Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 340–349 | Cite as

Toward Cold War thinking: editorial reactions to Churchill’s iron curtain speech in North Carolina newspapers

  • Ralph B. LeveringEmail author


This article argues that the Cold War arrived in America — in Washington and in U.S. public opinion — between October 1945 and March 1947, and more specifically in February and March 1946. It also contends that Winston Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech on 5 March 1946 played an important role in alerting the American public to the reality that Soviet foreign policy was both expansionist and anti-democratic. Churchill’s anti-Soviet speech, together with earlier ‘firm’ but more guarded speeches by Senator Arthur Vandenberg and Secretary of State James Byrnes, clearly contributed to the anti-Soviet milieu that was reflected in a Gallup poll in mid-March in which only 7% of respondents approved of ‘the policy Russia is following in world affairs’. Ironically given the lasting fame of Churchill’s speech, editorials in the five North Carolina newspapers analyzed in the article opposed what they saw as his main proposal: an Anglo-American alliance against Russia. Yet four of the five papers agreed with Vandenberg, Byrnes, and Churchill that Western nations needed to oppose Soviet expansionism firmly, thus upholding the ideals of the United Nations. The article concludes by explaining why President Harry Truman did not follow Churchill’s lead in publicly condemning Soviet foreign policy for another year, until his famous ‘Truman Doctrine’ speech on 12 March 1947.


Cold War Winston Churchill James Byrnes Arthur Vandenberg Harry Truman Joseph Stalin North Carolina Truman Doctrine United Nations 


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  1. 1.
    The best study of the Cold War’s arrival in America is Randall B. Woods and Howard Jones, Dawning of the Cold War: The United States’ Quest for Order (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    For more concise analyses, see George C. Herring, From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 596–626; andGoogle Scholar
  3. 1b.
    Ralph B. Levering et al., Debating the Origins of the Cold War, American and Russian Perspectives (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), 34–48.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Vandenberg’s speech is in U.S., Congressional Record — Senate, February 27, 1946, 1691-5Google Scholar
  5. 2a.
    For Byrnes’s speech, see James F. Byrnes, ‘America’s Position on World Problems’, Vital Speeches of the Day, March 15, 1946, 326–9.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    ‘President Attacks Greed, Intolerance’, Winston-Salem Journal, March 7, 1946.Google Scholar
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    Winston S. Churchill, ‘Alliance of English-Speaking People’, Vital Speeches of the Day, March 15, 1946, 329–32.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    To my knowledge, there is no scholarly study focusing on press reactions in America — or, more specifically, in North Carolina — to Churchill’s speech. A path-breaking, but narrowly focused, scholarly study of American print media and the coming of the Cold War is Louis Liebovich, The Press and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944–1947 (New York: Praeger, 1988).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    For North Carolina as the most liberal southern state, see John Gunther, Inside U.S.A. (New York: Harper, 1947), 654.Google Scholar
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    A good overview of North Carolina history is William A. Link, North Carolina: Change and Tradition in a Southern State (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2009).Google Scholar
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    Weekly black-owned newspapers were published in Durham and Winston-Salem in the 1940s, but it is difficult for researchers to locate extant copies for 1945 and 1946.Google Scholar
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    ‘No Alliances’, News and Observer (Raleigh), March 6, 1946.Google Scholar
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    Joseph L. Morrison, Josephus Daniels: A Small-d Democrat (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966).Google Scholar
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    ‘Churchill’s Speech May Smoke Out Russian Design’, Ibid., March 13, 1946.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s speech at Johns Hopkins University on 7 April 1965 defending U.S. policy in Vietnam. ‘The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied …’, Johnson said. ‘We do this [respond militarily to North Vietnam’s and China’s alleged aggression in South Vietnam] in order to slow down aggression.’ Quoted in Robert J. McMahon, ed., Major Problems in the History of the Vietnam War, 2nd ed. (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1995), 211.Google Scholar
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    Gallup, op. cit., 565.Google Scholar
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    For detailed analysis of the editorial opinions expressed by news media throughout America during the early Cold War, see the invaluable mimeographed weekly publication, ‘Twohey Analysis of Newspaper Opinion’, available at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
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    On the importance of the Cold War, see Ralph B. Levering, The Cold War: A Post-Cold War History, 3rd ed. (Chichester, UK, 2016), xii-xiii. I argue that the Cold War was one of the three most significant developments in world history since 1945, the other two being economic globalization and political democratization.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vail Professor of History EmeritusDavidson CollegeDavidsonUSA

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