As a child I lived in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales for a year. One of the things that has stuck with me since that time was the hostility amongst Welsh working class people to Churchill as a result of his sending the troops and police into the valleys to help the coal owners defeat the striking miners, some of whom were shot.
But Churchill’s reputation was made primarily in imperial affairs. It is indisputable that Churchill was primarily responsible for the slaughter at Gallipolli in 1915. Prior to that there was his period as Home Secretary when he took personal control of the Sydney Street siege in January 1911. Two Latvian revolutionaries were holed up there and they were besieged by police and troops. When the building caught fire he ordered the fire brigade not to put the flames out and allowed those inside to burn to death. As Colonial Secretary he presided over Partition in Ireland and over the beginning of the Mandate in Palestine. In Palestine he introduced the murderous Black and Tans who had seen bloody service in Ireland.
|Churchill saw very early the potential of Zionism as an antidote to Communism amongst Jews|
Adam Jones, editor of the Journal of Genocide Research, calls Churchill "a genuine genocidaire", noting that he called Indians a "foul race" and said that the British air force chief should "send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them." [Jones, Adam (2016-12-16). "Chapter 2 State and Empire; War and Revolution". Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge]
Whether it was sending in the army to protect the coal owners in Wales or presiding over the famine in Bengal in 1942, Churchill was a mass murderer. Churchill’s whole career had been dedicated to the preservation of the Empire. In January 1931 he resigned from the Conservative Shadow Cabinet over self-government for India. Churchill was a died-in-the-wool supporter of the British Empire.
Churchill made his reputation in the second world war, primarily through his fighting speeches. However his opposition to Hitler was not from an anti-fascist perspective. He saw Hitler as a threat to British interests. Initially he had welcomed Hitler as an anti-communist. During the War Churchill was distinguished by his refusal to do anything to alleviate the position of the Jews including the bombing of Auschwitz and the railway lines leading up to it. He was however a die hard Zionist and that is why Zionist supporters treat him kindly, despite his undoubted anti-Semitism.
|Striking up a familiar pose|
During the war he advocated the mass bombing of German cities like Dresden and Nuremburg. Thousands died as a result yet the war itself was advanced. These were undoubtedly war crimes. When Greece was liberated he put the local Nazi collaborators back in power as his main goal was keeping the Greek Communists out of power.
His most famous tract Zionism and Bolshevism was published in the Illustrated Sunday Herald on 8 February 1920. Suffice to say that Churchill was not overfond of revolutionary Jews! He wrote of the ‘International Jew’ as being responsible for all the ills his class suffered from, including the French Revolution!
|Churchill enjoying himself at the Sydney Street siege|
‘The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race.... This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. ... It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century;...
There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews.. ...
Zionism offers the third sphere to the political conceptions of the Jewish race. In violent contrast to international communism, it presents to the Jew a national idea of a commanding character.’
Churchill like most of his class saw Zionism as an alternative to the attractions of revolution for Jews. Those who see that the origins of Zionism were progressive are very much mistaken.
|Churchill's Police confront the miners in South Wales|
It was also during his period as Prime Minister that Britain engaged in the most horrific use of torture and concentration camps against the Mau Mau people in Kenya. Victims included Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of Barak Obama. See Revealed: Britain's torture of Obama's grandfather and Sir Winston Churchill: Zionist hero
|A statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill is silhouetted in front of the Houses of Parliament in London in 2015., Luke MacGregor/Reuters|
“History,” Winston Churchill said, “will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” He needn’t have bothered. He was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, yet is the only one, unlike Hitler and Stalin, to have escaped historical odium in the West. He has been crowned with a Nobel Prize (for literature, no less), and now, an actor portraying him (Gary Oldman) has been awarded an Oscar.
As Hollywood confirms, Churchill’s reputation (as what Harold Evans has called “the British Lionheart on the ramparts of civilization”) rests almost entirely on his stirring rhetoric and his talent for a fine phrase during World War II. “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. … We shall never surrender.” (The revisionist British historian John Charmley dismissed this as “sublime nonsense.”)
Words, in the end, are all that Churchill admirers can point to. His actions are another matter altogether.
|Blenheim Palace where Churchill was born|
During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result.
In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them.
Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.
In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.”
In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.
But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.”
Churchill’s beatification as an apostle of freedom seems all the more preposterous given his 1941 declaration that the Atlantic Charter’s principles would not apply to India and the colored colonies. He refused to see people of color as entitled to the same rights as himself. “Gandhi-ism and all it stands for,” he declared, “will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed.”
In such matters, Churchill was the most reactionary of Englishmen, with views so extreme they cannot be excused as being reflective of their times. Even his own secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery, confessed that he could see very little difference between Churchill’s attitude and Adolf Hitler’s.
|As a dedicated racist Churchill was a strong believer in racial purity and selective breeding - eugenics|
Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”
Madhusree Mukerjee’s searing account of Churchill’s role in the Bengal famine, “Churchill’s Secret War,” documents that while Indians starved, prices for foodgrains were inflated by British purchases and India’s own surplus grains were exported, while Australian ships laden with wheat were not allowed to unload their cargo at Calcutta (where the bodies of those who had died of starvation littered the streets). Instead, Churchill ordered that grain be shipped to storage depots in the Mediterranean and the Balkans to increase the buffer stocks for a possible future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. European warehouses filled up as Bengalis died.
This week’s Oscar rewards yet another hagiography of this odious man. To the Iraqis whom Churchill advocated gassing, the Greek protesters on the streets of Athens who were mowed down on Churchill’s orders in 1944, sundry Pashtuns and Irish, as well as to Indians like myself, it will always be a mystery why a few bombastic speeches have been enough to wash the bloodstains off Churchill’s racist hands.
Many of us will remember Churchill as a war criminal and an enemy of decency and humanity, a blinkered imperialist untroubled by the oppression of non-white peoples. Ultimately, his great failure — his long darkest hour — was his constant effort to deny us freedom.
Shashi Tharoor is author of “Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India.” He chairs the Indian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Winston Churchill is rightly remembered for leading Britain through her finest hour – but what if he also led the country through her most shameful hour? What if, in addition to rousing a nation to save the world from the Nazis, he fought for a raw white supremacism and a concentration camp network of his own? This question burns through Richard Toye's new history, Churchill's Empire, and is even seeping into the Oval Office.
George W Bush left a bust of Churchill near his desk in the White House, in an attempt to associate himself with the war leader's heroic stand against fascism. Barack Obama had it returned to Britain. It's not hard to guess why: his Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was imprisoned without trial for two years and was tortured on Churchill's watch, for resisting Churchill's empire.
Can these clashing Churchills be reconciled? Do we live, at the same time, in the world he helped to save, and the world he helped to trash? Toye, one of Britain's smartest young historians, has tried to pick through these questions dispassionately – and he should lead us, at last and at least, to a more mature conversation about our greatest national icon.
Churchill was born in 1874 into a Britain that was washing the map pink, at the cost of washing distant nations blood red. Victoria had just been crowned Empress of India, and the scramble for Africa was only a few years away. At Harrow School and then Sandhurst, he was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation. As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples". In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, a crack of doubt. He realised that the local population was fighting back because of "the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own," just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a "strong aboriginal propensity to kill".
He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops. He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three "savages".
The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When concentration camps were built in South Africa, for white Boers, he said they produced "the minimum of suffering". The death toll was almost 28,000, and when at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his "irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men". Later, he boasted of his experiences there: "That was before war degenerated. It was great fun galloping about."
Then as an MP he demanded a rolling programme of more conquests, based on his belief that "the Aryan stock is bound to triumph". There seems to have been an odd cognitive dissonance in his view of the "natives". In some of his private correspondence, he appears to really believe they are helpless children who will "willingly, naturally, gratefully include themselves within the golden circle of an ancient crown".
But when they defied this script, Churchill demanded they be crushed with extreme force. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he unleashed the notorious Black and Tan thugs on Ireland's Catholic civilians, and when the Kurds rebelled against British rule, he said: "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes...[It] would spread a lively terror."
Of course, it's easy to dismiss any criticism of these actions as anachronistic. Didn't everybody think that way then? One of the most striking findings of Toye's research is that they really didn't: even at the time, Churchill was seen as at the most brutal and brutish end of the British imperialist spectrum. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet colleagues not to appoint him because his views were so antedeluvian. Even his startled doctor, Lord Moran, said of other races: "Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin."
Many of his colleagues thought Churchill was driven by a deep loathing of democracy for anyone other than the British and a tiny clique of supposedly superior races. This was clearest in his attitude to India. When Mahatma Gandhi launched his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he "ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back." As the resistance swelled, he announced: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused – as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved – by the imperial policies of the British. Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population.
Skeletal, half-dead people were streaming into the cities and dying on the streets, but Churchill – to the astonishment of his staff – had only jeers for them. This rather undermines the claims that Churchill's imperialism was motivated only by an altruistic desire to elevate the putatively lower races.
Hussein Onyango Obama is unusual among Churchill's victims only in one respect: his story has been rescued from the slipstream of history, because his grandson ended up as President of the US. Churchill believed that Kenya's fertile highlands should be the preserve of the white settlers, and approved the clearing out of the local "blackamoors". He saw the local Kikuyu as "brutish children". When they rebelled under Churchill's post-war premiership, some 150,000 of them were forced at gunpoint into detention camps – later dubbed "Britain's gulag" by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Professor Caroline Elkins. She studied the detention camps for five years for her remarkable book Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, explains the tactics adopted under Churchill to crush the local drive for independence. "Electric shock was widely used, as well as cigarettes and fire," she writes. "The screening teams whipped, shot, burned, and mutilated Mau Mau suspects." Hussein Onyango Obama never truly recovered from the torture he endured.
Many of the wounds Churchill inflicted have still not healed: you can find them on the front pages any day of the week. He is the man who invented Iraq, locking together three conflicting peoples behind arbitrary borders that have been bleeding ever since. He is the Colonial Secretary who offered the Over-Promised Land to both the Jews and the Arabs – although he seems to have privately felt racist contempt for both. He jeered at the Palestinians as "barbaric hoards who ate little but camel dung," while he was appalled that the Israelis "take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience".
True, occasionally Churchill did become queasy about some of the most extreme acts of the Empire. He fretted at the slaughter of women and children, and cavilled at the Amritsar massacre of 1919. Toye tries to present these doubts as evidence of moderation – yet they almost never seem to have led Churchill to change his actions. If you are determined to rule people by force against their will, you can hardly be surprised when atrocities occur. Rule Britannia would inexorably produce a Cruel Britannia.
So how can the two be reconciled? Was Churchill's moral opposition to Nazism a charade, masking the fact he was merely trying to defend the British Empire from a rival?
The US civil rights leader Richard B. Moore, quoted by Toye, said it was "a rare and fortunate coincidence" that at that moment "the vital interests of the British Empire [coincided] with those of the great overwhelming majority of mankind". But this might be too soft in its praise. If Churchill had only been interested in saving the Empire, he could probably have cut a deal with Hitler. No: he had a deeper repugnance for Nazism than that. He may have been a thug, but he knew a greater thug when he saw one – and we may owe our freedom today to this wrinkle in history.
This, in turn, led to the great irony of Churchill's life. In resisting the Nazis, he produced some of the richest prose-poetry in defence of freedom and democracy ever written. It was a cheque he didn't want black or Asian people to cash – but they refused to accept that the Bank of Justice was empty. As the Ghanaian nationalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote: "All the fair, brave words spoken about freedom that had been broadcast to the four corners of the earth took seed and grew where they had not been intended." Churchill lived to see democrats across Britain's dominions and colonies – from nationalist leader Aung San in Burma to Jawarlal Nehru in India – use his own intoxicating words against him.
Ultimately, the words of the great and glorious Churchill who resisted dictatorship overwhelmed the works of the cruel and cramped Churchill who tried to impose it on the darker-skinned peoples of the world. The fact that we now live in a world where a free and independent India is a superpower eclipsing Britain, and a grandson of the "savages" is the most powerful man in the world, is a repudiation of Churchill at his ugliest – and a sweet, ironic victory for Churchill at his best.
See also Winston Churchill