Churchill: Scattershot Snipe and the Answers to It

Churchill: Scattershot Snipe and the Answers to It

My broth­er Andrew Roberts, author of the new and vital Churchill: Walk­ing with Des­tiny, pass­es along a read­er snipe which nails rick­ety new planks on the creepy ship Churchill Snipes. Incred­i­ble as it may seem, the writer man­ages to cre­ate a few we’ve nev­er heard before. They will be added to my “Assault on Churchill: A Reader’s Guide.” As will anoth­er far­ra­go by a loopy astro­naut, about which you’ve prob­a­bly already heard.

Snipe synopsis

Snipe 1) “Why doesn’t Andrew Roberts spell out Churchill’s mis­takes? They were not all that inno­cent.”

Whole sem­i­nars could be devot­ed to whether Churchill’s mistakes—in fact exhaus­tive­ly cat­a­logued by Roberts—were inno­cent and well intend­ed, or mali­cious­ly cal­cu­lat­ed. In forty years I’ve read noth­ing to indi­cate the lat­ter. The charge is ridicu­lous.

Snipe 2)  “His war tac­tics were not very good despite advice from Amer­i­cans. In World War I he togeth­er with Kitch­en­er pro­posed attack­ing Turkey at Gal­lipoli, with a total lack of knowl­edge of Turk­ish pow­er.

Wrong. Churchill’s first impulse was to get at Ger­many by naval action via the Baltic Sea. On 28 Octo­ber 1914 Turkey entered the war on he side of the Ger­mans. The Turks mined the Dar­d­anelles, bot­tling up the Rus­sians, who appealed for help. Churchill ordered a naval bom­bard­ment of out­er Dar­d­anelles forts “from a safe dis­tance,” think­ing “the days of forc­ing the Dar­d­anelles were over.”

Easy vic­to­ries in ear­ly skir­mish­es made him think again, espe­cial­ly when Mediter­ranean com­man­der Admi­ral Car­den said he thought the Navy could force the straits. The War Cab­i­net believed an allied fleet appear­ing off Con­stan­tino­ple might force Turkey to sur­ren­der.  The Gal­lipoli land­ing occurred months after the Dar­d­anelles oper­a­tion stalled. On-scene com­man­ders botched both actions. All of this is clear­ly pre­sent­ed in Chap­ter 12 of my book, Win­ston Churchill: Myth and Real­i­tySee also “Dar­d­anelles-Gal­lipoli Cen­te­nary” here­in.

Those poor Iraqis

Snipe 3) “In 1920-22 he bombed Iraqi tribes with air­planes instead of giv­ing them inde­pen­dence because he want­ed the oil from Mosul for his fleet.”

It wasn’t his fleet, it was Britain’s. Its oil was secured by the Anglo-Per­sian oil deal. Churchill wasn’t even in charge of the Admi­ral­ty in 1920-22. As Colo­nial Sec­re­tary he not only gave Iraq inde­pen­dence, he yearned to wash his hands of it. Writ­ing Prime Min­is­ter Lloyd George, he called Iraq an “ungrate­ful vol­cano” from which Britain got “noth­ing worth hav­ing.” (The thought sounds eeri­ly famil­iar today.)

On aer­i­al bomb­ing, Mar­tin Gilbert wrote in Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. IV, pages 796-97: “At the begin­ning of June Churchill learnt from the War Office that aer­i­al action had been tak­en on the Low­er Euphrates, not to sup­press a riot, but to put pres­sure on cer­tain vil­lages to pay their tax­es. He telegraphed at once in protest to [Mid­dle East Admin­is­tra­tor] Sir Per­cy Cox. “Aer­i­al action is a legit­i­mate means of quelling dis­tur­bances or enforc­ing main­te­nance of order,” he wrote, “but it should in no cir­cum­stances be employed in sup­port of pure­ly admin­is­tra­tive mea­sures such as col­lec­tion of rev­enue.”

Cox replied that the bomb­ing had not been to pun­ish vil­lages for not pay­ing tax­es but to sup­press rebels test­ing whether Iraqi author­i­ties could rely on Britain. Churchill “with­drew his rebuke, minut­ing on Cox’s telegram a short but emphat­ic reply: ‘Cer­tain­ly I am a great believ­er in air pow­er and will help it for­ward in every way.'”

A Snipe over Gertrude

Snipe 4)  “Gertrude Bell com­mit­ted sui­cide because of him.”

Why ever for? From Churchill, Gertrude Bell got every­thing she want­ed in the Mid­dle East: break-up of the Ottoman Empire; Arab States in Iraq and Jor­dan; Arab kings Feisal and Abdul­lah as respec­tive kings. (Bell hoped they would become uni­fy­ing fig­ures; Abdullah’s descen­dant rules Jor­dan today.) Bell suf­fered from pleurisy. She died of an over­dose of sleep­ing pills, whether inten­tion­al or not is unknown. (Inci­den­tal­ly, it was Bell and Lawrence who talked Churchill out of cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate Kur­dis­tan. In ret­ro­spect, doing so would have spared the region less trou­ble.)

* * *

Snipe 5) “Prob­a­bly his biggest error was to fix the US$/£ exchange rate at 4.1 in 1929, the dam­age caused much unem­ploy­ment through­out the 1930s.”

Rub­bish. The post-World War I reces­sion and heavy debt sank the pound to $3.66 by 1920. Under Churchill as Chan­cel­lor  (1924-29) and with the Gold Stan­dard, it rose to $4.80, its pre­war lev­el. The pound’s deval­u­a­tion to $4.10 occurred after Britain left gold on 12 Sep­tem­ber 1930, over a year since Churchill had left office. Depres­sion and unem­ploy­ment caused the pound to sink, not the oth­er way round.

Snipe 6) “All that said, no one would have had the courage to con­tin­ue to bat­tle Hitler through all the years of World War II [but] we all need to be truth­ful about our politi­cians at all times.

Good. Get your facts right, then.

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