Churchll’s “Aryan Stock” Quotation: Principles, Facts and Heresies

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 Welsh report cen­sures Churchill’s alleged sins over the Ben­gal Famine and Tony­pandy, both long dis­proven. I’m doz­ing off—click on the links. Con­sid­er here only Churchill’s paeans to Aryans and, deriv­a­tive­ly, to Anglo-Saxons.

“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
We may also observe that Anglo-Sax­on is not a race, any more than Mex­i­can is a race. Churchill often said “race” when he meant the peo­ples of a nation. No one told him he would pay for this later.

“Aryan stock”

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?

Who were the Aryan stock? Indo-Euro­pean lan­guages, 2500 to 500 B.C. Cen­tum lan­guages are in blue, Satem lan­guages are in red. Iber­ian penin­su­la shad­ings are disputed—see
(Dbach­mann, Cre­ative Commons)

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.

5 thoughts on “Churchll’s “Aryan Stock” Quotation: Principles, Facts and Heresies

  1. Read­ing the arti­cle and see­ing how Churchill asked for the par­ti­tion of Chi­na to pre­vent great bar­bar­ic nations to threat­en “civilised ones”. Only a racist would claim that’s not racist.

    If you say so. “Everyone’s racist except thee and me. And some­times I think thou art.”

  2. (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

  3. 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

  4. “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.

  5. 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.

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