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In November 1945, former Prime Minister Winston Churchill stood in front of an audience in Westminster College in Missouri to give one of a series of lectures. With the president of the college, students, faculty, and even the President of the United States present, Churchill gave a memorable speech, one which many historians later credit as the beginning of the Cold War.
The Cold War didn’t just happen overnight, though. It stemmed from the effects of the United States and the Soviet Union’s roles in World War II: the Americans were concerned of Stalin’s tyrannical rule, while the Soviets resented the fact that their delayed intervention in the war caused the death of millions of Russians. The tension between the two powers came to head when it appeared the Soviet was attempting to expand their power. And so the Cold War had begun – or rather, decades of both countries stockpiling in nuclear missiles to strong-arm the other happened.
The Cold War ended almost three decades ago, while Churchill’s speech was presented almost 75 years ago. Though the term has been used several times, it was Churchill’s speech that opened the eyes of millions of westerners of the threat of the Soviet Union by mentioning the Iron Curtain slowly covering Europe. But after all this time, Churchill may be surprised to see the changes in the world that are no longer true according to his posts.
Governments No Longer Addressing the Main Issue
To quote Pamela C. Harriman of the International Churchill Society, when Churchill spoke in Westminster College, he was acknowledging the Cold War had begun, an idea many westerners – including politicians – refused to believe. Since then, both his phrase “iron curtain” and the way his speech affected the world continued to be a topic used by other leaders in turn.
Yet, today, Churchill may be disappointed in the non-action many politicians practice. The slave trade is happening once more, lives are lost as casualties to war in the Middle East, and tensions run high between the US and China and North Korea. And yet, politicians with the power to change these injustices are focused on smaller issues that do not affect the entire population.
There’s no more question as to whether or not the US, with its power in the past and in the present, should intervene once more or revert back to an isolationist stance and let other countries squabble as long as it doesn’t affect its interests. Perhaps once upon a time, the US had the luxury of looking away. But after WWII, the Cold War, and so many other international affairs it has had a hand in, it can no longer afford to stay away.
And yet, the country is doing just that: staying away and letting foreign affairs be foreign affairs. When we have the power to help those we can, we shun refugees in the name of security. When the United Nations announced that we only a matter of years to avoid it, our own president chooses to doubt the results. It’s been two months since the announcement, and while the private citizen is encouraged to recycle their bottles and conserve on water, no laws have been given to adjust the way corporations contribute to pollution.
China Is Now a Superpower
In his speech, Churchill quotes, “the United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power.” Today, however, some scholars believe that its power is waning giving way to China, a country that practices the same communist beliefs Churchill sought to prevent spreading.
China’s economy has seen a steady boom. With their labor force’s hand in nearly all the gadgets and products we use today, their contributions to various countries, and their profitable foreign relations, China’s power is slowly turning into a first-class power. Economists and other academic analysts argue that, given the growing numbers, they may soon become the world’s largest economy and a superpower in its own right. And when China, a communist power, controls the largest economy, there’s no telling how that can exactly affect trade relations in the future.
And compared to China, the United States was not the juggernaut it once was back in Churchill’s time. As China grows, the power and status of the United States as a superpower flounders. With poor economic recovery, high deficits, and now a government shutdown threatening the very budget of the government’s operation, it’s no surprise now that the United States may soon be scrambling to keep up with China.
The Future of War: Peace, Not Conflict
Churchill recognized that the effects of war were because he had studied the history of previous wars and the effects. Naturally, the US and the Soviet would be at war with each other considering that both were left to pick up the spoils of war. So, what Churchill suggests is not conflict and the continuation of war, but peace.
He recognized that it was the government’s task to protect the people and prevent another war. And in the present, it’s hard to tell whether governments – especially the United States – still believes in diplomacy and choosing to do anything to avoid war. If we continue to start wars for the sake of ending all other wars, then what’s the point of it all anyway?
The Meaning behind the Iron Curtain Speech
If Churchill stood for peace and trying to protect the west from Soviet dominance, then it’s possible that the speech was not meant to start a war.
Perhaps that’s why the Cold War played out like it did. Because it was Churchill’s speech that historically launched the beginning of the Cold War, it was that speech that set the tone. Both countries had just faced the effects of war, and neither country was willing to make the first shot and begin another war. It’s why the war involved stockpiling nuclear weapons and racing to the moon, and not killing any more soldiers than necessary.
Millions of people remember the Cold War, while millions more will study its events in the future. In either case, both should remember Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech. While some of this speech’s ideas no longer apply to the present, that doesn’t mean it should be discontinued. Nor should people forget that Churchill, despite what he has said or done, once pushed for the method that requires the least amount of risk for his people.