The "Iron" Curtain

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October 4th 2017
Published: October 2nd 2017
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Where did the term, Iron Curtain get coined first? From the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences:
The term iron curtain was coined by the British author and suffragette Ethel Snowden in her book Through Bolshevik Russia (1920). In her very early and negative critique of the Bolshevik form of communism, this British feminist referred to the iron curtain simply as the contemporary geographical border of Bolshevik Russia in 1919 (‘We were behind the ‘iron curtain’ at last’). At the end of the Nazi regime in Germany the minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, used the term in a journal article and several times in his private diary in February 1945, and the minister of finance, Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosigk, used it in a radio broadcast on May 2, 1945. Both Nazi leaders argued that the Soviet Army is occupying one country after the other, lowering an iron curtain immediately afterward on these occupied countries in order to commit war crimes, without being observed and controlled by the outside world. During the last months of the Third Reich, both ministers regarded the iron curtain as a moving part of the ongoing occupation process by Soviet troops within the territorial scope of the Yalta agreements from 1943. This analogy with an iron curtain in a theater (Goebbels was in charge of German theaters and culture) in this usage of the notion refers to the fact that events behind the theater curtain are not visible by the audience and somehow cut off from outside observation. The British prime minister Winston S. Churchill used the term in a diplomatic telegram to President Harry S. Truman in May 1945, and in a public speech in the British Parliament on August 16, 1945, but the term was not popularized until the following year, with Churchill’s speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946. Further: The iron curtain refers to the boundary that divided Europe politically and militarily from the end of World War II until the end of the cold war. Geographically, the borderline ran from Estonia in the north to Yugoslavia in the south. Churchill’s famous 1946 address, which is sometimes referred to as the “Iron Curtain Speech,” is regarded as marking the commencement of the cold war between the democratic Western world and the Communist Eastern bloc with the Soviet Union as its political center. Between 1946 and 1989, the existence of this symbolic boundary forced many Central and East European countries to join the Communist bloc under the control of the Soviet Union. These countries—Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and (until the 1960s) Albania—were labeled “Iron Curtain countries.”
The most notable border was the Berlin Wall, between east and west Berlin. I went through Checkpoint Charlie to East Berlin back in 1971. It is an experience I will never forget, one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life.
Growing up, learning world history, and reading about the iron curtain, I never thought I would visit these places. While not originally a physical barrier, it might as well have been! At first just a metaphor made famous by Winston Churchill’s 1946 address in Missouri, the divide soon became physical with boundary walls erected with heavy military protection, the most famous section being the Berlin wall and check point Charlie where tanks from the US and USSR had a stand off. Many believe Winston Churchill’s speech marked the commencement of the cold war between the democratic Western world and the Communist Eastern bloc with the Soviet Union as its political centre.
Why was it established and built? The Soviets wanted to protect themselves from another invasion from the west. It formed a buffer with border countries it controlled. Bottom line, Stalin ignored the Yalta Agreement, and installed communist governments in Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland, and Yugoslavia. And I plan to visit many of these countries.
What did this curtain look like? "The iron curtain was manned and defended militarily against the West by the Warsaw Pact, which combined the Soviet Red Army and troops from the new Communist one-party states (referred to as the Eastern Bloc countries) after the end of WW2. It served as a wall to prevent citizens of Eastern bloc countries migrating to the west. In Berlin, the section of the iron curtain dividing West from East Germany took the form of the Berlin Wall, a long concrete wall separating Berlin into democratic and Communist parts; many East Germans lost their lives trying to escape over the wall to the West. In other areas, the iron curtain was constructed of nearly impenetrable steel fencing, creating a long and narrow strip of no-man’s-land of untouched wildlife."
And the best part: "The iron curtain was finally lifted on June 27, 1989, at the border between Austria and Hungary by the foreign ministers Gyula Horn (Hungary) and Alois Mock (Austria), forty-three years after Churchill’s historic speech. This first crack in the long border between the western world and the Soviet communist world was the beginning of the final collapse of communism in November and December 1989, and the first sign of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The fall of the iron curtain coincided with the end of the cold war, signifying the end of a crucial and dramatic period of European and world history. The events that demolished the Iron Curtain started with discontent in Poland,and continued in Hungary, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Romania was the only communist state in Europe to violently overthrow its communist government." The discontent in Poland is thought by many to be the first crack in the curtain. One wonders, was the wall built to protect the border, or keep people from entering or leaving? Propagandists say that the wall, much like the Berlin Wall, was built to keep the hordes of free and happy West Germans form storming into a better life in East Berlin. I am sure this story was repeated in these other iron curtain countries. I am free to come and go today, thanks to many who have given their lives for freedom and the American way. Thanks to all of you!!!!


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