|Drilling for Diamonds|
The power of metaphor
In 1946 Winston Churchill was a beaten man. The previous year he had lost the prime ministership of Great Britain after his Conservative government had suffered an overwhelming election defeat.
Churchill warned the western world about the spreading menace of Soviet communism. But he worried that the Americans wouldn't listen to someone who was now just the leader of an opposition party, rather than the head of an elected government.
Churchill's opportunity to convince the Americans came when he was invited to speak in Fulton, Missouri. He knew he had to paint a vivid, graphic picture of what was happening to countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia.
He toyed with words like "Soviet imperialism", "militarism" and "tyranny".
But he rejected these as shapeless abstraction. None of these would paint a vivid enough picture in his listeners' minds.
On the train trip down to Missouri Churchill scanned his map of Europe. To highlight the spread of communism he drew a black pen line from the Baltic Sea through Poland down through to the Adriatic Sea.
He retraced the line, searching his mind for the right image to describe the Soviet threat.
The inspiration came at 2 am during an overnight stop in Salem, Illinois, when the right word picture appeared - which Churchill quickly added to his speech.
The next day Churchill delivered the words that would mobilize the Americans into action:
"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent. "
The iron curtain metaphor became one of the galvanizing images of the Cold War. When China fell to Mao Zedong's Communists in 1949, the metaphor changed to bamboo curtain.
The iron curtain speech was, according to James C. Humes, author of Churchill: Speaker of the Century, Churchill's greatest speech. "Why was it the greatest? Because a single speech triggered a change in American feelings about the Soviet Union (America's wartime ally), and started the Americans to rearm."
Metaphors are powerful because they allow us to personify abstract ideas. Internationally acclaimed psycholinguist Suzette Haden Elgin says "metaphors are the most powerful device for changing peoples attitudes quickly".
Reproduced from Artful Persuasion by Harry Mills.
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