Petition Response to Churchill High School: Please Keep Your Name

Petition Response to Churchill High School: Please Keep Your Name

This is a reply to a July peti­tion to rename Win­ston Churchill High School, Bethes­da, Mary­land. Found­ed in 1964 as Potomac High School, its name was changed the fol­low­ing year to mark Sir Winston’s pass­ing. It is a dis­tin­guished school whose alum­ni include two sons of the late Jack Kemp, both of whom pur­sued their famous father’s sport. Jef­frey Allan Kemp (’77) was an NFL quar­ter­back; his broth­er Jim­my Kemp (’89) played in the CFL and is pres­i­dent of the Jack Kemp Foun­da­tion. State Sen­a­tor Cheryl Kagan (’79) serves in the Mary­land leg­is­la­ture. This let­ter went to Dr. Jack Smith, Super­in­ten­dent, Mont­gomery Coun­ty Pub­lic Schools. After gath­er­ing 1500+ sig­na­tures there has been lit­tle news of the peti­tion. Updates from local res­i­dents are wel­come. RML

Dear Super­in­ten­dent Smith: I write in oppo­si­tion to the peti­tion to rename Win­ston Churchill High School. A hard copy of this is in the mail, but this dig­i­tal ver­sion offers links which may be of inter­est.

The Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project has a dig­i­tal ref­er­ence to all of Win­ston Churchill’s 20 mil­lion pub­lished words—books, arti­cles, speech­es, pri­vate papers—and 60 mil­lion words about him in biogra­phies, doc­u­ments and mem­oirs. They prove that he is not guilty of the charges in the peti­tion report­ed by Cait­lyn Peetz in Bethes­da Mag­a­zine. I would be glad to par­tic­i­pate with your com­mit­tee or stu­dents by email or Zoom if they wish to exam­ine this ques­tion fur­ther.

The petition on India

The peti­tion argues that Churchill “stole grain from India to feed sol­diers in World War II.” Noth­ing of the kind occurred. Indi­an grain did feed sol­diers (most of them Indi­an), but it did not come from famine areas. In 1943, Churchill ordered the new Viceroy, Gen­er­al Wavell: “Every effort must be made, even by the diver­sion of ship­ping urgent­ly need­ed for war pur­pos­es, to deal with local short­ages, [pre­vent­ing] the hoard­ing of grain for a bet­ter mar­ket.” He also urged Wavell to ease the strife between Hin­dus and Mus­lims: “No form of demo­c­ra­t­ic Gov­ern­ment can flour­ish in India while so many mil­lions are by their birth exclud­ed from those fun­da­men­tal rights of equal­i­ty between man and man, upon which all healthy human soci­eties must stand.” (Ital­ics mine.)

In the midst of a world war, Churchill scoured every grain source from Iraq to Aus­tralia, which helped bring an end to the 1943-44 famine. Arthur Her­man, Pulitzer nom­i­nee for Gand­hi and Churchill, wrote: “Absent Churchill, the Ben­gal Famine would have been worse.” Attached is a chap­ter from my book, Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty, which explains Churchill’s actions in detail. I would be glad to send you a copy of the book for the school library.

“Beastly”

The peti­tion men­tions a pop­u­lar Churchill “quote”—which has only one source, and no oth­er occur­rences. Sup­pos­ed­ly Churchill said Indi­ans and their reli­gion were “beast­ly.” This is actu­al­ly hearsay, from the diaries of Leo Amery, Sec­re­tary of State for India. Amery was a good and decent man, but excitable and fiery. His own diaries are not lack­ing in racist lan­guage. In one sen­tence he used more racial pejo­ra­tives than Churchill used in his life. They include the most repul­sive term for black peo­ple. There is not one instance in our records of Churchill using that word.

What­ev­er he said, Churchill was refer­ring not to the Indi­an peo­ples but to Del­hi nation­al­ists, with whom Amery was nego­ti­at­ing. Why did Churchill use the term “beast­ly,” if indeed he did? The Indi­an his­to­ri­an Dr. Tirthankar Roy explains. In 1942:

…every­thing he said about Indi­ans and the Empire was relat­ed to the Indi­an nation­al­ist move­ment. Nego­ti­at­ing with Indi­an nation­al­ists dur­ing the war could be point­less and dan­ger­ous because the mod­er­ate nation­al­ists were demor­al­ized by dis­sen­sions and the rad­i­cal nation­al­ists want­ed the Axis pow­ers to win on the East­ern Front. No prime min­is­ter would be will­ing to fight a war and nego­ti­ate with the nation­al­ists at the same time.

On Africa

The peti­tion claims Churchill ordered Kenyans into camps “where they were sub­ject to severe tor­ture, mal­nu­tri­tion, beat­ings.” Churchill gave no such order. The Kenya Mau-Mau upris­ing had more native oppo­nents than sup­port­ers. Both it and the local gov­ern­ment indulged in atroc­i­ties, though the Mau-Mau’s were worse. There are only two instances where Churchill men­tioned the Kenya upris­ing in Cab­i­net. In one he expressed con­cern over loss of life. In the sec­ond 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.”

The peti­tion says Churchill “defend­ed the use of con­cen­tra­tion camps in South Africa.” There is no evi­dence, unless this refers to POW camps in the Boer War. (Churchill him­self was incar­cer­at­ed in one.) From age 25 (when he argued for black rights with his Boer cap­tor in Pre­to­ria), to age 80 (when he denied South Africa’s peren­ni­al demand to annex native-run pro­tec­torates), Churchill con­stant­ly sup­port­ed native rights in South Africa. Per­haps this is why Nel­son Man­dela, before address­ing a Joint Ses­sion in 1994, asked me for a copy of Churchill’s last speech to Con­gress.

For the rights of all

Dr. Smith, I have spent forty years study­ing Churchill and defend­ing his good name. He had 90 years to make polit­i­cal and strate­gic mis­takes, and they were some­times big ones. But assaults on his char­ac­ter and sense of jus­tice are unjus­ti­fied.

In his time, Churchill expressed sup­port for the rights of peo­ples of all col­ors, despite the pre­vail­ing prej­u­dices. His defend­ers some­times offer the excuse that he was “just a man of his time.” “Every­body,” they say, “was racist then.” Giv­en the truth, this is a dis­ser­vice. Again and again, Churchill’s views proved far in advance of his time.  As a result, the estab­lish­ment of his day often regard­ed him as a dan­ger­ous rad­i­cal.

Your high school deserves to keep his name. I note that one of the alter­na­tives pro­posed is the name of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass. His stat­ue, along with Churchill’s, is on our Hills­dale cam­pus. A few days ago, a stat­ue of Dou­glass in Rochester, New York, was ripped from its pedestal and hurled into a gul­ly. In the onward march of igno­rance, it appears no hero is safe.

Respect­ful­ly, Richard Lang­worth

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