© 2013 leahw93. All rights reserved.

The Iron Curtain Descends


The Cold War began in the aftermath of World War II as an “ideological, political, economic, military, and cultural” struggle for power between East and West (Seventeen Moments).  Because the Cold War was not always a literal war fought on the battlefield, I have always wondered what actually sparked it.

As the Freeze text states, “the bonds of the Grand Alliance predictably weakened in the aftermath of the war…the deteriorating relationship between the Soviet Union and its former allies soon gave way to the overt hostility of the Cold War” (Freeze 398).  In 1946, Winston Churchill (one such former ally) gave his famous Iron Curtain speech, which included the well-known line “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” (Iron Curtain Speech).  This is often seen as the actual start to the Cold War.  Stalin responded to Churchill’s words by calling it a “dangerous act” and even comparing Churchill and his American friends to Hitler in an interview with Pravda (“Stalin on Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech”). It appeared that the way the Democratic West and Communist East viewed one another had been changed irrevocably.

In 1947, George F. Kennan, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States to the Soviet Union, published the “Long Telegram,” in which he described the USSR and communism as “undoubtedly the greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face” (George Kennan’s “Long Telegram”).  He also stated that there could be no “permanent peaceful coexistence” between capitalism and communism (“Long Telegram”).  Later that year, in a statement on the international situation by Andrei Zhdanov, the Soviet Union asserted similar views – that there were ideological differences between the two parties that may not be reconciled (“Zhdanov on the International Situation”).

While there were no full-on military battles in the years following WWII, it became clear that a new type of war had emerged between East and West – one that eventually proved to be just as dangerous as a real war.

220px-KennanGeorge Kennan, author of the Long Telegram



“Iosif Stalin, Interview on Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech” Pravda, 14 March 1946. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1947iron1&SubjectID=1947coldwar&Year=1947Kennan, George. “The Long Telegram.” http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/coldwar/documents/episode-1/kennan.htm

Iron Curtain image retrieved from: https://jspivey.wikispaces.com/Part+Four+%28pg.34-39%29+LG

Kennan image retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_F._Kennan

Rosenburg, Jennifer. “Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech.” http://history1900s.about.com/od/churchillwinston/a/Iron-Curtain.htm

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Cold War.” 2013. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=&SubjectID=1947coldwar&ArticleID=&Year=1947

Zhdanov, Andrei. “New Aspects of World Conflict: The International Situation.” 22 September 1947. http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1947conflict1&SubjectID=1947coldwar&Year=1947


  1. Bailey K

    I never really knew when the Cold War officially ‘started’. The back-and-forth between Stalin and the Allies must have been the beginning of the propaganda battle between the East and the West. The “Long Telegram” sent by Kennan is very ominous–it pretty much set the stage for the ideological war between democracy vs. communism. Very interesting post!

    • Schnaitman

      I would certainly agree with Bailey’s comment. Until reading your post I would not have considered the specific event that set the stage to be anything other than the building of the Berlin Wall. The attitudes in the ‘Long Telegram’ could very well have advanced the significance of the ideological differences to the point where a long standoff was unavoidable.

  2. rwinkler

    This is a great post. I did not know that Stalin spoke so candidly about the allies as he did, even though that does not surprise me. The fear that came from the Cold War was arguable more terrifying then the war itself. I liked how you said it, “it became clear that a new type of war had emerged between East and West – one that eventually proved to be just as dangerous as a real war.” That pretty much summed it up in a nutshell.

  3. mikevk117

    This is very similar to the blog post I wrote this week and I really loved reading both Stalin’s interview and the Long Telegram. I had no idea that Stalin gave a public sort of response towards Churchill’s speech! Nice find.

  4. cmitch15

    This post is a great way to explain the beginning of the Cold War. I feel like it was especially fitting because aside from the proxy wars, the Cold War really was a battle of rhetoric between the Soviet Union and the United States. We all know the outcome, but this it sure started off with great fanfare.

  5. Kelsey Shober

    I think that you did an awesome job with the primary sources here. You did I great job of pulling citations from all sides as to get a good understanding of the the causes of the Cold War. In my opinion, given all of the precursors you mentioned (as well as some long term issues: US non-recognition of the Bolsheviks, the Allies waiting so long to open a second front, etc) the Cold War just seems inevitable. Kennen is a really interesting guy too because he is a great example of someone who really influenced history even though he is rarely mentioned. As the person who originally birthed the policy of containment, his views shaped US policy for nearly half a century.

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