Winston Churchill's Last Campaign: Britain and the Cold War, 1951-5

By John W. Young | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
CHURCHILL, WORLD POLITICS, AND THE 'BIG THREE', 1874-1945

ON Valentine's Day 1950, in the middle of a General Election campaign, Winston Churchill travelled to Edinburgh to deliver a key address. Near the end of his speech he spoke of the deep rift between the Soviet bloc and the West, and announced, 'The idea appeals to me of a supreme effort to bridge the gulf between the two worlds, so that each can live their life . . . without the hatreds of the Cold War . . . It is not easy to see how things could be worsened by a parley at the summit . . .' It was the first time the word 'summit' was used to describe a meeting of the leaders of the major powers. The declaration caused a considerable stir, not least because, in the popular mind, Churchill was seen as the original Cold Warrior, the statesman who had first used the term 'Iron Curtain' to describe the division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocs. It was at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946, that the Leader of the Opposition had made his most famous post-war address, declaring, 'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.' At Fulton he compared the threat from Stalin's USSR-- Britain's wartime ally less than twelve months before--to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Once again Churchill urged firm measures against an authoritarian menace, especially an Anglo-American alliance: 'If the population of the English-speaking Commonwealth be added to that of the United States . . . there will be no quivering, precarious balance of power to offer temptation to ambition or adventure.' Fulton and Edinburgh, separated by less than four years, seemed a world apart in their main message.1 The Summit proposal failed to give Churchill victory at the polls. Yet, when he returned to power in October 1951 he showed that it was no mere electoral ruse. His hopes of achieving such a conference provided the main rationalization for clinging to office, despite illness and old age, until the Spring of 1955. A near-fatal stroke, the

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1
R. R. James (ed.), Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963 ( 1974), vii. 7285-93; R. S. Churchill (ed.), The Sinews of Peace ( 1948), 93-105.

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