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Churchill's Speech in the Heartland of America

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 19, 2023 3:00 am

Churchill's Speech in the Heartland of America

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 19, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Winston Churchill was at a low point in his career when he delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at a small college in Missouri. Dr. Larry P. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, tells the story.

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You're still in the air. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show, including your story.

Send them to They're some of our favorites and one of our favorite subjects to cover on this show are stories about American history and history in general. And all of our history stories are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, where you can go to learn all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to Speaking of which, up next, a history story from Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn on a perilous time in world history. After World War Two, the Soviet Union, our former ally, had become anything but. And the threat of another World War hung over the heads of everyone after they would renege on treaties and stand diametrically opposed to the West. A massive division was appearing between us and them.

The person who would give a name to this division was Winston Churchill at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. After being invited to speak there at a low point in his career, here's Dr. Larry Arnn with a story of the Iron Curtain Speech. It was a world changing fact when he got this invitation and it came at a low moment for him.

The July 5th, 1945 election, when they got the votes counted, Churchill had lost in a landslide. And then in October, three months after, he gets this letter from the president of Westminster College, a man named Maclay. And come and give a talk. And there's a P.S. handwritten by Harry Truman. It's a wonderful college in my home state.

If you can come, I will introduce you. And that's a big deal. And that's, you know, wow, he's an important man still.

Then, of course, you never can know when you've been the most important man in the world, whether you will be after you lose your job. Churchill gets there the day before March the 4th, 1946. And it's very important that Churchill is a private citizen.

I mean, he's a member of Parliament, but he's not an officer or representative of the government. And it's also important that with the Labour government, with whom Churchill disagreed about everything and fought like cats and dogs with them, they agreed on one thing, and that was policy toward the Soviet Union. And so Churchill was liberated by that. If the government had been putting fetters on him, it could have been a flap and messed up everything. It's worth saying the man who was the foreign minister in that government was a left wing union organizer that Churchill met during a big strike in the 20s and fell in love with him and brought him into the government.

And he became a very important man, and he was faithful to his anti-communism. And, you know, the world was hanging on a thread. There are a whole bunch of events going on in the world. The Soviet Union announced that they would not leave Persia on the treaty-bound date that they were supposed to. And they were putting pressure on the Turks. And, you know, Turkey is important to the Soviet Union, there have always been tension between them, because they're at the mouth of the Black Sea. And if the Soviet Union can control that, it can get into the Mediterranean.

A few days before this invitation, Truman sent the body of the lately-died Turkish ambassador back to Turkey with a huge naval flotilla, led by the USS Missouri, the biggest battleship in the world, the one on which the Japanese surrender was taken. The Soviet Union had overwhelming power. They had a multiple of the tanks of the United States, a multiple of the fighter aircraft. We began a big build campaign about these years after the war, having stopped for a while. And they still gained on us. And the fear was, if the Soviet Union attacks to the West, they will reach the channel in six weeks, and there's nothing that can stop them, except for one thing, American nuclear weapons.

And that makes an anxious calculation, right? Because will America use those nuclear weapons to save countries far away? And they had to worry about that a lot. And it's one of the reasons that Churchill was insistent and the Labour government agreed that Britain should develop its own nuclear weapons.

There's a document in the public record office, produced every year until the end of Churchill's premiership. But the document was production of the foreign ministry and the Defense Department. This title was the likelihood of a general war with the Soviet Union.

They just think that could happen. And, you know, NATO is formed in these years and the Marshall Plan, which is aid to Europe from the United States, is launched. And that was very much to help Western Europe recover and get ready to defend itself.

So that was the grim calculations that were going on at the time. Churchill goes to America, he gives a speech at the University of Miami. It's very good about education. And then he goes to the White House on the 4th of March and he and Truman ride down on the train. And when Churchill gave the speech, it begins in a humorous way. He says, I'm a private citizen. There's nothing here but what you see. And if you look at a photograph of him giving that speech, what you see is him giving the speech. And just to his right sits the president of the United States.

That was like really, really artful. You know, it starts out the overall strategic conception. Churchill says that with some humor.

He says American generals like to say that, but of course, what he's making fun of was that's a redundant phrase. And what is it that we're aiming for? And roughly he says, the paraphrase, nothing less than the health and safety, the freedom and comfort of every home in every land around the world.

That's a, you know, sweeping, huge thing and a grand ambition. And the rest of the speech, by the way, is a qualification on that. He defines his terms as he goes. The speech actually through the course of it, it narrows to a point. And the point is what he thinks is the most important point, which is the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. And you're listening to Dr. Larry Aron tell the story of the Iron Curtain speech.

And Dr. Aron, in addition to being the president of Hillsdale College, is one of the world's foremost experts on Sir Winston Churchill. When we come back, more with Dr. Larry Aron here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's Fathom Events presents the film event of the year.

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Here again is Dr. Larry Arnn. There isn't any reason, science being what it is, he says, for the world not to enter a grand period of peace. But there are these two marauders, war and tyranny. And then he gives detailed plans what to do about each of them. And about war, his first solution is the United Nations. He's a great believer in collective security. It'll sound strange to American ears.

We don't really think of it as terribly important anymore. He thought then that the way you stop these tyrants with these modern, extremely dangerous weapons, something he learned in 1899 at the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan in North Africa. He watched the first machine guns, called Maxim guns, deployed by the British, mow down an air of a dervish army, they were called, and take no casualties itself.

Most everybody who saw that rejoiced at that. Churchill was horrified by it because he just had the imagination to think, what if both sides have weapons like this? And of course, that dark vision came true in the First World War. So if we could all band together, wishing peace, because plenty is possible for everyone now, Churchill said, which I believe is very much the case today, and indeed is being realized all over the world, then we can focus on that and we can live our lives and let people alone. But then the first caveat comes when he's talking about the United Nations.

He says it has to have constabulary, it has to have force. Then he says that it would be criminal madness to release the secrets of the nuclear bomb into the wide world, at this stage when it's so divided. Only when we've realized, he says, the brotherhood of man at some indeterminate future date would that be a wise course.

And then for the first time in the speech, he introduces differences in regimes or ways of people governing. And he says the nations that have the secret of the nuclear bomb, United States, Britain, Canada, they can be trusted with it because they represent their people and they won't use it for ill. Whereas if it gets into the hands of these nations that rule by force, and he doesn't mention the Soviet Union, but he does later, but that's what he means, then Lord knows what they'll do with it. You know, soon the Soviet Union would have the nuclear bomb, by the way, because they stole it from us through spies. But he dreaded that day, and he thought, in the meantime, that's the thing, the only thing that can stop them. He's thinking at large here because he wants to guarantee a future where we don't destroy ourselves in these world wars anymore.

And this is his plan to achieve that. It requires a massive adjustment because the Second World War was fought and won, in quantity terms, much more by the Soviet Union than anyone else. They had simply enormous force of the Allies.

I think they took four-fifths of the casualties, 80 percent. There are great allies because it would have been a different story without them. And then, for the first time in the speech, he introduces the expression iron curtain. Churchill had used the expression twice before in regard to the Soviet Union, but not in a place so famous. And he, by the way, titled the speech the sinews of peace.

You know, sinews are what connect muscle to bone. But it became known as the iron curtain speech because that was a dramatic thing to say, and it infuriated Stalin. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.

He said from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, so that means right across the middle of Europe, all the way. An iron curtain has descended upon Europe. And behind this iron curtain, the secret pleas, the regulation of previously private behavior, all of those things that are common to totalitarianism. totalitarianism is that kind of government where it's so thorough that they recruit your children to be spies upon you. And people in 1984 in that novel, but also in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, their children are forced to go to school, a certain kind of school, and they're taught terrible things.

But, you know, little kids kind of like that because it's like a big chance to grow up. And they're taught that the family is unimportant, that the state provides everything, and they become spies on their parents. So that's what's behind the iron curtain. You know, it's vicious and it's thorough.

It's very difficult to get away from it. So that world, that's the darkest world that has ever existed, tied with Nazi Germany, and the worst periods in Chinese history. Churchill conceived the British Empire as an elaborate system of voluntary association. But for India, all of the major British colonies were self-governing. So, you know, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States as an ally, those were all countries that had their own government.

And they contributed a little over 45% of the British war effort in both World Wars, and Britain was unable to conscript a single soldier from any of those places. Churchill's point all the time was, this is an association of principle and love, right? And the wars, both World Wars, would have been different without that love, which was all over the British Empire.

You know, we regard it as a dirty word today, but it very much was not. So the legacy of the speech. Churchill indicates a foreign policy built on a union of the free countries. This foreign policy would be defensive first, keep the Soviet Union and other tyrannical nations from dominating the world, and then it would exude a constant pressure toward freedom and justice everywhere in the world. But he says in the important passage in this Iron Curtain speech, he says, it is not our duty to intervene in the affairs of nations that we have not conquered in war. And so this is a long-term strategy to solidify the free countries known as the West, and to, through that unity, deter the Soviet Union. And it's a little bit like Lincoln's strategy about slavery. Lincoln and Churchill both regarded the slavery in American history, and the slavery that was the Soviet Union, as systems that won't work. Eventually they're going to collapse, which is, by the way, what happened to the Soviet Union. After two full generations of torturing people to death and distorting their lives and their minds and managing their families, after two generations of that, it collapsed of its own weight.

Because it's stupid, right? It's not the way human beings should be governed. The classics teaches that tyrannies have a lot of trouble lasting a long time. And so Churchill thought, as he thought with Hitler, time is on our side. We don't have to undertake the disaster of trying to conquer them with their nuclear weapons and their massive armies. We're just going to have to contain them. That became the strategy, containment, and then get stronger ourselves and live our lives in freedom, and exercise the maximum influence on them and everybody else in the world that we can. And that was the plan that was followed, and it ultimately worked.

We have not had a world war since the second. We're, of course, lapsing into the dangerous idea that that can't happen anymore. We ought to be aware that it can happen again, and we ought to be ready for it. And you've been listening to Dr. Larry Oren a great job, as always, to Monty Montgomery himself, a Hillsdale College graduate. And there is nobody better to talk about such things, all things Churchill, than Dr. Oren. That's the story of the Iron Curtain Speech, here on Our American Story. . Fathom Events presents the film event of the year.

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