IRON CURTAIN by Patrick Wright


From Stage to Cold War
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Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this metaphor!

In this leisurely, searching footnote to history, Wright (Institute for Cultural Analysis, Nottingham Trent Univ.; Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine, 2002, etc.) examines one of its little fibs and fudges: the authorship of the pregnant phrase “iron curtain.” Winston Churchill arrived in Fulton, Mo., on March 5, 1946, to give an address at Westminster College with Harry Truman, and there uttered the famous phrase, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” That much is well-known; less documented is the outraged response to Churchill’s formulation in the same address that Britain and the United States had a special relationship likely to become more special once the two nations stood up to Josef Stalin and his empire-building ambitions. Churchill weathered a storm of criticism from left and right (and the French, who resented being left out), but in time that storm quieted. Five years later, a package arrived at Churchill’s door containing a copy of the American College Dictionary and a note from its editor asking whether the “iron curtain” phrase was Churchill’s own. The bulldog replied in the affirmative, and therein lies the nub and the rub: For, as Wright ably chronicles, Churchill acknowledged the existence of the very real iron curtain, a fire-suppressing fixture of Victorian theaters, while saying that he hadn’t heard of the phrase used before him in its metaphorical sense. Thus it is that many dictionaries today attribute authorship to Churchill. Wright chases the phrase down, finding it in use in the early 20th century among British wonks before the outbreak of World War I. It then shifted eastward to refer to the divisions between the Bolsheviks and the rest of Europe in the 1930s. Wright’s investigation concludes with late developments in the phrase and its ideological uses and abuses in the era of McCarthy, atom spies and spooks.

A strange corner of the Cold War explored, to fascinating result.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-19-923150-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2007


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