In his debut, an independent historian revisits the genesis, occasion and aftermath of what Winston Churchill unhesitatingly called “the most important speech of my career.”
Returning from the July 1945, conference at Potsdam, where Stalin’s intransigence troubled him deeply, Churchill arrived in London to await election returns. The war-weary British public handed his Tory Party a resounding, surprise rebuke. Depressed over his electoral defeat, badly in need of rest and more convinced than ever of the iniquity and menace of communism, he contemplated a long Florida vacation. When an unlikely invitation to speak at a tiny Midwestern school arrived—a request made more attractive by President Harry Truman’s hand-scribbled endorsement and offer to introduce him—Churchill seized the opportunity to deliver an address he knew would command worldwide attention. It was the biggest thing ever to happen to Fulton, Missouri’s Westminster College, still best known as the site of the talk Churchill called “The Sinews of Peace,” retitled by history the “Iron Curtain Speech.” With helpful annotations, White fully reproduces the address and reminds us that Churchill’s call for increased Anglo-American solidarity in the face of Soviet aggression was not particularly well received, the last gasp, some said, of an old imperialist, a warmonger intent on poisoning whatever chance remained for cooperation with the Soviet Union. Today, we remember it as “one of the defining statements of the twentieth century.” White’s at his best painting the small scenes in the background of the event: Churchill’s construction of the speech as he sunbathed and painted, the whiskey and poker-fueled train ride with Truman to Missouri and especially the frantic preparations for the big day by Westminster and Fulton officials, including the charismatic college president who conceived of the long-shot invitation to a world figure who unexpectedly said yes.
A small slice of history charmingly retold.