Revising the Cold War Revisionists

Yes, the Soviets really were that bad.

Issue: Jan-Feb 2013

Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (New York: Doubleday, 2012), 608 pp., $35.00.

THE IRON Curtain is one of those metaphors that continue to chill the spine. Winston Churchill famously used it in his Fulton, Missouri, speech in March 1946, and he often is credited with inventing it. In fact, the Nazi ideological leader, Joseph Goebbels, had used it in the previous year as the Red Army sped toward Berlin, and the Nazis sought to instill a determination among Germans to resist until the bitter end. But Goebbels was not the inventor either. As far as can be established, the first use of this figure of speech occurred in 1920, in a book by British Labour Party luminary Ethel Snowden. She had gone to Soviet Russia on a fact-gathering mission and returned to London with a harrowing account of conditions there. The Russian Communist regime was not the superpower it was to become by the end of the Second World War. Its economy was in ruins, and its armed forces would have lost any war with Western nations. Snowden’s Iron Curtain was a reference to the barrier of communication between Russia and the West. On both sides there was a shortage of information, and she hoped to fill the void with her book.

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