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.