A letter to The Guardian presents a new Churchill Transgression. His 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature (for “mastery of historical and biographical description [and] oratory defending exalted human values”) is undeserved! The writer says:
As historian David Reynolds has detailed, the six volumes of Churchill’s history [sic; it was memoir not history] of the Second World War were built upon selective memory forged out of ego, not least the “great man’s” fleeting memory of the 1943 Bengal famine, in which more than 3.5 million people perished, to a large extent as a direct consequence of Churchill’s policies and actions. His hatred of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent is a matter of record.
It is always intriguing to read a new chapter in the unfolding catalogue of Churchill’s Perfidy. Even if the evidence offered consists of misunderstanding Professor Reynolds, swallowing an empty myth, and seizing on an untoward comment in a moment of frustration (“I hate Indians”).
This letter deserves a Nobel Prize of its own. To quote Churchill’s famous 1944 raspberry: “I should think it was hardly possible to state the opposite of the truth with more precision.”
What the Nobel was for…
1) It is a fundamental error to believe that Churchill’s Nobel Prize for Literature was for The Second World War
. It was awarded in 1953, when the war memoirs were still incomplete. The Nobel Committee noted instead his autobiography, My Early Life,
and his biography, Marlborough.
The scholar Leo Strauss
“the greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding.” Churchill’s war volumes may have influenced the Committee, so widely were they praised. But none of the Committee’s reviewers mention The Second World War
in their comments.
Caesar and Cicero
In awarding the prize, Sigfrid Siwertz
of the Swedish Academy called Churchill
who also has the gift of Cicero’s
pen. Never before has one of history’s leading figures been so close to us by virtue of such an outstanding combination. In his great work about his ancestor, John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough
, Churchill writes, “Words are easy and many, while great deeds are difficult and rare.” Yes, but great, living, and persuasive words are also difficult and rare. And Churchill has shown that they too can take on the character of great deeds.*
Referring to his war speeches, the Nobel committee also cited Churchill’s “brilliant oratory defending exalted human values.” Siwertz writes of “the resilience and pungency of his phrases.” He quotes Lord Birkenhead’s description : a “glow of conviction and appeal, instinctive and priceless, which constitutes true eloquence.” Churchill’s oratory, Siwertz continues, “is swift, unerring in its aim, and moving in its grandeur.”
Who Wrote What
2) David Reynolds’ In Command of History
is an excellent study of the war memoirs. Reynolds explains how Churchill employed teams of experts to help compile its six lengthy volumes. But Reynolds concludes that it was a classic memoir. It was Churchill’s case, to be sure, but eloquently presented. Churchill himself signed off on every word. Given such a talented team as Reynolds describes, how did they manage to offer only “selective memory forged out of ego”? And whom does the writer think wrote Churchill’s war speeches?
Bengal Famine: again
3) Slander about the Bengal Famine is getting to be a very old chestnut. It was refuted beginning 2008, with Arthur Herman’s Pulitzer-nominated Gandhi & Churchill.
Hillsdale College’s Fateful Questions,
volume #19 of Churchill Documents, shows the sustained effort Churchill and his Cabinet made to get grain to India
. The documents show they scoured the stockpiles from Iraq to Australia, tried to come up with substitute grains, even implored Roosevelt (who refused). The documents support Arthur Herman’s conclusion: ”Without Churchill, the Bengal Famine would have been worse.”
Priorities for India
4) In 1942, the Indian Congress Party
prescribed only passive resistance if Japan invaded India. This affronted Churchill. “I hate Indians,” he exclaimed. Affronted he might be, given what the Axis Powers had in mind for India. William F. Buckley, Jr.
said of this remark: “I don’t doubt that the famous gleam came to his eyes when he said this, with mischievous glee—an offense, in modern convention, of genocidal magnitude.”
Yet this was the same Churchill who set out three priorities for the new Viceroy of India, General Wavell: a) “Defense of India from Japanese menace.” b) “The material and cultural conditions of the many peoples of India.” c) “Assuage the strife between the Hindus and Moslems and to induce them to work together for the common good.” After winning the war, feeding the people. Some hater.
Where do people get these false, sad notions? The late Harry Jaffa
said it stems from a public appetite for articles which denigrate nobility or idealism:
Young people are led to believe that to succeed in politics is to prove oneself a clever or lucky scoundrel. The detraction of the great has become a passion for those who cannot suffer greatness.
Professor Jaffa said that thirty years ago. He hadn’t seen anything yet.
*An inexpensive book from the Nobel Library, containing Siwertz’s presentation speech, Churchill’s response, with excerpts from My Early Life
and an appreciation by Hugh Trevor-Roper
, is Albert Camus – Winston Churchill
(1971). The book also excerpts The Island Race.
a condensation of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples. HESP,
unpublished at the time of the prize-giving.
4 thoughts on ““Churchill’s Unmerited Nobel Prize””
Sometimes I can’t believe how a generation could be so ungrateful. Regardless of his beliefs or character, I don’t think anyone ever lived saved more human lives. A true hero.
Thanks to the late Bill Rusher for this quatrain by the 19th century poet Coventry Patmore:
”For want of me the world’s course will not fail.
When all its work is done the lie shall rot.
The Truth is great and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.”
It saddens me to see generations that seek to tear down the great to fit their own beliefs, especially when the great are no longer around to defend themselves. We are fortunate to have people like the writer of this article. He uses the historical record to defend Churchill, who deserves to be defended, especially in this case.
As one who has read Churchill’s canon almost in entirety I find it incredible that anyone who has read his works could doubt the worthiness of his Nobel Prize for Literature. In oratory he is a Pericles or Cicero; in history and biography he is a Thucydides or Plutarch; in quantity and quality of prose he is a Dickens. In essay he is a Montaigne or Orwell. In fact, Churchill is one of the few indispensable authors of the modern age. His greatness as an author endures as ephemeral authors fade away. I have said nothing of his humanity or statesmanship, two of his most important and enduring qualities. The real omission for Churchill was that he did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize. But as far Literature is concerned all I can say is “what took them so long?”