David Cannadine: Churchill and the Special Relationship

Roundup: Talking About History

David Cannadine  is a British historian, author and professor of history at Princeton University.

In a few days' time, David Cameron will be journeying to Washington to visit Barack Obama, and according to a White House Statement, his visit will "highlight the fundamental importance of the US-UK special relationship and the depth of friendship between the American people and the people of the United Kingdom".

Perhaps it will, and I hope it does, but it's also likely to give rise to at least two challenging questions. Is America's relationship with Britain as special as it used to be? And is it genuinely more special than with any other country?

These matters have been much on my mind of late, because I've recently returned from lecturing at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, where in March 1946, Winston Churchill gave one of his most significant post-war speeches in which he launched the phrase "special relationship" into popular currency.

Churchill was merely a private citizen, having been turned out of 10 Downing Street at the general election in the previous summer, but he was introduced by the American President Harry S Truman, and during the course of his speech, he offered a new and in many ways alarming view of the post-war world.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, Churchill insisted, an Iron Curtain had descended across Europe, dividing the continent between a free and democratic west and a totalitarian and Communist east. The Iron Curtain was the first phrase his Fulton speech made famous, and the second was indeed the "special relationship" which he believed existed between Great Britain and the United States…

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