Former British Prime Minister (and future Nobel Laureate) Winston Churchill introduced the use of “curtain” as a metaphor for barriers in global geopolitics. He first used the term Iron Curtain in a 1946 speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He applied coined the phrase to describe the rapidly growing post-war rift between the West and those countries allied with or controlled by the Soviet Union. That divide quickly became so profound that many students are likely to be unaware that the United States and the USSR were allies in World War II.
Churchill’s great, metaphorical divide is most often associated with the very tangible Berlin Wall (1961-1989), whose physical dismantlement is correlated with the demise of the Soviet Union and the fading of the Iron Curtain concept. The term
Bamboo Curtain was the eastern counterpart to the Iron Curtain, applied to the boundaries between Asian command economies (such as China and North Korea) and neighboring capitalist countries. The term was never as widely recognized as Iron Curtain, both because of its discontinuity and because alliances among communist countries were frequently shifting.
In his 1995 novel Tortilla Curtain, T. Coraghessen Boyle applies the curtain metaphor to cultural divides within North America.