Herewith final installments by various writers in our two-month defense of Winston Churchill’s memory. These and the links below cover his most popular current sins—even castration and nuking the Maralinga. So, unless we get a new one, that’s a wrap! RML
Memory: “The stars still shone in the sky”
Lost in the pell-mell rush to denigrate his memory was the 8oth anniversary of Churchill becoming Prime Minster, 10 May 1940. I thought of his words as I read the ignorant, ill-informed, false attacks on his character. They occurred amid protest over a tragic event that had nothing to do with him. He wrote at the end of Their Finest Hour:
And now this Britain, and its far-spread association of states and dependencies, which had seemed on the verge of ruin, whose very heart was about to be pierced, had been for fifteen months concentrated upon the war problem….With a gasp of astonishment and relief the smaller neutrals and the subjugated states saw that the stars still shone in the sky…. But I and my faithful colleagues, who brooded with accurate information at the summit of the scene, had no lack of cares…. The Battle of France was lost, The Battle of Britain was won. The Battle of the Atlantic had now to be fought.
And now his defenders in far-spread association have concentrated on the slur problem. The battle for accurate information is still being fought. Who’d have thought his memory would ever be in jeopardy? Many faithful colleagues have joined the effort. The work goes on, the cause endures.
Letters to the Editors
“Donald Trump is no Winston Churchill, and the comparison is ludicrous.” John Ivison, National Post, 4 June 2020.
Mr. Ivison correctly writes that a comparison is ludicrous. Then he proceeds to state that Churchill was “massively flawed.” He says “Churchill ‘signed off’ on terms at the Yalta Conference that consigned tens of millions to Soviet Rule.” At that time Soviet troops occupied almost the whole of Eastern Europe. The only alternative for Churchill would have been to start a third World War. “Churchill was prime minister at the time of the Bengal famine in 1943 when an estimated three million people died. His only possible defence was that he was preoccupied by the war in Europe.” The fact is that on 8 October 1943 Churchill sent an order to Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, on the “actual famine,” saying “every effort must be made, even by the diversion of shipping urgently needed for war purposes to deal with local shortages.” —Terry Reardon, International Churchill Society Canada
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“Was Churchill a racist? Yes, but he still deserves respect.” —Max Hastings, The Sunday Times 14 June 2020.
Max Hastings writes that Winston Churchill’s decisions at the time of the 1943-44 Bengal famine were “the gravest blots on his lifetime reputation.” In fact my great-grandfather felt strongly the responsibility of empire and saw himself as bound in duty to advancing the well-being of its indigenous peoples.
Of course Britain did not meet all requested food deliveries in the famine: not only was Japan in control of the Bay of Bengal at the time, as well as Burma, Thailand and Malaya, but as Dr. Tirthankar Roy, of the London School of Economics, wrote: “The war cabinet . . . believed what the Bengalis told it: there was no shortage of food in Bengal.” And as Arthur Herman, nominated for a Pulitzer prize for his book Gandhi & Churchill, concluded: “Absent Churchill, India’s 1943 famine would have been worse.” —Randolph Churchill, Crockham Hill, Kent
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A week later a reader quoted Viceroy Wavell, that Churchill didn’t answer him about food relief, so I had a go. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel…
Mr MacShane should educate himself on what Gandhi not Churchill did about the Bengal Famine. As did Arthur Herman, Pulitzer nominee for Gandhi and Churchill: “For all his reputation as a humanitarian, Gandhi did remarkably little about the emergency. The issue barely comes up in his letters.” In February 1944, Gandhi finally brought himself to reply to British anxieties about food relief, writing to Wavell: “I know that millions outside are starving for want of food. But I should feel utterly helpless if I went out and missed the food [i.e. independence] by which alone living becomes worthwhile.” Which of them was the humanitarian?
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“How Has Winston Churchill Become a Central Figure in the British Black Lives Matter Debate?” —Alex Hudson, Newsweek, 17 June 2020.
Churchill was manifestly not “a man of his time,” and you incorrectly represent his racial attitudes. From his twenties to his eighties, his views on the rights of native peoples marked him as a dangerous radical in the establishment of the day. Most of his alleged slurs of Indians, for example, are hearsay from Leopold Amery, who crammed more racist epithets into one of his personal diaries than Churchill ever imagined. Churchill meanwhile praised “the unsurpassed bravery” of 2.5 million “Indian soldiers and officers, both Moslem and Hindu [and] the response of the Indian peoples, no less than the conduct of their soldiers,” in World War II. —Richard M. Langworth
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“The Churchill factor: Boris Johnson would rather everyone talked about Winston.” —Otto English, Politico, 15 June 2020.
Castrating people is a new Churchill outrage—and I thought I’d heard them all. Churchill did not advocate for Boer War concentration camps. In his maiden speech (18 February 1901) he complimented the Boers’ “unusual humanity and generosity” in the war and urged a generous peace. He did fruitlessly argue with his Boer jailer about equal rights for native Africans. He did say dreadful things about Gandhi, though the elephant crack is pure fiction. And he also said: “Mr. Gandhi has gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the Untouchables.” (Gandhi replied with a “good recollection” of Churchill and opined “that I can always rely on his sympathy and goodwill.”) Gandhi took a regrettably detached view of the 1943 Bengal famine; Churchill didn’t. Arthur Herman, biographer of them both wrote: “Absent Churchill, Bengal’s Famine would have been worse.”
The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya had more native opponents than supporters. Both it and the local government indulged in atrocities, though the Mau Mau’s were worse. If Mr. English would consult the cabinet minutes, however, he would find only two instances where Churchill mentioned the Mau Mau. In one he was concerned over loss of life. In another he warned against “mass executions.” Jomo Kenyatta, father of modern Kenya, said: “Mau Mau was a disease which had been eradicated, and must never be remembered again.” —RML
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“What Churchill’s legacy means for the country now.” Jessica Baldwin, Camden News Journal, June 18th.
Ms. Baldwin says it is immoral to look at the “reality” of Churchill “and still believe him to be unsullied.” Of course he was sullied. She correctly notes his support for the Dardanelles/Gallipoli operation and the Black and Tans. As to the rest of her catalogue, Churchill once said: “…it would hardly be possible to state the opposite of the truth more compendiously.”
Churchill didn’t “partition” Ireland. He negotiated the Irish Treaty which gave the Republic independence. Tanks to Tonypandy? They hadn’t been invented yet. In cabinet he spoke of the Mau Mau twice, once to warn against “mass executions.” Bengalis starved from several factors, despite Churchill’s efforts. (What was Gandhi’s position on the famine? Detached and non-committal.)
Britain didn’t go to war “to save the Jews” but to save liberty. Churchill jailed Britain’s leading fascist Oswald Mosley—an odd act for an alleged fascist. The colonial war effort was often cited by Churchill. He praised “the unsurpassed bravery” of 2.5 million “Indian soldiers and officers, both Moslem and Hindu.” Serious inquiry will show that Churchill believed people of all colors should enjoy the same rights, and that it was the mission of his country to protect those rights.
We can believe Churchill was always right, and we can believe with Ms. Baldwin that we’ve been “fed a line.” Churchill himself offered a third approach: “It seems to me, and I dare say it seems to you, that the path of wisdom lies somewhere between these scarecrow extremes.” —RML
“Nuking the Maralinga people”
In March I published a modest glossary, “Churchill Derangement Syndrome: A is for Aryans, R is to Racism.” How far “CDS” has progressed since may be seen by a correspondent who replied: “N is for nuking the Maralinga people.”
I seriously investigated this charge, which was new to me. I carefully read the link above, and about Australians who witnessed the 1952 nuclear tests and preserved them in memory. The Churchill Documents and several scholars offer accurate data. Conclusions:
(1) You can’t have nuclear weapons without testing whether they work. (2) Australian permission for testing in the uninhabited Monte Bello islands was sought in 1950 by Prime Minister Clement Attlee. (3) Churchill had replaced Attlee when the tests occurred: two on the islands in 1952, two in the Great Victoria Desert in 1953.
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Moral considerations were considered, but they involved wildlife, not people. On 21 May 1952 Lt. Col. Lipton (Lab., Lambeth Central) questioned Churchill over the destruction of animal life. Churchill replied, trying to be humorous:
The report of a recent special survey showing that there is very little animal or bird life on Monte Bello Islands was one of the factors in the choice of the site for the test of the United Kingdom atomic weapon. I should add, however, that an expedition which went to the islands fifty years ago reported that giant rats, wild cats, and wallabies were seen, and these may have caused the Hon. Member some anxiety. However, the officer who explored the islands recently says that he found only some lizards, two sea eagles and what looked like a canary sitting on a perch.
Emrys Hughes (Lab., South Ayshire) was not amused: “There are still civilized people in this country who are interested in bird and animal life.” This finally produced a mention of humans—by Mr. Churchill: “Certainly I think everything should be done to avoid the destruction of bid life and animal life and also of human life.” Churchill may been referring to his well-known belief that the bomb’s apocalyptic nature might discourage its use.
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(4) The next tests occurred in 1956, on the Monte Bellos and Australian mainland. These did produce fall-out exposure for some people (the numbers are uncertain). The buck stopsp with the Prime Minister, but the PM was now Anthony Eden. Churchill was over a year retired. (5) Therefore, Churchill did not “nuke the Maralinga people.” (6) Massive deserts and uninhabited islands are obviously the best places for nuclear testing. (7) Sixty years later, some Australian veterans who witnessed the original tests developed cancer. Their opinions were divided as to why they contracted it.
(8) The tests led to the nuclear umbrella Britain and America provided Australia, considering the proximity of two expansionist communist states. (9) The Soviet Union’s last nuclear test was in 1990, the UK’s in 1991. America stopped in 1992, France and China in 1996. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty of 1996 placed a de facto moratorium on testing. India (twice), Pakistan (twice) and North Korea (six times) have since violated the moratorium.
“Subsidiary craters spouting forth”
Churchill said when attacked by the son of a harsh critic: “Isn’t it enough to have this parent volcano continually erupting in our midst? And now we are to have these subsidiary craters spouting forth the same unhealthy fumes!”
To Arthur Herman’s truths about the Bengal Famine, a reader asked about Japan’s post-invasion plans for India, on which I had offered the Japan’s occupation of the Philippines:
A better example would be Malaya where there was a large resident Indian community. How many Indians did the Japanese slaughter there? And how could the Japanese have topped the British record for allowing famines in its colonies? While you’re at it, could you please present any evidence that Japan had actually intended to conquer India and had the capability to do so without compromising its main objective in China?
Ever obedient to readers’ every whim: Imperial Japan sought to change Malaya’s official language to Japanese. Malayans were expected to bow to Japanese. Chinese fared particularly harshly, but Malays and Indians were not exempt. The 11/43 Greater East Asia Conference did not include Malaya because the Japanese military wished to annex it. Japan’s plans for India are well detailed. Of course, in the euphoria of 1941, Imperial Japan believed it could do much that turned out to be a little optimistic.
The occupations moderated when Japan started to lose the war. Thanks, in part, as Churchill said, “to the unsurpassed bravery” of 2.5 million “Indian soldiers and officers, both Moslem and Hindu [and] the response of the Indian peoples.” As Arthur Herman wrote, in the 20th century in peacetime, the Raj “handled famines with efficiency.” For balanced pros and cons on Britain’s role in India see Dr. Tintharkar Roy, How British Rule Changed India’s Economy.