jokes about Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly, about gods that have failed, about ageing yuppies ascending to consumer heaven in their BMWs. We remind them of an old adage: “Anyone under 40 who isn’t a socialist has no heart—anyone over 40 who is a socialist has no brain.”

Inevitably the talk becomes bitter. One old comrade, after a tirade in which she had denounced us as reactionaries and crypto-fascists, finally sputtered, “And the worst thing is that you’ve turned your back on the Sixties!” That was exactly right: casting our ballots for Ronald Reagan was indeed a way of finally saying goodbye to all that—to the self-aggrandising romance with corrupt Third Worldism; to the casual indulgence of Soviet totalitarianism; to the hypocritical and self-dramatising anti-Americanism which is the New Left’s bequest to main56stream politics.

The instruments of popular culture may perhaps be forgiven for continuing to portray the ‘60s as a time of infectious idealism, but those of us who were active then have no excuse for abetting this banality. If in some ways it was the best of times, it was also the worst of times, an era of bloodthirsty fantasies as well as spiritual ones. We ourselves experienced both aspects, starting as civil rights and anti-war activists and ending as co-editors of the New Left magazine Ramparts. The magazine post allowed us to write about the rough beast slouching through America and also to urge it on through non-editorial activities we thought of as clandestine until we later read about them in the FBI and CIA files we both accumulated.

Like other radicals in those early days, we were against electoral politics, regarding voting as one of those charades used by the ruling class to legitimate its power. We were even more against Reagan, then governor of Califomia, having been roughed up by his troopers during the People’s Park demonstrations in Berkeley and tear-gassed by his National Guard helicopters during the University of California’s Third World Liberation Front Strike.

But neither elections nor elected officials seemed particularly important compared with the auguries of Revolution the Left saw everywhere by the end of the decade—in the way the nefarious Richard Nixon was widening the war in Indo-China; in the unprovoked attacks by paramilitary police against the Black Panther Party; in the formation of the “Weather Underground”, a group willing to pick up the gun or the bomb. It was a time when the apocalypse struggling to be born seemed to need only the slightest assist from the radical midwife.

When we were in the voting booth this past November (in different precincts but of the same mind) we both thought back to the day in 1969 when Tom Hayden came by the office and, after getting a Ramparts donation to buy gas masks and other combat issue for Black Panther “guerrillas,” announced portentously:

“Fascism is here, and we’re all going to be in jail by the end of the year.”

We agreed wholeheartedly with this apocalyptic vision and in fact had just written in an editorial:

“The system cannot be revitalised. It must be overthrown. As humanly as possible, but by any means necessary.”

Every thought and perception in those days was filtered through the dark and distorting glass of the Viet Nam war.

The Left was hooked on Viet Nam. It was an addictive drug whose rush was a potent mix of melodrama, self-importance, and moral rectitude. Viet Nam was a universal solvent—the explanation for every evil we saw and the justification for every excess we committed. Trashing the windows of merchants on the main streets of America seemed warranted by the notion that these petty-bourgeois shopkeepers were cogs in the system of capitalist exploitation that was obliterating Viet Nam. Fantasising the death of local cops seemed warranted by the role they played as an occupying army in America’s black ghettos, those mini Viet Nams we yearned to see explode in domestic wars of liberation. Viet Nam caused us to acquire a new appreciation for foreign tyrants like Kim II Sung of North Korea. Viet Nam also caused us to support the domestic extortionism and violence of groups like the Black Panthers, and to dismiss derisively Martin Luther King, Jr. as an “Uncle Tom.” (The Left has conveniently forgotten this fact now that it finds it expedient to invoke King’s name and reputation to further its domestic politics.)

How naive the New Left was can be debated, but by the end of the ‘60s we were not political novices. We knew that bad news from Southeast Asia—the reports of bogged-down campaigns and the weekly body counts announced by Walter Cronkite—was good for the radical agenda. The more repressive our government in dealing with dissent at home, the more recruits for our cause and the sooner the appearance of the revolutionary Armageddon.

Our assumption that Viet Nam would be the political and moral fulcrum by which we would tip this country toward revolution foresaw every possibility except one: that the United States would pull out. Never had we thought that the US, the arch-imperial power, would of its own volition withdraw from Indo China. This development violated a primary article of our hand-me-down Marx ism: that political action through normal channels could not alter the course of the war. The system we had wanted to overthrow worked tardily and only at great cost, but it worked.

When American troops finally came home, some of us took the occasion to begin a long and painful re-examination of our political assumptions and beliefs. Others did not. For the diehards, there was a post-Viet Nam syndrome in its own way as debilitating as that suffered by people who had fought there-a sense of emptiness rather than exhilaration, a paradoxical desire to hold on to and breathe life back into the experience that had been their high for so many years.

As the post-Viet Nam decade progressed, the diehards on the left ignored conclusions about the viability of democratic traditions that might have been drawn from America’s exit from Viet Nam and from the Watergate crisis that followed it, a time when the man whose ambitions they had feared most was removed from office by the Constitution rather than by a coup. The only “lessons” of Viet Nam the Left seemed interested in were those that emphasised the danger of American power abroad and the need to diminish it, a view that was injected into the Democratic party with the triumph of the McGovernite wing. The problem with this use of Viet Nam as a moral text for American policy, however, was that the pages following the fall of Saigon had been whited out. . . .

Perhaps the leading feature of the Left today is the moral selectivity that French social critic Jean-François Revel has identified as “the syndrome of the cross-eyed Left.”

Leftists can describe Viet Nam’s conquest and colonialisation of Cambodia as a “rescue mission,” while reviling Ronald Reagan for applying the same term to the Grenada operation, although better than 90% of the island’s population told independent pollsters they were grateful for the arrival of US troops. Forgetting for a moment that Afghanistan is “Russia’s Viet Nam,” Leftists call Grenada “America’s Afghanistan,” although people in Afghanistan (as one member of the resistance there told us) would literally die for the elections held in Grenada.

The Left’s memory can be as selective as its morality. When it comes to past commitments that have failed, the Leftist mentality is utterly unable to produce a coherent balance sheet, let alone a profit-and-loss statement. The attitude toward Soviet penetration of the Americas is a good example. Current enthusiasm for the Sandinista régime in Nicaragua should recall to those of us old enough to remember a previous enthusiasm for Cuba 25 years ago. Many of us began our “New Leftism” with the “Fair Play for Cuba” demonstrations. We raised our voices and chanted, “ Cuba Si! Yanqui No!” We embraced Fidel Castro not only because of the flamboyant personal style of the barbudos of his 26th of July Movement but also because Castro assured the world that his revolution belonged to neither Communists nor capitalists, that it was neither red nor black, but Cuban olive-green.

We attributed Castro’s expanding links with Moscow to the US-sponsored invasion of the Bay of Pigs, and then to the “secret war” waged against Cuba by US intelligence and paramilitary organisations. But while Castro’s apologists in the United States may find it expedient to maintain these fictions, Carlos Franqui and other old Fidelistas now in exile have made it clear that Castro embraced the Soviets even before the US hostility became decisive, and that he steered his country into an alliance with the Soviets with considerable enthusiasm. Before the Bay of Pigs he put a Soviet general in charge of Cuban forces. Before the Bay of Pigs he destroyed Cuba’s democratic trade-union movement, although its elected leadership was drawn from his own 26th of July Movement. He did so because he knew that the Stalinists of Cuba’s Communist Party would be dependable cheerleaders and efficient policemen of his emerging dictatorship. . . .

Adherents of today’s version of radical chic may never take seriously the words of Sandinista directorate member Bayardo Arce when he says that elections are a “hindrance” to the goal of “a dictatorship of the proletariat” and necessary only “as an expedient to deprive our enemies of an argument.” They will ignore former Sandinista hero and now Contra leader Eden Pastora, who sees the Junta as traitors who have sold out the revolutionary dream. ("Now that we are occupied by foreign forces from Cuba and Russia, now that we are governed by a dictatorial government of nine men, now more than ever the Sandinista struggle is justified.") They will ignore opposition leader Arturo Cruz, an early supporter of the Sandinista revolution and previously critical of the Contras, when the worsening situation makes him change his mind and ask the Reagan administration to support them in a statement that should have the same weight as Andrei Sakharov’s plea to the West to match the Soviet arms build-up.

American Leftists propose solutions for the people of Central America that they wouldn’t dare propose for themselves. These armchair revolutionaries project their self-hatred and their contempt for the privileges of democracy—which allow them to live well and to think badly—on to people who would be only too grateful for the luxuries they disdain. Dismissing “bourgeois” rights as a decadent frill that the peoples of the Third World can’t afford, Leftists spread eagle the Central Americans between the dictators of the Right and the dictators of the Left. The latter, of course, are their chosen instruments for bringing social justice and economic well-being, although no Leftist revolution has yet provided impressive returns on either of these qualities and most have made the lives of their people considerably more wretched than they were before.

Voting is symbolic behaviour, a way of evaluating what one’s country has been as well as what it might become. We do not accept Reagan’s policies chapter and verse (especially in domestic policy, which we haven’t discussed here), but we agree with his vision of the world as a place increasingly inhospitable to democracy and increasingly dangerous for America.

One of the few saving graces of age is a deeper perspective on the passions of youth. Looking back on the Left’s revolutionary enthusiasms of the last 25 years, we have painfully learned what should have been obvious all along: that we live in an imperfect world that is bettered only with great difficulty and easily made worse—much worse. This is a conservative assessment, but on the basis of half a lifetime’s experience, it seems about right.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/25 at 08:31 PM
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Looking Back, Tom Hayden, 1988

Tom Hayden, “Epilogue”, in Reunion ( New York: Random House, 1988), pp. 501-507.

Looking back from life’s mid-passage, what did the generation of the sixties achieve? What does it mean today?By the most measurable standards, we accomplished more than we expected, more than most generations ever accomplish. Consider the most obvious:

Students led the civil rights movement, which destroyed a century-old segrega tion system and which politically enfranchised twenty million blacks.

Students were the backbone of the antiwar movement, which forced our gov ernment to abandon its policies in Vietnam and the nation to reconsider the Cold War.

Because of student criticism, most universities retreated from their traditional paternalism toward an acceptance of active student participation in decision making.

Movement activists were the key factor in making Lyndon Johnson withdraw from the presidency in 1968 and in transforming the political rules that permitted reformers to prevail in the Democratic party, which then endorsed “participatory democracy” in its 1972 platform.

The same movement was conceded the eighteen-year-old vote by the 1970s.

These movements were direct catalysts for the reemergence of the women’s movement, the birth of environmentalism, and other diverse causes.

In short, we opened up closed systems. From Georgia and Mississippi to the South as a whole, from Newark and Chicago to the cities of the North, from the 1965 Vietnam teach-ins to the 1973 War Powers Act, from the Democratic convention of 1968 to that of 1972, there was a steady evolution from patterns of exclusion toward greater citizen participation in basic decisions.

More generally, the New Left fostered a vision that gradually took hold throughout much of society. At the center of that vision was a moral view of human beings, “ordinary people” in the process of history, a view which held that systems should be designed for human beings and not the other way around. The dignity of the individual in this perspective could only be realized through active citizenship. That in turn required a society of citizens, or a democracy of participation, where individuals had a direct voice in the making of decisions about their own lives. We were expressing a rising dissatisfaction with all institutions, even liberal and expressly humane ones, that absorbed power into their hierarchies. Instead of “taking power,” we imagined creating the new power out of the raw material of apathy. At the same time, new measurements of excellence, such as the quality of life and personal relationships, were to take on greater significance than external status symbols and material monuments, in both our lives and the existence of our country.

These perceptions and values are an ongoing legacy of our generation. They do not always prevail in our culture or politics today, nor are they always recognized as arising from the sixties. Yet their enduring and widening impact can be seen in a variety of ways. Enlightened business and labor viewpoints now concur that humane treatment of the worker, including participation in decision making, is not only an ethical good, but a plus for productivity as well. More broadly, the survey researcher Daniel Yankelovich, in his book, New Rules concluded that the campus upheavals of the sixties gave us the first premonitory sign that the plates of American culture, after decades of stability, had begun to shift. . . . Then in the seventies the public as a whole began to experience them and the mass reappraisal of American life values was launched The Yankelovich study concluded that the mainstream American goal is “to build a more productive economy and at the same time a society in which the cravings of the spirit as well as material well-being can be satisfied.”

These findings were also reflected in an extraordinary work of social science, Habits of the Heart, published by a UC Berkeley team of researchers in 1985. One of their purposes was to review and revive the nineteenth-century French writer, Alexis de Toqueville[sic], whose observations in Democracy in America in some ways foreshadowed the theme of participatory democracy. De Toque ville celebrated the town meetings and voluntary associations that constituted the rich political core of early nineteenth-century American society and warned of the dangers of rampant individualism, under which participation could atrophy and be replaced by imperial forms of rule. The authors of Habits of the Heart, responding to the resurgent individualism of the religious right of the eighties, cited local chapters of the Campaign for Economic Democracy among the many representative efforts at restoring an emphasis on democracy at the community level, noting that “the morally concerned social movement, informed by republican and biblical sentiments, has stood us in good stead in the past and may still do so again.”

These conclusions and many others like them represent nothing less than the maturing of the awkward formulations of The Port Huron Statement into the cultural vocabulary of the mainstream of American life.

The logical question then is why the New Left did not succeed in building an organized and permanent leftist presence on the American political spectrum? Why did we produce so few political leaders? Why did we, who were so able to shake existing institutions, leave so little behind? Part of me inclines to the view of the New Left’s better administrative leaders, like Paul Booth and Richie Rothstein, that our profound distrust of leadership and structure doomed us to failure on the level of political organization.

But the American political system is inhospitable to third parties, isolating them before gradually absorbing their ideas and activists into the two-party system. The most that could have been organized out of the New Left might have been an “adult” SDS, a kind of American Civil Liberties Union for social justice. Of course, without the Kennedy assassinations the history of our generation would have been different, and I believe most of the New Left would have found itself politically involved as part of a new governing coalition by the end of the sixties, just as Millie Jeffrey’s generation became linked with the politics of the New Deal. But it was not to be. Instead, in Jack Newfield’s summary phrase, we became “might have beens.”. . .

There are such strong feelings of nostalgia on the one hand and loss on the other among so many who went through those times because the sixties were about more than practical reforms. It was a decade not focused simply on specific goals, like the organization of American workers in the thirties or the issue agendas of the Populist and Socialist parties at the century’s beginning. The goal of the sixties was a larger transformation. Perhaps the only parallels might have been during the times of the American Revolution and Civil War, when individuals became caught up in remaking America itself. The goal of the sixties was, in a sense, the completion of the vision of the early revolutionaries and the abolitionists, for Tom Paine and Frederick Douglass wanted even more than the Bill of Rights or Emancipation Proclamation. True democrats, they wanted the fulfillment of the American promise through a different quality of relations between people, between government and governed, a participatory democracy within a genuinely human community. The sixties movements were inspired toward that loftier goal and were blocked in the quest by the intervention of fate.Like the American revolutionary period, the awakening of the early sixties was a unique ingathering of young people—many of them potential leaders -to proclaim and then try to carry out a total redemptive vision. This visionary quest is what bound each of us together in a community, from Gandhian Freedom Riders to disillusioned Marxists. The gods of our parents had failed or become idols. Then a new spiritual force came in 1960, to move in the world. We felt ourselves to be the prophets of that force. When we first used the term revolution, it was not about overthrowing power but about overcoming hypocrisy, through a faithfulness to a democratic and spiritual heritage. Then came rejection and both physical and spiritual martyrdom, and later a discovery that we ourselves were not pure. We faltered, lost our way, became disoriented above all by death upon death. What began on a soaring spirit suddenly was over, perhaps to be finished permanently. We who claimed to be masters of our future discovered that we were not.The sacrifices were many, and there were no distinguished service medals. In writing this book, I found it revealing that there is nowhere a factual summary of all the suffering that people went through—shootings, beatings, firings, expulsions, arrests, not to mention psychological pain—to achieve quite elementary goals in the sixties decade. It is as if the sacrifices were not worthy of record, but should be suppressed and forgotten. With the help of Eric Dey, a UCLA graduate student, I developed a minimal estimate of our untabulated sacrifices:

During the southern civil rights movement ( 1960-68), at least 28 activists were killed, and 31,000 people were arrested. There is no calculating the numbers who were beaten, fired, or expelled from schools.

In the black civil disorders of 1965-70, 188 people were killed, at least 7,612 were injured, and another 52,920 were arrested.

In the campus and antiwar protests of 1965-71, for which data are woefully unrecorded, at least 14 were killed, thousands were injured or expelled from colleges, and at least 26,358 were arrested.

It therefore would be safe to estimate that in a society priding itself on its openness, 100,000 arrests of protestors occurred in the decade of the sixties. They were prophets without honor in their time.

For all these reasons, the sixties leave a sense of troubling incompleteness and shortcoming alongside that of proud achievement. But if the time has remained difficult to capture, it is also possible that the sixties are not over. The decade itself was perhaps only the beginning of a time of vast change that is not yet fulfilled. Our generation, after all, has only lived into its middle years. Why conclude that life’s most powerful moments already are behind us? If the sixties are not over, it is up to the sixties generation to continue trying to heal our wounds, find our truth, and apply our ideals with a new maturity to our nation’s future.Since 1980, however, the official mood of the nation has been contrary to a spirit of reconciliation. Rather, the tone has been one of escape from bitter realities toward an immortalizing vision of nostalgia proposed by President Reagan. There has been a strong pressure to wipe out the “Vietnam syndrome,” which allegedly left us prostrate before our enemies. Thanks to greater military spending, we are told that America is “back,” is “standing tall,” that the “nay sayers” have been vanquished. I find this stance to be an armed reminder of the most rigid view of my parents’ generation when they wanted to impose the lessons of their experience on their children and grandchildren. But my personal experience gives me faith that this official obsession with restoring a mythic past will give way to wiser consciousness in the era ahead:

An emerging generation of voters-about eighty million born since 1945—will seek newer philosophies than those which led to constant government scandal these past two decades.

Those who experienced the inner reality of Vietnam—from the end of police clubs or in jungle darkness—will unite around a more mature foreign policy, based on the strength of democracy.

Americans will increasingly look to human merits, rather than color, class, or gender, in choosing those who represent them, even for the presidency.

The quality of life will replace the quantity of possessions as Americans’ standard of excellence in our lifetime.

A new generation of entrepreneurs will come to learn that human and natural resources require cultivation rather than depletion.

Democracy and human rights will grow more powerfully contagious in a world linked by satellites and television.

The assassinations of the sixties left a bleeding and broken connection in our personal lives and political culture; that connection must and will be restored by a new cycle of leadership.

Times filled with tragedy are also times of greatness and wonder, times that really matter, and times truly worth lviing through. Whatever the future holds, and as satisfying as my life is today, I miss the sixties and always will. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/25 at 08:27 PM
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