The master of propaganda Joseph Goebbels invented the term in a manifesto published in 1945, but it was Winston Churchill in 1946 who made the phrase popular.
In a speech delivered on March 5, 1946 at Westminster College, Missouri, Churchill declared his attitude towards the results of World War II and his tone laid bare his political alignments.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
First used in a 1945 essay ‘You and the Atomic Bomb’ by George Orwell, the term became the most important phrase in politics for half a century.
Only someone like Orwell could invent such a succinct description of a permanent tension between the two superpowers of the 20th century.
“Toady of Imperialism”
During his notorious shoe-banging incident, when Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev interrupted the speech of the head of the Filipino delegation at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960, he didn’t just bang his shoe at the desk.
Though Khruschev was not the brightest talker among the Soviet leaders, the phrase lived on for decades, being used to describe third world countries that were openly pro-Western.
“Socialism with a Human Face”
Enthusiastic Slovak Communist leader Alexander Dubček, who came to power in early 1968, sought to create a liberal version of socialism, for which he found a perfect expression: “socialism with a human face”.
The Soviet Union trusted Dubček to build any kind of socialism – as long as it did not hamper the interests of the Warsaw Pact treaty. But starting liberal reforms, the so-called Prague Spring, he triggered a gargantuan demand for further reforms and lost control over the whole situation.
It turned out that “human face” didn’t go so well with socialism, resulting in tanks in Prague and a quick ousting of Dubček from power.
However, Dubček and his “humane socialism” were one of the inspirations of Gorbachev’s Perestroika.
“Ash Heap of History” part 2
Ronald Reagan was the next to coin a memorable phrase. Immediately prior to his presidency the U.S. suffered two massive geopolitical setbacks: the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was leading an offensive in Afghanistan, which by the early eighties looked more successful than the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Amid Soviet calls to freeze the nuclear arms race in 1982-1983, the U.S. administration needed some strong words to secure public approval to maintain the level of military spending. And Reagan came up with “ash heap of history” and then the “evil empire”.
The first one wasn’t even coined by him, but – ironically – by the Russian Revolutionary Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky. When his rival wing of the Communist Party, the Menshevik’s, walked out of the Second Congress of Soviets in 1917, Trotsky declared they belonged to “the ash heap of history”.
Reagan revived the term in a speech before the British House of Commons in June 1982. In a speech peppered with Winston Churchill quotes he said:
”I have discussed on other occasions, including my address on May 9th, the elements of Western policies toward the Soviet Union to safeguard our interests and protect the peace. What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term – the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
Reagan’s chief speech writer at the time, Anthony Dolan, is credited for the birth of “evil empire”.
When the Singapore Prime Minister visited Washington in 1981 and spoke of the USSR as an empire, Reagan took notice. He directed his deputies to use the word when describing the Soviet Union as often as possible.
As a result, preparing Reagan’s 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Dolan added the word “evil”. Overloaded by various religious references the speech included the following paragraph:
“So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride – the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”
“Star Wars Program”
Reagan offered fellow Americans his plan of containing the “evil empire”: Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), a missile defence system that would render Soviet nuclear weaponry useless.
The U.S. opposition was quick to react. The very next morning Senator Ted Kennedy condemned Reagan’s “misleading Red-scare tactics and reckless Star Wars schemes.”
“Star Wars” became the unofficial name of the SDI, thanks to the immense popularity of George Lucas’s eponymous series, the third part of which was to be out in May 1983.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who effectively ended the Cold War itself, had put most of his plans down in his 1987 book “Perestroika: the New Thinking for Our Country And the Whole World”.
The West, while initially skeptical, quickly embraced this “new thinking” and soon was rewarded by the fall of the “iron curtain” and collapse of the fearsome Soviet Union itself.
When the Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov appeared on the American TV show Good Morning America in October 1989, he was asked to clarify Moscow’s new politics regarding its Eastern European allies.
Trying to put it as simply as possible, Gerasimov said:
“We now have the Frank Sinatra doctrine. He has a song, I Did It My Way. So every country decides on its own which road to take.”
For the Communist regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria the “Sinatra doctrine” meant a total defeat. And those three were the last Communist members of the Warsaw Pact apart from the Soviet Union.
Ruben Zarbabyan, RT