Refugees: Trump is like Churchill?

by Richard Langworth on 24 November 2015

National Geographic

National Geo­graphic

…but not in a nice way!

The Huff­in­g­ton Post for Novem­ber 23rd (“Shocked by anti-Muslim Hys­te­ria? Churchill Wanted to ‘Col­lar the Lot'”) offers an unsub­stan­ti­ated Churchill quote, to describe some­thing about Syr­ian refugees Don­ald Trump said—or did not say, and dis­torts Churchill’s record: a tri­fecta in jour­nal­is­tic achievement.

Anent Trump’s alleged pro­posal for a data­base of Mus­lims (which he did not pro­pose, exactly), the Post assures us this was noth­ing com­pared to that well-known xeno­phobe, Win­ston Churchill:

Churchill went even far­ther. He ordered the intern­ment of tens of thou­sands of Jew­ish refugees in Eng­land, label­ing them dan­ger­ous enemy aliens….Nationals from Ger­many and Aus­tria, who were liv­ing in Eng­land when World War II broke out, had already been assigned to dif­fer­ent group­ings based on their appar­ent threat to the UK. Cat­e­gory A were the “high secu­rity risks.” All 600 of them were imme­di­ately interned. Those deemed “no-security risk” in Class C, included 55,000 refugees from Nazi oppres­sion. The great major­ity of them were Jew­ish. They were left free—at first. But then, in the Spring of 1940, with the fall of France, the fear of a Ger­man inva­sion, and the entry of Italy into the war, there was an out­break of spy fever in Eng­land, a demand that more be done about the thou­sands of “dan­ger­ous aliens” liv­ing there. Unwill­ing to con­sider which of those for­eign­ers might actu­ally be dan­ger­ous, Churchill com­manded “Col­lar them all.”

I dare­say Churchill had other things on his mind in Spring 1940 than which aliens were dan­ger­ous. But let it go. Peo­ple who write such things have no con­cept of what it was like to live in 1940 Britain, under the threat of immi­nent extinc­tion. Nei­ther do I, but I don’t write such things.

The “round­ing up” of 70,000 Ger­man, Czech and Aus­trian aliens in Britain was done regard­less of reli­gion. No doubt a lot were Jews—they had the best rea­son to be run­ning from the Greater Ger­man Reich.

But accord­ing to biog­ra­pher Nor­man Rose in Churchill: The Unruly Giantthe phrase “col­lar the lot,” or “col­lar them all” (I can’t find either in any­thing Churchill said or wrote) was an expres­sion meant to pro­tect alien refugees from “out­raged pubic opin­ion” rather than to pre­vent them from spy­ing or acts of sab­o­tage. That we can believe. In World War I, Lon­don­ers kicked dachs­hunds in the streets because they were a Ger­man breed.

(Peo­ple often dis­tort these quotes. I have just gone round with a reader of my piece on François Hol­lande  who insists—anent bomb­ing ISIS—that we should mimic Churchill, who wanted to “make the rub­ble dance” in Nazi Ger­many. But what Churchill said referred not to bomb­ing Ger­many but to London’s brav­ery in the Blitz. He said that after awhile, the only thing the Ger­mans could do to make things worse in Lon­don was “make the rub­ble jump.” Which is quite different.)

Hills­dale College’s Win­ston S. Churchill, Doc­u­ment Vol­ume 15 shows that Churchill soon recon­sid­ered his atti­tude toward interned aliens. In 1940, he favored expelling them, but a year later he had recon­sid­ered. Rather than treat “friends as foes,” he said, it would be more humane to con­script some into pub­lic ser­vice, per­haps as “a For­eign Legion.” You can look it up: page 391.

Churchill was in the van­guard of his col­leagues in urg­ing that wartime restric­tions on lib­erty be lifted as soon as pos­si­ble. In 1943 he ordered the release of the British fas­cist leader Oswald Mosley and his wife, who had been interned in 1940:

The power of the Exec­u­tive to cast a man into prison with­out for­mu­lat­ing any charge known to the law, and par­tic­u­larly to deny him judge­ment by his peers for an indef­i­nite period, is in the high­est degree odi­ous, and is the foun­da­tion of all total­i­tar­ian Gov­ern­ments, whether Nazi or Communist….Nothing can be more abhor­rent to democ­racy than to imprison a per­son or keep him in prison because he is unpop­u­lar. This is really the test of civil­i­sa­tion. Churchill by Him­self, 102

Churchill, as William Man­ches­ter wrote, “always had sec­ond and third thoughts, and they usu­ally improved as he went along. It was part of this pat­tern of response to any polit­i­cal issue that while his early reac­tions were often emo­tional, and even unwor­thy of him, they were usu­ally suc­ceeded by rea­son and generosity.”

It isn’t worth remon­strat­ing with the Huff­in­g­ton Post, which is only look­ing for another way to skewer Mr. Trump—who says so many skew­er­able things that it’s hardly nec­es­sary to make any up.

It does sug­gest another chap­ter for my next book: Churchill Urban Myths: Lies, Fables, Tall Tales, Dis­tor­tions, and Things that Go Bump in the Night.  

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