Churchill’s Consistency: The Fulton Warning Continues

Churchill’s Consistency: The Fulton Warning Continues

Excerpt­ed from “Churchill’s Steady Adher­ence to His 1946 ‘Iron Cur­tain’ Speech in Ful­ton,” writ­ten for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the Hills­dale post with end­notes and more images, please click here. (Part of the text is tak­en from Iron Cur­tain 75 Years On,” while adding rel­e­vant timelines.)

Fulton then and now

Ini­tial­ly con­demned as a war­mon­ger for telling the truth about Sovi­et inten­tions in his 1946 “Iron Cur­tain” speech, Churchill was soon acknowl­edged as a prophet—sometimes by the same indi­vid­u­als and media who exco­ri­at­ed him. Churchill him­self nev­er backed off. It is rea­son­able to won­der whether the “sci­en­tif­ic abil­i­ty to con­trol men’s thoughts” he so feared then is advanc­ing now in a form he nev­er imag­ined. Per­haps he is still a prophet.


It is inter­est­ing to jux­ta­pose Churchill’s Ful­ton warn­ings with what was actu­al­ly going on in east­ern Europe around the same time…

11 Jan­u­ary: Enver Hox­ha pro­claims the People’s Repub­lic of Albania

9 Feb­ru­ary: Stal­in declares that cap­i­tal­ism makes future wars inevitable

22 Feb­ru­ary: George F. Ken­nan’s Long Telegram fore­casts Sovi­et intentions

2 March: Greek com­mu­nists reignite civ­il war

8 Sep­tem­ber: Bul­gar­ia estab­lish­es People’s Republic

Josef Stalin’s 9 Feb­ru­ary speech had declared that the nature of cap­i­tal­ism made future wars inevitable. There was no mur­mur about that, but plen­ty for Churchill at Ful­ton next month. “Prav­da accused him of try­ing to destroy the Unit­ed Nations,” wrote Sir Robert Rhodes James. “Stal­in declared that Churchill called for war against the Sovi­et Union. In the House of Com­mons, Prime Min­is­ter Attlee point­ed­ly declined com­ment on ‘a speech deliv­ered in anoth­er coun­try by a pri­vate individual.’”

Pres­i­dent Tru­man, who had accom­pa­nied Churchill to Ful­ton and smiled and nod­ded as he spoke, sug­gest­ed that Mar­shal Stal­in might like to present his side of the sto­ry. In the event, “Uncle Joe” did not take up this invitation.

Three days after his Ful­ton speech Churchill addressed the Gen­er­al Assem­bly of Vir­ginia. “Do you not think you are run­ning some risk in invit­ing me to give you my faith­ful coun­sel on this occa­sion?” he asked. “You have not asked to see before­hand what I am going to say. I might eas­i­ly, for instance, blurt out a lot of things, which peo­ple know in their hearts are true, but are a bit shy of say­ing in pub­lic, and this might cause a reg­u­lar com­mo­tion and get you all into trouble.”

“I do not wish to withdraw or modify a single word”

 Churchill was deter­mined to “blurt out a lot of things.” A week lat­er he had his opportunity.

When I spoke at Ful­ton ten days ago I felt it was nec­es­sary for some­one in an unof­fi­cial posi­tion to speak in arrest­ing terms about the present plight of the world. I do not wish to with­draw or mod­i­fy a sin­gle word. I was invit­ed to give my coun­sel freely in this free coun­try and I am sure that the hope which I expressed for the increas­ing asso­ci­a­tion of our two coun­tries will come to pass, not because of any speech which may be made, but because of the tides that flow in human affairs and in the course of the unfold­ing des­tiny of the world.

On 23 Octo­ber, soon after Bul­gar­ia slipped behind the Iron Cur­tain, Churchill looked back again:

Eight months ago, I made a speech at Ful­ton in the Unit­ed States. It had a mixed reception…and quite a num­ber of Hon. Mem­bers of this House put their names to a Motion con­demn­ing me for hav­ing made it [but today] it would attract no par­tic­u­lar atten­tion…. We are in the pres­ence of a col­lec­tive mind whose springs of action we can­not judge. Thir­teen men in the Krem­lin hold all Rus­sia and more than a third of Europe in their grip…. I can­not pre­sume to fore­cast what deci­sions they will take.


1 Jan­u­ary: Lewis H. Brown’s Report on Ger­many pre­fig­ures Mar­shall Plan

19 Jan­u­ary: Pol­ish Work­ers Par­ty awards itself 80% of the vote, begins Sovietization

12 March: Tru­man Doc­trine pro­vides aid to Greece and Turkey

20 Octo­ber: Non-com­mu­nist oppo­si­tion ends in Poland

30 Decem­ber: Com­mu­nist Pop­u­lar Repub­lic declared in Romania

Pres­i­dent Har­ry Tru­man was noth­ing if not a real­ist. By March 1947, when he pro­claimed the Tru­man Doc­trine, he had seen reports of des­per­ate con­di­tions in Europe that would lead to the Mar­shall Plan. Churchill viewed Truman’s actions with satisfaction:

…if I repeat­ed the Ful­ton speech in Amer­i­ca today, it would be regard­ed as a stream of tepid plat­i­tudes…. I am very glad we are able to give our full sup­port to the Unit­ed States in the efforts she is mak­ing to pre­serve Free­dom and Democ­ra­cy in Europe, and to send food to its dis­tressed and dis­tract­ed coun­tries. We hear a great deal of the “Dol­lar Short­age.” What are dol­lars? Dol­lars rep­re­sent the toil and skill and self-denial of scores of mil­lions of Amer­i­can wage earn­ers, which they are con­tribut­ing of their own free will, in most cas­es with­out any hope of repay­ment, to help their fel­low-men in mis­for­tune across the ocean. Such a process should be treat­ed on all occa­sions with the respect which is its due. No coun­try in the world has ever done any­thing like it on such a scale before.


25 Feb­ru­ary: Com­mu­nist coup in Czechoslovakia

3 April: Pres­i­dent Tru­man signs the Mar­shall Plan into law

12 June: Mátyás Rákosi select­ed by Sovi­ets to lead com­mu­nist Hungary

24 June: Stal­in block­ades Berlin; Berlin Air­lift begins

9 Sep­tem­ber: Sovi­et Union declares Demo­c­ra­t­ic People’s Repub­lic of Korea

In Jan­u­ary 1948, hop­ing Tru­man had brought equi­lib­ri­um to Europe, Churchill returned to his Ful­ton theme of peace through understanding:

It is idle to rea­son or argue with the com­mu­nists. It is, how­ev­er, pos­si­ble to deal with them on a fair, real­is­tic basis, and, in my expe­ri­ence, they will keep their bar­gains as long as it is in their inter­est to do so, which might, in this grave mat­ter, be a long time, once things were settled.

A month lat­er Czech com­mu­nists deposed Pres­i­dent Edvard Beneš, with the same celer­i­ty as Hitler had in 1938. In June, Stal­in solid­i­fied his grip on Hun­gary and began the block­ade of Berlin. Tru­man, with Churchill’s sup­port, replied with the Berlin Air­lift. In August the Churchills’ daugh­ter Mary wrote in her diary: “I won­der if I shall live to set out on a hol­i­day which is not over­shad­owed by some impend­ing world disaster?”


4 April: North Atlantic Treaty Orga­ni­za­tion founded

11 May: Sovi­et block­ade of Berlin ends

29 August: Sovi­ets test first atom­ic bomb

1 Octo­ber: People’s Repub­lic of Chi­na proclaimed

World events of 1949 were no less fraught. Speak­ing at M.I.T.’s Mid-Cen­tu­ry Con­fer­ence in March, Churchill once more allud­ed to his Ful­ton speech, now three years ago. The crit­i­cism he had borne after Ful­ton was no more. Now he was vin­di­cat­ed, and gratified:

Three years ago I made a speech at Ful­ton under the aus­pices of Pres­i­dent Tru­man. Many peo­ple here and in my own coun­try were star­tled and even shocked by what I said. But events have vin­di­cat­ed and ful­filled in much detail the warn­ings which I deemed it my duty to give at that time. Today there is a very dif­fer­ent cli­mate of opin­ion. I am in cor­dial accord with much that is being done.

No one could, how­ev­er, have brought about these immense changes in the feel­ing of the Unit­ed States, Great Britain and Europe but for the astound­ing pol­i­cy of the Russ­ian Sovi­et Government….Why have they done it? It is because they fear the friend­ship of the West more than its hos­til­i­ty. They can­not afford to allow free and friend­ly inter­course to grow up between the vast areas they con­trol and the civ­i­lized nations of the West.

“Scientific ability to control thoughts…”

M.I.T. was the end of a chap­ter that began at Ful­ton. Every­thing Churchill had fore­cast, and much of what he’d wished for, had come true. But the three years had pro­vid­ed him with a fur­ther mes­sage. It applies very well to our own baf­fling times:

One of the ques­tions which you are debat­ing here is defined as “the fail­ure of social and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions to keep pace with mate­r­i­al and tech­ni­cal change.” Sci­en­tists should nev­er under­rate the deep-seat­ed qual­i­ties of human nature and how, repressed in one direc­tion, they will cer­tain­ly break out in another….

In his intro­duc­to­ry address, Mr. Bur­chard, the Dean of Human­i­ties, spoke with awe of “an approach­ing sci­en­tif­ic abil­i­ty to con­trol men’s thoughts with precision.”

I shall be very con­tent per­son­al­ly if my task in this world is done before that hap­pens. Laws just or unjust may gov­ern men’s actions. Tyran­nies may restrain or reg­u­late their words. The machin­ery of pro­pa­gan­da may pack their minds with false­hood and deny them truth for many gen­er­a­tions of time. But the soul of man thus held in trance or frozen in a long night can be awak­ened by a spark com­ing from God knows where and in a moment the whole struc­ture of lies and oppres­sion is on tri­al for its life.

Let us hope so.

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