“An Iron Curtain has descended across the continent…”
American politics was polarized between those who thought Stalin was an imperialist bent on expansion by force and those who saw him as a protector of Russian security. This division created uncertainty regarding the form American policy should take, but there was an inexorable move from accommodation to confrontation that would culminate a year later with the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine.
Into this vortex walked Winston Churchill to speak at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. He would profoundly influence the outcome at the debate.
Churchill had accepted President Truman’s invitation to speak in the President’s home state for two reasons: he wanted to campaign for a loan for Britain and, more importantly, he wanted to forge an Anglo-American alliance against the Soviet threat which, he was convinced, the Labour Government was incapable or unwilling to confront. He told Lord Moran: “I think I can be of some use over there: they will take things from me. It may be that Congress will ask me to address them.” The only invitation extended by Congress came from hostile Republicans who wanted to cross-examine him about Pearl Harbour.
Churchill and Truman had planned to meet in Florida but a rash of strikes forced the President to remain in Washington, so Churchill went to Cuba for a few days before meeting the President. Truman later said that he told Churchill, “It’s your own speech, you write it,” but Admiral Leahy recorded in his diary that the President and Churchill spent many hours talking about the speech.
Churchill also asked Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada to come to Washington because he appreciated King’s knowledge of the Americans. King sent the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, future Prime Minister Lester Pearson, to Churchill’s assistance. Pearson found a half-clad Churchill working in bed with a breakfast tray beside him. Pearson read the speech and recommended that Churchill not refer to the recent conflict as “The Unnecessary War” for fear of providing justification for American isolationists to avoid foreign entanglements. Churchill agreed.