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The Sinews of Peace

Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtain" Speech
Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, March 5, 1946


I am very glad, indeed, to come to Westminster College this afternoon, and I am complimented that you should give me a degree from an institution whose reputation has been so solidly accepted. It is the name Westminster, somehow or other, which seems familiar to me. I feel as if I'd heard of it before. Indeed, now that I come to think of it, it was at Westminster that I received a very large part of my education in politics, dialectics, rhetoric, and one or two other things. In fact, we have both been educated at the same, or similar, or at an rate kindred, establishments.

It is also an honor, ladies and gentlemen, perhaps almost unique, for a private visitor to be introduced to an academic audience by the president of the United States. Amid his heavy burdens, duties, and responsibilities--unsought but not recoiled from--the president has traveled a thousand miles to dignify and magnify our meeting here today, and to give me an opportunity of addressing this kindred nation, as well as my own countrymen across the ocean, and perhaps some other countries too.

The president has told you that it is his wish, as I am sure it is yours, that I should have full liberty to give my true and faithful counsel in these anxious and baffling times. I shall certainly avail myself of this freedom and feel the more right to do so because any private ambitions I may have cherished in my younger days have been satisfied beyond my wildest dreams.

Let me, however, make it clear that I have no official mission or status of any kind, and that I speak only for myself. There is nothing here but what you see. I can, therefore, allow my mind, with the experience of a lifetime, to play over the problems which beset us on the morrow of our absolute victory in arms, and try to make sure, with what strength I have, that what has been gained with so much sacrifice and suffering shall be preserved for the future glory and safety of mankind.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States stands at this time at the pinnacle of world power. It is a solemn moment for the American democracy, for with this primacy in power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability to the future. As you look around you, you must feel not only the sense of duty done, but also you must feel anxiety lest you fall below the level of achievement. Opportunity is here now, clear and shining, for both our countries. To reject it or ignore it or fritter it away will bring upon us all the long reproaches of the aftertime.

It is necessary that constancy of mind, persistency of purpose, and the grand simplicity of decision shall rule and guide the conduct of the Englihs-speaking peoples in peace as they did in war. We must--and I believe we shall--prove ourselves equal to this severe requirement.

President McCluer, when American military men approach some serious situation, they are wont to write at the head of their directive the words "Overall Strategic Concept." There is wisdom in this, as it leads to clarity of thought. What, then, is the overall strategic concept which we should inscribe today? It is nothing less than the safety and welfare, the freedom and progress, of all the homes and families of all the men and women in all the lands. And here I speak particularly of the myriad cottage or apartment homes where the wage earner strives, amid the accidents and difficulties of life, to guard his wife and children from privation and bring the family up in the fear of the Lord, or upon ethical conceptions which often play their potent part.

To give security to these countless homes they must be shielded from the two gaunt marauders--war and tyranny. We all know the frightful disturbance in which the ordinary family is plunged when the cure of war swoops down upon the breadwinner, and those for whom he works and contrives.

The awful ruin of Europe, with all its vanished glories, and of large parts of Asia, glares us in the eyes.

When the designs of wicked men or the aggressive urge of mighty states dissolve, over large ares, the frame of civilized society, humble folk are confronted with difficulties with which they cannot cope. For them all is distorted, all is broken or is even ground to pulp.

When I stand here this quiet afternoon, I shudder to visualize what is actually happening to millions now and what is going to happen in this period when famine stalks the earth. None can compute what has been called "the unestimated sum of human pain." Our supreme task and duty is to guard the homes of the common people from the horrors and miseries of another war. We are all agreed on that.

Our American military colleagues, after having proclaimed their "overall strategic concept" and computed available resources, always proceed to the next step--namely, the method. Here again there is widespread agreement.

A world organization has already been erected for the prime purpoes of preventing war. UNO, the successor to the League of Nations, with the decisive addition of the United States and all that that means, is already at work.

We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not merely a frothing of words, that it is a true temple of peace, in which the shields of many nations can someday be hung up, and not merely a cockpit in a tower of Babel.

Before we cast away the solid assurances of our national armaments for self-preservation, we must be certain that our temple is built not upon shiftin sands or quagmires but upon the rock. Anyone can see, with his eyes open, that our path will be difficult and also long, but if we persevere together as we did in the two world wars--but not, alas, in the interval between them--I cannot doubt that we shall achieve our common purpose in the end.

I have, however, a definite and practical proposal to make for action. Courts and magistrates may be set up, but they cannot function without sheriffs and constables. The United Nations Organization must immediately begin to be equipped with an international armed force. In such a matter we can only go step by step; but we must begin now.

I propose that each of the powers and states should be invited to dedicate a certain number of air squadrons to the service of the world organization. These squadrons would be trained and prepared in their own countries but would move around in rotation from one country to another. They would wear the uniform of their own nation but in other respects they would be directed by the world organization.

This might be started on a modest scale, and it would grow as confidence grew.

I wished to see this done after the First World War, and I devoutly trust that it may be done forthwith.

It would, nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, be wrong and imprudent to entrust the secret knowledge or experience of the atomic bomb, which the United States, Great Britain, and Canada now share, to the world organization while it is still in its infancy. It would be criminal madness to cast it adrift in this still agitated and un-united world.

No one in any country has slept less well in their beds because this knowledge and the method and the raw materials to apply it are at present largely retained in American hands.

I do not believe that we should have all slept so soundly had the positions been reversed and some Communist or neo-Fascist state monopolized, for the time being, these dread agents. The fear of them alone might easily have been used to enforce totalitarian systems upon the free democratic world, with consequences appalling to human imagination.

God has willed that this shall not be, and we have at least a breathing space to set our house in order, before this peril has to be encountered, and even then, if no effort is spared, we shall still possess so formidable a superiority as to impose effective deterrents upon its employment or threat of employment by others.

Ultimately, when the essential brotherhood of man is truly embodied and expressed in the world organization, with all the necessary practical safeguards to make it effective, these powers would naturally be confided to that organization.

Now I come to the second of the two marauders, to the second danger which threatens the cottage home and ordinary people--namely tyranny. We cannot be blind to the fact that the liberties enjoyed by individual citizens throughout the United States and throughout the British Empire are not valid in a considerable number of countries, some of which are very powerful.

In these states, control is enforced upon the common people by various kinds of all-embracing police governments, to a degree which is overwhelming and contrary to every principle of democracy. The power of the state is exercised without restraint, either by dictators or by compact oligarchies operating through a privileged party and a political police.

It is not our duty at this time, when difficulties are so numerous, to interfere forcibly in the internal affairs of countries which we have not conquered in war, but we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man, which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which, through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law, find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.

All this means that the people of every country have the right and should have the power by constitutional action, by free, unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character of or form of government under which they dwell, that freedom of speech and thought should reign, that courts of justice independent of the executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time and custom. Here are the title deeds of freedom, which should lie in every cottage home. Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practice; let us practice what we preach.

I have stated the two great dangers which menace the homes of the people: war and tyranny. I have not yet spoken of poverty and privation, which are in many casese the prevailing anxiety. But if the dangers of war and tyranny are removed, there is no doubt that science and cooperation can bring in the next few years, certainly in the next few decades, to the world, new-taught in the sharpening school of war, an expansion of material well-being beyond anything that has yet occurred in human experience.

Now, at this sad and breathless moment, we are plunged in the hunger and distress which are the aftermath of our stupendous struggle; but this will pass and may pass quickly, and there is no reason except human folly or subhuman crime which should deny to all the nations the inauguration and enjoyment of an age of plenty.

I have often used words which I learned fifty years ago from a great Irish-American orator, a friend of mine, Mr. Bourke Cochran, "There is enough for all. The earth is a generous mother; she will provide in plentiful abundance food or all her children if they will but cultivate her soil in justice and in peace." So far I feel that we are in full agreement.

Now, while still pursuing the method of realizing our overall strategic concept, I come to the crux of what I have travelled here to say.

Neither the sure prevention of war nor the continuous rise of world organization will be gained without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples. This means a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States of America.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is no time for generalities, and I will venture to be precise.

Fraternal association requires not only the growing friendship and mutual understanding between our two vast but kindred systems of society, but the continuance of the intimate relationships between our military advisers, leading to common study of potential dangers, the similarity of weapons and manuals of instruction, and the interchange of officers and cadets at technical colleges.

It should carry with it the continuance of the present facilities for mutual security by the joint use of all naval and air force bses in the possession of either country all over the world.

This would perhaps double the mobility of the American navy and air force. It would greatly expand that of the British Empire forces, and it might well lead, if and as the world calms down, to important financial savings.

Already we use together a large number of islands, more may well be entrusted to our joint care in the near future. The United States has already a permanent defense agreement with the Dominion of Canada, which is so devotedly attached to the British commonwealth and Empire. This agreement is more effective than many of thoe which have often been made under formal alliances. This principle should be extended to all the British Commonwealths with full reciprocity.

Thus, whatever happens, and thus only, shall we be secure ourselves and able to work together for the high and simple causes that are dear to us and bode no ill to any. Eventually there may come, I feel eventually there will come, the principle of common citizenship, but that we may be content to leave to destiny, whose outstretched arm so many of us can already clearly see.

There is, however, an important question we must ask ourselves. Would a special relationship between the United States and the British Commonwealth be inconsistent with our overriding loyalties to the world organization? I reply that, on the contrary, it is probably the only means by which that organization will achieve its full stature and strength. There are already the special United States relations with Canada, which I just mentioned, and there are the relations between the United States and the South American republics.

We British have also our twenty years' treaty of collaboration and mutual assistance with Soviet Russia. I agree with Mr. Bevin, the foreign secretary of GReat Britain, that it might well be a fifty years' treaty so far as we are concerned. We aim at nothing but mutual assistance and collaboration with Russia. We have an alliance, the British, with Portugal, unbroken since the year 1384 and which produced fruitful results at a critical moment in the recent war. None of these clash with the general interest of a world organization. On the contrary, they help it.

"In my father's house there are many mansions." Special associations between members of the United Nations which have no aggressive point against any other country, which harbor no design against the Charter of the United Nations, far from being harmful, are beneficial, and, as I believe, indispensable.

I spoke earlier, ladies and gentlemen, of the temple of peace. Workmen from all countries must build that temple. If two of the workmen know each other particularly well and are old friends, if their families are intermingled and if they have faith in each other's purpose, hope in each other's future, and charity toward each other's shortcomings, to quote some good words I read here the other day, why cannot





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