Churchll’s “Aryan Stock” Quotation: Principles, Facts and Heresies
An essay on Churchill’s 146th birthday.
“The Aryan stock is bound to triumph”
Sufferers from “Churchill Derangement Syndrome” hold “Aryan stock” high among Winston Churchill’s appalling utterances. The remark rose again in correspondence with a journalist. I dug out for him the background of that remark, but his report omitted it. Out of context the quote is misleading, so I guess that’s just as well. But rather than write off several hours’ research, the facts might here serve to advance reality.
Wales in its Welsh Wisdom is thinking of moving statues of Churchill, Nelson and Gandhi to a museum, the Daily Telegraph informs us. My correspondent wrote: “Churchill is again under fire, this time from the Welsh government. It cites his support for the British Empire and his supposed belief in the superiority of the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ race. The official Welsh government report examines what monuments and streets commemorate various figures. It throws in Gandhi for good measure.”
I wondered idly what Mohandas Gandhi, who didn’t suffer fools gladly, would say about all this? I think he would be amused, but then depressed, by the onward march of invincible ignorance. Gandhiji said some regrettable things about black Africans around 1906. Against that, the statue of this great man who led India’s quest for independence is to be proscribed in Wales? I should think the Welsh would approve of this champion of Home Rule. (And of Churchill, who campaigned for devolution before it became popular.)
“The Anglo-Saxon race”
Hillsdale College’s Churchill Project holds digital references to 80 million words of Churchill’s writings, speeches, letters, papers, plus biographies and memoirs about him. This resource reveals that he used the term “Anglo-Saxon race” exactly twice. The first referred to U.S. and British sailors, the second to US-UK Free Trade. You tell me whether either sounds racist:
I was much struck by the [American] sailors: their intelligence, their good looks and civility and their general businesslike appearance. These interested me more than [the] ship itself, for while any nation can build a battleship it is the monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon race to breed good seamen. —WSC to his Aunt Leonie after visiting USS New York, 12 November 1895, The Churchill Documents, Vol. 1 Youth 1874-1896, 598
The union of the Anglo-Saxon race is a great ideal, and if ever it is to be achieved it will be by increasing and not diminishing the friendly intercourse of trade between this country and the United States. Against such wanton folly as a tariff war with the United States, Free-traders appeal with confidence to Lancashire, and we hope that, as in years gone by, Lancashire will point the path of honour and wisdom to the people of the British islands. —Speech supporting Home Rule for Ireland, Public Hall, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, 16 June 1904, Complete Speeches I, 317
Churchill’s comment on Aryan stock occurred in an interview with Gustavus Ohlinger of Michigan University in January 1901. Ohlinger published part of that interview, entitled “Success in Journalism,” in the university’s journal The Islander. But much of the interview, including the Aryan remark, went unpublished. Decades later, Ohlinger published the full transcript. (Michigan Quarterly Review, February 1966).
The context is significant. Ohlinger was born and grew up in China, where his parents were missionaries. Naturally, he and Churchill talked about the confrontation then going on between China and Russia. Ohlinger asked: what was his opinion? Churchill’s replied:
…we shall have to take the Chinese in hand and regulate them…as civilized nations become more powerful they will get more ruthless, and the time will come when the world will impatiently bear the existence of great barbaric nations who may at any time arm themselves and menace civilized nations. I believe in the ultimate partition of China—I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph. Personally, I am not greatly concerned about Russian development in China.
Now, most today would object to “barbaric” as a description of China, or at least its people. One hundred twenty years ago, perhaps not. Churchill was however predicting the outcome of a Russia-China dispute. (Cynics will smirk over his idea “to take the Chinese in hand.” That’s still in vogue among certain politicians 120 years later.)
Who were the Aryans, anyway?
Taken out of context, “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph” certainly sounds racist today. In the original context, Churchill was talking about a rivalry between Chinese and Russians. Undoubtedly they are of two races, and Churchill thought the Chinese needed taking in hand. Did he mean absolute dominance of the white race? I think not. Nor do I think “Aryan” is quite the right term for Russians.
It took Adolf Hitler to give the word “Aryan” a bad name. It wasn’t aways thus. Defending Churchill from being called a “barbaric Monster” in a Canadian newspaper, Terry Reardon wrote:
The Toronto Star doesn’t inform us that Aryan horseman warriors from Central Asia migrated into the Indus Valley in the third millennium B.C. They were “as arrogant as they were tough,” wrote historian Arthur Herman. “Their very name, Arya, meant ‘master’ or ‘noble.’” They evolved into four classes, led by the Brahmins. Ironically, in view of the Star’s charges, “Aryan stock” is today the dominant demographic group in India.
4 thoughts on “Churchll’s “Aryan Stock” Quotation: Principles, Facts and Heresies”
(1) The first sounds a lot more “gay” than racist. Churchill goes to see the ship, but is distracted by how attractive he finds the guys, and then makes the claim that only Anglo-Saxons produce semen—er seamen—to his tastes. (2) The early Aryans split into Iranians and Bengali Indians, the same Bengalis that Churchill allegedly starved to death. He did not starve those Indians, he merely gave orders that grains from Australia headed their way be redirected to areas not suffering ubiquitous malnutrition. I believe his defense of that was something along the lines of “they breed like rabbits.” There is nothing racist about that statement. (3) Of the Dervishes at Omdurman he wrote that they “debouched from the city in wonderful order and charged upon our 20,000 men….The poor devils were slaughtered; we killed 10,800; [they] lay like snowdrifts over the desert sand…. I don’t agree with those who advocated the destruction of the temple—I would have let it stand, placing a man on the outside of it to collect admission money.” You have to admit,. the guy was hilarious! (4) Wikiquote defends his more directly racist quotes by mentioning that the Eugenics he supported was also accepted by Teddy Roosevelt. There was little dirt on Roosevelt on the site, so I added one (from a Pulitzer Prize winner in Smithsonian Magazine): “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe 9 out of every 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.” —Teddy Roosevelt, January 1886, after 50-100 million Native Americans had perished due to European colonialism (according to Wikipedia). So compared to T. Roosevelt, Churchill was a lightweight!
Thanks for your comments. (1) Nothing tongue in cheek there, hey? (2) Churchill sent a million tons of grain starting August 1943, much of it from Australia; Aussie ships avoided the Bay early on because it was bristling with Japanese submarines, though they were likely directed by the Admiralty not Churchill personally. See Zareer Masani, “Last Word on the Bengal Famine.” (3) True, he was not above humor, but he also called the Dervishes “as brave men as ever walked the earth,” and Omdurman seared into his brain the horror of mechanized warfare. (4) His support of Eugenics lasted 18 months. As for “50-100 million Native Americans,” estimates of their population in 1492 range from 1 to 12 million. But very true, measuring what TR or Churchill said 120 years ago by today’s standards is stuffed with opportunities for ignorant misunderstanding. —RML
Quotations by the great statesman who helped lead Britain through two world wars: “Magisterial . . . Should be in the library of every Churchill aficionado” (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 fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”)
Whatever you say! RML
“I believe in the ultimate partition of China—I mean ultimate. I hope we shall not have to do it in our day. The Aryan stock is bound to triumph. Personally, I am not greatly concerned about Russian development in China.”
The second sentence makes it emphatic that Churchill was not chomping at the bit to conquer more territory – he hoped a scramble for China wouldn’t take place in his lifetime.
To answer your slightly rhetorical question, YES, the statement about Anglo-Saxon sailors sounds very racist today. But let’s see; WSC was how old when he said it in 1901? [He was 26. RML] He had how much life experience? Did he mean it in a racist way? Probably, or probably not. In a vicious, nasty racist way? Of course not.
The other quote does not sound racist. Nor does the use of the word Aryan. You’re correct that Hitler poisoned the word.