This Month in History- March

A new month means a new post- not sure how posting during February passed me by! Might be something to do with the big pile of boxes in my flat as I get ready to move in a few weeks. Not grumbling though- give me a big pile of boxes over a big pile of marking any day!

March is the month where exams suddenly seem not too far away. It’s also the time when you should be doing all you can to get ready for them. Revision & consolidation start now! With that in mind- a topical task for you; March turns out to be an important month in terms of topics for both year groups, as you can see:


Nicholas II, pictured after he abdicated his throne

13th March 1881- Our course begins with the assassination of Alexander II in St. Petersburg, effectively ending the period of Russian reforms. Also, the “February” Revolution began on the 8th March 1917 (ironic name) with riots in Petrograd over food rations and conduct in war, with Tsar Nicholas II ending 1,000 years of Tsarist autocracy by abdicating on the 15th of that month.


Winston Churchill made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech on the 5th March 1946, whilst on the 8th March 1983, US President Ronald Reagan calls the Soviet Union ‘an evil empire’, initiating a more hard-line US policy. Finally, on the 11th March 1985 reformer Mikhail Gorbachev was confirmed as the new- and ultimately final- leader of the Soviet Union.

Both of these History units ask you to consider the significance of events as part of a bigger picture, as you seek to present your arguments in a balanced and sustained manner. So, with these key developments in mind, all History students must answer the following questions regarding ‘significance’:

  1. YEAR 12: Which was more significant- Alexander’s assassination, or Nicholas’ abdication?

    Gorbachev & Reagan

  2. YEAR 13: Which was more significant- Churchill’s “Iron Curtain”, or Reagan’s “Evil Empire”? (The second speech may require a bit of research, as at time of writing, we haven’t covered this in our lessons yet!)

Both groups can post opinions (minimum of 200 words) as a reply to this topic please.

Good luck!

17 responses to “This Month in History- March

  1. It could be argues that Reagan’s ‘evil empire’ speech encouraged the continuation of the cold war arms race, thus officially breaking the terms of SALT and ending the period of Détente. In his book The Cold War Gaddis argues that, in their use of the phrase “evil empire,” Reagan and his anti-Communist political allies were effective in breaking the détente tradition, thus laying the ground for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. Others, however, like al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, questioned this claim, declaring in 2007 that one of the prime reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was its defeat in the Afghanistan war by the Afghan mujahedeen resistance.
    On the other hand Churchill’s Iron curtain speech was condemned by many countries. Much of the Western public still regarded the Soviet Union as close allies, in context of the recent defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan. Many saw Churchill’s speech as warmongering and unnecessary. The phrase ‘iron curtain’ later became a useful phrase for describing the divide between East and West Europe but it did not have a very significant effect at the time.

  2. Some historians would argue that President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech in 1983 was more significant than Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, because although Churchill’s speech accurately conveyed to the public the full extent of the East/West division, Reagan’s speech led to eventual negotiations and also the “nuclear freeze”.
    Some historians could argue that President Regan’s “Evil Empire” speech in 1983, was more significant than Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946, because through Regan’s speech, he seemed to suggest that despite the period of Détente, the Soviet’s were still their enemies, and were still capable of nuclear war. His hard-line and perhaps even aggressive attitude towards the Soviets, becomes evident through the quotation:
    “I urge you to beware 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.”
    In addition, Regan’s speech was significant in illustrating the “evil” nature of the Soviets, because it provided a foundation for a more hard-line approach towards the Soviets, which became apparent through the deployment of NATO missiles in Western Europe, in response to the Soviet’s themselves installing nuclear missiles in Eastern Europe. So, it is clear that Regan’s speech presenting the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union is highly significant, because although it did lead to a period of heightened tensions between the two powers, it did however cause both countries to agree to significant reductions in terms of their nuclear arsenals, to the extent that both intermediate and short rang nuclear missiles were eliminated.
    On the other hand, some historians could argue that Churchill’s speech regarding the “Iron Curtain” was more significant, than Regan’s “Evil Empire” speech, because it clearly presented the growing divide between Communist East and the Capitalist West. To the extent that later in the early 1960s this divide would be finalised through the creation of the “Berlin Wall”. Churchill expressed his concern at the rapidly increasing Soviet “sphere of influence” through the quotation, “from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste, in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”.
    Churchill’s depiction of the “Iron Curtain” was accurate in portraying the diplomatic scene in Europe, for despite satellite states such as Yugoslavia pursing their own Communist regime, which to a certain degree was separate from Moscow’s strict Communist ideals, the majority of Eastern European states had fallen to Communist rule. For through a series of Communist revolutions, initiated by Moscow, Stalin was able to tighten his grip on the satellite states. Thus suggesting that Churchill’s speech regarding the “Iron Curtain”, was perhaps more significant, because it signaled the expansion of the Soviet empire, and as a result it could be viewed as a catalyst for growing tensions between the East and West.
    In conclusion, President Regan’s “Evil Empire” speech was more significant than Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in depicting the events of the Cold War, because it showed that despite relations between the two countries improving due to a period of Détente, where arms were dramatically reduced, tensions between the two leaders were still hostile.

  3. Churchill made his speech after he had observed that an Iron Curtain had developed across Europe “from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste, in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent”; Churchill was worried about the Soviets’ sphere of influence across Europe so adopted a new style of speech to show the abuses in the communist regime, to try and increase the opposition against communism. It is significant as it changed the view of the West towards the East Communists; he made them believe that communism didn’t work and highlighted the divide between East and West. Convincing the opinions of over 40,000 people was a hard thing to do and therefore the speech was significant. The phase ‘Iron Curtain’, which wasn’t known before his speech, became popular after in showing the divide between the two superpowers (East and West).

    The ‘Evil Empire’ speech had a more aggressive attitude towards the Soviet Union than the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech; it highlighted the harsh realities that the soviets led. This means that during the period of Détente Reagan was willing to show the mistrust between them and the USSR, and how the relationship between them was still not good. Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech is significant as it showed his administration’s policy toward nuclear disarmament with Russia, even though he thought they were ‘evil’, “While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.” He thought that the war was one of good and evil, and shouldn’t be decided on nuclear weapons, maybe because he was worried that the USSR could cause a nuclear war.

    Overall I feel that Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech is more significant than Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ because it showed compromise between the two superpowers, even though they didn’t agree with each other.

  4. I believe that Regan’s ‘evil empire’ speech is more significant than Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech. This is because even though Churchill’s speech highlighted the problems that the USSR would cause in the future because of the clear division that they were creating through Europe, he never really challenged the Soviet Union directly through his words. However, Reagan’s speech can be seen as a direct challenge to the Soviet Union as he is dismissing the ideal of having a ‘nuclear freeze’ because he feels that it would leave the USSR free to take advantage of the USA’s weakened state and as he says “ they would achieve their objectives through the freeze.” This statement coupled with the use of the term “an honest freeze” clearly shows that he does not trust the Soviet Union and he is challenging their integrity as a nation. Reagan provides the view that the only way to get the USSR to agree to arms reductions is through maintaining the strength of the USA in order to ‘scare’ the Soviets into submission. This shows Reagan is putting forward the idea that the only way for the USA and the USSR to come to peace with one another is for the USA to ‘win’ the Cold War so that they can make the Soviets do the right thing. Therefore, the ‘evil empire’ speech to be more significant as the USA are telling the Soviets that they will achieve peace through victory and so they are no longer going to try methods such as peaceful coexistence or detente as they are only stalling what should come next.
    The ‘evil empire’ speech is a ‘this is what we should do in order to bring this war to an end’ speech, whereas, the ‘iron curtain’ speech is more of a ‘just to let you know what the situation is’ type of speech.

  5. I believe that Churchill’s ”Iron Curtain” speech showed the fundamental split between east and west ” from Stettin in the Baltic, to Trieste in the Adriatic ” at a time where people where not ready to believe that a new war in a sense was beginning. Its significances were little, as many saw Churchill’s speech as just warmongering. On the other hand Reagan’s ” Evil Empire” speech is a hard line challenge to the Soviet Union, as Reagan began to take a much more aggressive response to the USSR. An example of this is Reagan’s dismissal of a nuclear freeze, as he believes that the soviets will take advantage of a weakened USA. Also Reagan’s belief that only lasting peace and the end of the Cold War can only be achieved through the US gaining victory over the soviets. The significances of this, is that it brought the two side’s closer to the brink once more as Reagan was saying that we will get peace but only through military domination. That is why Reagan’s speech is more significant.

  6. The more significant was Nicholas abdication because his reign saw Imperial Russia go from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to an economic and military disaster. Then following the February revolution on the 8th March 1917, with riots in Petrograd over food rations and conduct in war, with Tsar Nicholas II ending 1,000 years of Tsarist autocracy by abdicating on the 15th of that month. The abdication led to the October Manifesto and State Dumas (after the 1905 Revolution) political parties in the country had been banned. Because of the ban and the harsh conditions during Russia’s first push towards industrialization, the extremist parties had become enormously popular and so the stage was set for country to go towards communist reign. Alexander assassination was also a significant because unlike his predecessors he was determined to liberalise Russia and open it up to the west. He embarked upon a massive and wide-ranging programme of reform to make Russia a great power again, and with his assassination and death so did the reforms he had started.

  7. Despite both events being of significant importance, I would say that Nicholas’ abdication was marginally more. The reign of the last Tsar- a man ill equipped to lead Russia caused many problems for the empire such as the disaster that was the Russo-Japanese War (1904). Nicholas did not care about the people of Russia and lost their respect ‘Little Father’ status after events such as Bloody Sunday. Nicholas’ fairly unresisting abdication following the February Revolution symbolised the dawn of (short lived) democracy in Russia in the form of the Soviet and the Provisional Government. However, the importance of Alexander ll’s assassination in cannot be overlooked: the assassination of the first Tsar determined to implement change in Russia (1861 Emancipation of the Serfs) and the succession of his vengeful, bitter son Tsar Alexander lll meant repression more extreme than ever seen before. This led to secret extremist organisations emerging and the rise of radical thinking. overall, however, it is clear that abdication is more significant than assassination because although assassination prompted repression and radical thinking, abdication meant a huge change: the end of Tsarist autocracy that had been known for thousands of years. This, therefore makes it more significant.

  8. Both speeches definitely had an effect on relations between the East and West; they are both fairly aggressive in their language when talking about the Soviets, Reagan at one point calling the Communist regime ‘totalitarian darkness’.
    Furthermore, both Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill take the moral high-ground over the Soviets, by using the belief in God and religion (as opposed to the Godless Communists) as a way of illustrating this.
    I think that the more significant speech, at least in determining relations between the East and West, is Winston Churchill’s. A lot of what he said about the iron curtain was evidently true; the coining of this phrase was used over and over to describe the mistrust and bad blood between the USA and USSR. This therefore set the tone for future relations between the two nations- a relationship filled with mistrust and paranoia.
    Ronald Reagan’s speech was significant, but in my opinion less so than Winston Churchill’s simply because of how long it appeared to be relevant. Relations between the two nations improved drastically a few years after Reagan made his speech, thus disproving his theory that the USSR was an ‘Evil Empire’.
    In conclusion I think that Churchill’s speech should be considered more significant because of how long it accurately depicted relations between the East and West. Reagan’s speech didn’t remain relevant for as long as Churchill’s, although this is probably to do with Mikhail Gorbachev’s reconciliatory and democratic approach to superpower relations.

  9. I feel that that Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech is more significant during the Cold War era than Regan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech as it came about at the very beginning of the Cold War. In some ways, it introduced the world to the inevitable conflict that would occur between the Soviet Union and the USA. Regan’s speech highlighted his new; more ‘hard-line’ approach to the Soviet Union and simply reminded the world of the poor and repressive state that the people of the Soviet Union had to live in. This was also intimidating and scared the Soviet officials. However, this speech is more significant in the way that it is directed from one state to another, in an extremely negative way. Whereas Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech merely told and predicted the situation the world had ended up in following World War 2, in a realistic, and not so critical manor. In many ways Churchill’s speech set the sides for oncoming events, announcing the unspoken and underlying relations that were to develop in years to come.
    It seems Regan’s speech was intended to keep the world seeing himself, the USA and capitalism in a positive way, and stress further the idea of how ‘evil’ the Soviet Union and communism was.

  10. Both the assassination of Alexander II and Nicholas IIs abdication of the throne for his family were significant in Russian history. It can be seen that the abdication of the throne by Nicholas II can be seen as more significant than the assassination of Alexander II. For the first time since 1613 the Russian Government was not being run by a Tsarist autocracy. As a result of this there became radical thinking over the state policies, groups such as the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks became leading groups opposing to the new Provisional Government. Directly after the Provisional Government took over from the Tsar they faced problems with opposition and loyalty from the workers, this was shown in the February Revolution when opposition formed united soviets in Petrograd this was used to undermine the government authorities using the army. During the Tsarist autocracy little opposition provided dangerous threat to the government, however the weakness of the provisional government allowed for opposition to grow in strength. The significance of the abdication of Nicholas II is shown if the instability of the government, leading to revolutions and extremist political parties forming to take over the Government.
    The assassination of Alexander II can be seen as less significant in comparison to the abdication of Nicholas II due to the state of the country after the assassination. After the assassination of Alexander II, his son Alexander III took responsibility of Russia. The assassination brought about the end of political reforms of any type. The significance of the assassination however is seen in the weakness of the new Tsar, which in effect was the last thing which the Russian people had wanted. The reason behind the assassination was due to series of changes made by Alexander II, although Alexander III was worse than he predecessor preferring to take a repressive role Alexander III was afraid of conflict in any form so was in effect the worst possible Tsar for the Russian people. Who wanted a strong Tsar to be the back bone of a new stronger Russia. Even though Alexander III was a weak leader he kept the state of the government under control, which is something that the Provisional government failed to do meaning that the assassination is seen as less significant.

  11. On the one hand, Alexander II’s assassination can be viewed as the most significant. Alexander was a strong and confident leader, who enforced many radical reforms. Most importantly he brought an end to serfdom, by issuing his Emancipation manifesto in 1861. This affected 85% of people in Russia and was seen as a major obstacle for Russia’s economic development. Other reforms introduced by Alexander included improved municipal government (1870) and universal military training (1874). He also encouraged the expansion of industry and the railway network. In 1864 he introduced the first form of elective government in Russia’s history. They were called government units in rural areas, known as Zemstva there powers were limited in education and road building but in 1870 elective local government was extended to towns and cities. Also in 1870 Tsars government modernised the Russian judicial system by introducing trial by jury meaning that ordinary Russians participated in the dispensation of justice. However, Alexander’s reforms did not please radicals and liberals who wanted a democracy and reforms in agriculture disappointed peasants. He suffered several attempted assassinations but on 1st March 1881 he was killed by The People’s Will, who opposed the autocratic rule. However, Alexander was on his way to sign a law that would’ve have given Russia its first national assembly.
    Nicholas took over as tsar in 1894. He was the last tsar. Unlike his father, Alexander III, he was weak, unorganised, disliked politics and was unable to make decisions. Overall he did not want to be tsar. He was also unwilling to create a constitutional government and thought democracy would bring about the collapse of the empire. Added to this, Alexander III had left Nicholas many problems to deal with including the repression of political opponents, the economy was still lagging behind great powers and lack of authority resulting in extreme group attacks. But Nicholas did not help his case. He lead Russia in the Russo-Japanese war which was hated by the Russians as it humiliated Russia and cost them everything, leaving them further behind in terms of economy. He showed how weak he was by dismissing his uncle as commander of the army and taking control himself with no experience or qualifications. This led to his downfall, he asked to step down which was technically illegal. He then became the last tsar, bringing about the creation of the provisional government and the struggle for power.

    Emily: Overall, I think Alexander’s assassination was more important as he was a strong leader who was willing to make extreme changes in Russia to improve the country. If he hadn’t of been assassinated then he could have followed through on his policies, instead of leaving Alexander III the impossible task of trying to follow in his father’s footsteps. This ultimately led to the fall of Nicholas as Alexander III left him with even more problems to solve. Although Nicholas’ abdication was significant as this meant the introduction of the provisional government and the Bolshevik seizure of power, it was inevitable as his attitude and the problems he faced meant he would never succeed. Alexander could have prevented this from happening at all if he had lived.
    Lauren: In conclusion, I feel that Nicholas’s abdication was not as significant as he made so many bad decisions in his time as tsar and also showed how weak he was when he dismissed his uncle and took over commander and chief himself. However, Alexander’s assassination was significant because after all the policies he implemented and all the time he put in to building Russia’s future it was all a waste as he left Alexander III the task of following on his work.
    Even though both of these events were both significant, I believe Nicholas’ abdication was the most. His abdication resulted in the end of tsarist Russia, which led to the Provisional Government and prompted Stalin taking power. He led Russia into many problems of which weren’t solved until after he left. (Rachel)

  12. Both Alexander II’s assassination and Nicholas’ abdication are extremely significant in Russian history, but some can argue that the abdication of Tsar Nicholas was more significant as it set the path for a Russian revolution. The Russian empire was falling apart and falling behind its European rivals. Although Alexander II tried to liberalise Russia and return the country to a great Empire like it had once been, his assassination led to his son, Alexander III, having to pick up the pieces his father had left him. The assassination is significant because it brought in the implementation of emancipation of the surfs (1861) and a much higher role of repression. Alexander III tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by introducing the Provisional Government and State Dumas. However, this led to a rise in opposition as the people of Russia were fed up of a weak Tsar and when the succession of the throne was passed down to Nicholas, he was so unprepared that the revolution of 1905, the mistakes of Bloody Sunday and the failures of the Russo-Japanese war meant that Russia was one step closer to a huge revolution. Effectively it could be argued that the assassination of Tsar Alexander II led to the start of the Russian rebellion. On the other hand, and possibly more importantly, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas led to the risings of new political groups such as the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The people of Russia could now speak out about their radical thoughts and could start changing and reforming Russia themselves, thus possibly being the most significant step towards the new Russia. The abdication led to the biggest political and economic changes that the World had ever seen. It is possible to say that without the abdication of Nicholas, the political opposition would never have been strong enough to other throw 1000 years of Tsarist Autocracy, thus meaning that Russia could never have undergone a series of the most incredible and drastic changes seen. Overall, the abdication of Nicholas led to the changes that can still be seen in Russia today, although it is important not to neglect the significance of Alexander’s assassination. Nicholas’s highly unprepared state and abdication led to the fall of Tsarist autocracy, leaving the gateway open for opposition to create a Russian revolution.

  13. I believe that Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech of 1983 was more significant than Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of 1946. Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech was correct in showing how their were divisions between the communist east and capitalist west, but Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech showed how he was taking an aggressive and hard-line stance towards the Soviet Union. It referred to communism as “the focus of evil in the modern world”. The speech was delivered at a time when Congress was debating a resolution in support of a “nuclear freeze,” a doctrine supported by the Soviet Union that would have prevented the deployment of U.S. cruise and Pershing II Missiles in Europe. However, Reagan dismisses this in his speech because he felt that it would leave the USSR free to take advantage of the USA’s weakened state. Therefore Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire Speech’ in 1983 is more significant than the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech by Churchill in 1946 because it can be seen as a direct challenge to the Soviet Union. Reagan was ultimately dismissing any future cooperation with the Soviet Empire.

  14. The assassination of Alexander II and the abdication of Nicholas were both important in Russian History. But the abdication of Nicholas is seen as the more signifcant. With The Tsar Nicholas losing the Russian peoples respect because of events such as Bloody Sunday. The february revolution marked the end of democracy in Russia. It markd an end to a sorry looking Russia.

    In conclusion, the abdication of Nicholas was the most significant, although Alexander’s assassination is still very important. Nicholas’s abdication led to the fall of Tsarist autocracy, leaving a path open for opposition to start a revolutionm in Russia.

  15. The assassination of Alexander II and the abdication of Nicholas were both extremely important factors in Russian History. However the abdication of Nicholas is argued to be the more crucial and the more significant to the Russian revolution. The Russian empire was almost in ruins and constantly failing to keep up with the other industrializing nations. The Tsar was losing the Russian respect because of events such as Bloody Sunday. Where over 100 workers were killed and some 300 wounded. The incident, led to the 1905 revolution. Also the February revolution was extremely important as it marked the end of democracy in Russia. All in all the abdication of Nicholas was the most significant, although Alexander’s assassination is still very important. Nicholas’s abdication led to many bad times for Russia, the main being the fall of Tsarist autocracy, leading the way for a revolution in Russia.

  16. Ronald Regan’s ‘Evil Empire’ speech is more significant than Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in my opinion. This is because Regan’s speech is much more aggressive in its nature and is aimed directly at the Soviets. In a way it opens the path for what is to come. “Of course, it also has promoted the use of violence and subversion by these same forces.” Here, Regan is talking about the Soviet Union and the way in which they spread their Communist ideas. This shows the aggressive attitude of the majority of the Regan’s speech. He then goes on to say that the Cold War will not be over until the USA has won. This is a very confrontational idea which was likely to push the Soviets into taking action, showing the significance of the speech.
    However, some historians would say that Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech was more significant because it was at the beginning of the Cold War and made it clear of the divide that has grown between the East and the West. It was this divide that then led onto the creation of the Berlin Wall which was a significant factor of the Cold War. On the other hand Regan’s speech was more significant as it marked a more permanent end to Détente. Furthermore, throughout the speech, Regan continually puts down the Soviet Union and their ideas. This shows an end to any future trust the two countries may have had.

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