Current Churchill Contentions: “The Invasion of the Idiots”

Current Churchill Contentions: “The Invasion of the Idiots”

“Cur­rent Con­tentions” was deliv­ered at Hills­dale College’s Cen­ter for Con­struc­tive Alter­na­tives sem­i­nar on “Churchill and the Movies,” 27 March 2019. For the video, please click here.

contentions

Edit­ed tran­script: The orig­i­nal speech includ­ed cer­tain sub­jects cov­ered ear­li­er and else­where. These are sum­ma­rized below, and pro­vid­ed with links to the orig­i­nal texts. The video, which is unabridged, includes ques­tions and answers with the audi­ence.

Churchill’s World of 1932

Eighty-sev­en years ago, Churchill was here in Michi­gan, in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, on a U.S. lec­ture tour. East, west, north, and south he rode the rails, “liv­ing all day on my back in a rail­way com­part­ment and address­ing in the evening large audi­ences.” He con­clud­ed, star­tling­ly for some­one with his back­ground, that it was the hard­est work he’d had in his life.

In Detroit on Feb­ru­ary 5th, Hin­du demon­stra­tors protest­ed his oppo­si­tion to the Gov­ern­ment of India Act. A dozen detec­tives sup­ple­ment­ed his faith­ful body­guard, Wal­ter Thomp­son. Only a few weeks before, he’d been knocked down and near­ly killed by a car in New York City. His first words on regain­ing con­scious­ness were, “They almost got me that time, Thomp­son!” Imag­ine how that would have changed his­to­ry.

Though fear­less of pro­tes­tors, Churchill nev­er talked about domes­tic pol­i­tics abroad—a prac­tice that today seems almost antique. His 1932 lec­tures were con­sis­tent with a life­long theme: Anglo-Amer­i­can uni­ty. On March 1st in Ann Arbor, he railed against rash pro­pos­als for dis­ar­ma­ment in the face of tyran­nies: Nation­al Social­ism and Sovi­et Social­ism, which he com­pared to the North and South Poles, equal­ly unin­hab­it­able. The Eng­lish-Speak­ing Peo­ples, he said, must unite to com­bat the world’s mis­eries. I thank Dick Marsh of Ann Arbor, who is with us today, for these details.

Current Contentions

Alas the noble sen­ti­ments that drove Churchill all his life have late­ly tak­en back­stage to vio­lent con­tentions, spread by the Inter­net, par­tic­u­lar­ly social media, and bad movies from The Crown to Viceroy’s House. Not a month pass­es when he is not accused of some­thing dread­ful, from xeno­pho­bia and racism to misog­y­ny and war crimes. Farhad Man­joo wrote in The New York Times: “Thanks to the mal­leabil­i­ty of dig­i­tal media and the jet fuel of net­work viral­i­ty, a dig­i­tal lie can spread more quick­ly, and cause more dam­age, than an ana­log one.”

Con­fronting this busy indus­try is a goal of the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, and our web depart­ment, “Truths & Here­sies.” Last year the cacoph­o­ny got so loud that, with one of our con­trib­u­tors, Andrew Roberts, we con­tem­plat­ed a “Rapid-Response Team.” Writ­ing for a major news­pa­per, we’d answer each flap­doo­dle as it came. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the only paper inter­est­ed was Britain’s The Sun. And Andrew and I didn’t think it dig­ni­fied to pub­lish schol­ar­ly rebut­tals along­side pho­tos of star­lets in string biki­nis.

Assault
Lustige Blät­ter, Berlin, Jan­u­ary 1941.

Churchill is attacked more broad­ly today than in 1940. Back then, the Nazis just called him a drunk. Today’s crit­ics tear him down with a longer litany: his self-cen­tered­ness; his lik­ing for gas war­fare and car­pet bomb­ing; the rude things he said about Hin­dus or Jews or Mus­lims; his dis­dain for any­one oth­er than card-car­ry­ing Eng­lish­men.

Pol­i­cy cri­tiques range from what he did—like defend­ing Antwerp and attack­ing the Dardanelles—to what he didn’t do—not bomb­ing Auschwitz, not sav­ing Poland at Yal­ta. That last item is about the only thing the Sovi­ets didn’t accuse him of after the war. See “Assault on Churchill,”

.”

 

 

Where do people get these notions?

The Indi­an his­to­ri­an Zareer Masani offered a crisp expla­na­tion in “Churchill a War Crim­i­nal? Get Your His­to­ry Right.” These attacks are “skill­ful­ly orches­trat­ed by a few artic­u­late and ambi­tious indi­vid­u­als, pub­lic­i­ty-hun­gry detrac­tors [who accuse him of hav­ing] more blood on his hands than Hitler, Stal­in and Mao put togeth­er. There was a time when such absurd com­par­isons would have been dis­missed as the rav­ings of fan­ta­sists. But today they attract a Twit­ter fol­low­ing of gullible mil­lions, hap­py to swal­low the tallest tale if it’s retweet­ed often enough. Bash­ing Churchill [has] become a sure-fire way of attract­ing a mass fol­low­ing, sell­ing pot­boil­er books and reviv­ing flag­ging polit­i­cal careers.”

No seri­ous his­to­ri­an claims Churchill was infal­li­ble. It dimin­ish­es him to treat him as super­hu­man. Accom­plished schol­ars have cat­a­logued his con­tro­ver­sies. It is fair to con­sid­er them. But not assas­sins who cre­ate imag­i­nary sins by selec­tive edit­ing.

The elec­tron­ic lynch mob uses Twit­ter and Facebook and the online tabloids. They remind me of a quip by the late Umber­to Eco: “Social media,” he said, “gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, with­out harm­ing the com­mu­ni­ty. Then they were quick­ly silenced, but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize win­ner. It’s the inva­sion of the idiots.”

Gertrude Bell to Scott Kelly

snipe
Gertrude Bell and friends at Giza, 12 March 1921. Camel rid­ers, L-R: Clemen­tine and Win­ston Churchill, Bell, Lawrence, body­guard Wal­ter Thomp­son. The snipe that Bell lat­er com­mit­ted sui­cide because of Churchill is far-fetched.

Fol­low­ing Walk­ing with Des­tiny, Andrew Roberts’ excel­lent Churchill biog­ra­phy, one review­er accused him of fail­ing to say Churchill’s actions in the Mid­dle East drove the Ara­bist Gertrude Bell to sui­cide. That’s a new one!  It was get­ting so that we actu­al­ly wel­comed new ones.

At the 1921 Cairo Con­fer­ence, Bell got all she want­ed from Churchill: break-up of the Ottoman Empire; Arab states in Iraq and Jor­dan; her choice of kings on their thrones. She died five years lat­er, but always spoke well of Churchill. Inci­den­tal­ly, it was Bell who talked him out of cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate Kur­dis­tan. In ret­ro­spect, that would have avoid­ed much trou­ble. Par­tic­u­lar­ly for the Kurds.

Anoth­er crit­ic said Churchill’s biggest gaffe as Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer was to fix the pound at $4.10 in 1929, caus­ing unem­ploy­ment in the 1930s. In fact the pound, which was worth only $3.66 in 1920, rose to its pre­war lev­el of $4.80 by 1929. The deval­u­a­tion to $4.10 occurred when Britain left the Gold Stan­dard in 1931, over two years after Churchill had left office. A post-World War I reces­sion caused the pound to sink, not the oth­er way round.

* * *

Next, retired U.S. astro­naut Scott Kel­ly inno­cent­ly tweet­ed that Churchill was “one of the great­est lead­ers of mod­ern times.” “Like a mete­or storm bom­bard­ing a cap­sule in orbit, furi­ous trolls attacked Kel­ly on social media,” report­ed the Lon­don Evening Stan­dard. Churchill was a big­ot, a mass-mur­der­er and a racist.

Kel­ly grov­eled: “Did not mean to offend by quot­ing Churchill…. “I will go and edu­cate myself fur­ther on his racist views which I do not sup­port.” The news­pa­per mocked his meek col­lapse: “Of course Churchill was a great leader. It was utter­ly craven of Scott Kel­ly to apol­o­gize for say­ing so. The only space the astro­naut ought to con­cen­trate on is that between his ears.”

The Crown

movies
John Lith­gow as WSC in “The Crown.”

I’m going to describe four cur­rent con­tentions I thought might espe­cial­ly inter­est you. Since our sub­ject is Churchill and the Movies, let’s start with a real­ly bad film series.

No soon­er had I admired the fair, most­ly bal­anced and accu­rate PBS TV series Churchill’s Secret (on his June 1953 stroke) than I was grum­bling through Netflix’s The Crown. It’s about the present Queen’s ascent to the throne, and her first years as monarch.

Is it real­ly so big a deal? Not in itself. But thanks to The Crown we’ll inevitably be told by some­body that Churchill’s stroke was kept from the Queen, that he “forced” her to move to Buck­ing­ham Palace, that he paint­ed the same scene repeat­ed­ly in his Black Dog of despair. Pro­duc­tions like The Crown sug­gest that truth and accu­ra­cy mat­ter less than style and per­cep­tion; that real­i­ty must bend to fit the creator’s mind­set. For details see  The Crown: A Not So Crown­ing Achieve­ment.”

Lady Castlerosse

Castlerosse
Churchill’s por­trait, “Lady Castlerosse,” cir­ca 1930, paint­ed in Clementine’s pres­ence. (Churchill Her­itage Ltd., reprint­ed by kind per­mis­sion)

We move now to the pas­time of attack­ing Churchill’s char­ac­ter. Last year Britain’s Chan­nel 4 aired a breath­less doc­u­men­tary, “Churchill’s Secret Affair.” In the 1930s, they said, Churchill con­duct­ed a four-year affair with Doris Delev­ingne, Lady Castlerosse. The romance took place at the Riv­iera vil­la of the Amer­i­can actress Max­ine Elliott, where they were occa­sion­al guests.

This was a prof­itable whop­per for the tabloid inter­net. One news­pa­per even pro­duced a wit­ness, the attrac­tive mod­el Cara Delev­ingne, Doris’s grand-niece. “It was a tra­di­tion in our fam­i­ly,” she explained. “My moth­er told me.” It took me 2500 words to unrav­el this one in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor, and I’m not going to bore you with that. (For details see “Too Easy to be Good: The Churchill Mar­riage and Lady Castlerosse.”)

The Bengal Famine, 1943

Most pop­u­lar by far among dri­ve-by ambush­es is the 1943-44 famine in Ben­gal, India. The most com­ments we get on it are from Indi­ans, which is under­stand­able. The Ben­gal food short­age was the great­est human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in India’s his­to­ry. Up to three mil­lion Ben­galis died. Pro­por­tion­al­ly, think 16 mil­lion Amer­i­cans.

Gary Oldman’s Oscar for the Churchill film Dark­est Hour was protest­ed in the Wash­ing­ton Post by the Indi­an politi­cian Shashi Tha­roor. “Hol­ly­wood rewards a mass mur­der­er,” and the Indi­an Express called WSC “an unpop­u­lar racist.” As Churchill once cracked, “The Hon. Mem­ber is nev­er lucky in the coin­ci­dence of his facts with the truth.”  (For details see “Ben­gal Famine: The Hottest of Churchill Dia­tribes.”

The email we received from Indi­ans on Churchill is remark­ably bal­anced. One crit­i­cal writer admit­ted that the British in India end­ed slav­ery and Sut­ti; and helped to remove the caste sys­tem. Sut­ti, as you may know, was the prac­tice of wives throw­ing them­selves (or being thrown) on top of their dead hus­bands’ funer­al pyres. “The ladies went to their deaths with dig­ni­ty, in the man­ner of a cel­e­bra­tion,” read one account.

Well, if all the British did was to remove slav­ery, abol­ish Sut­ti, and attack the caste sys­tem, those were pret­ty big things. Very many of Churchill’s remarks on India show him to be a man who exalt­ed above all, despite his impe­ri­al­ist upbring­ing, the rule of law under a just constitution—inspired in India’s case by Britain’s. That was anoth­er good thing the old Raj left in its wake. Along, of course, with crick­et.

Welsh Strikers, 1910-11

strikers
Police block­ade a street dur­ing the Tony­pandy riots of 1910. (Wiki­me­dia)

Final­ly, just last month came anoth­er out­burst, reviv­ing a “gold­en oldie” nursed by British social­ists for over a cen­tu­ry: that Churchill sent the army to kill strik­ers in the Rhond­da Val­ley, Wales in 1910-11. The Guardian went right to work. “Do you con­sid­er Win­ston Churchill a hero or a vil­lain?” they asked John McDon­nell, the Labour Par­ty shad­ow chan­cel­lor of the exche­quer. “Vil­lain,”  Mr. McDon­nell shot back: “Tony­pandy.” A two-word gotcha! The Guardian then sup­plied an inac­cu­rate rehash of the Tony­pandy riots, where Churchill is sup­posed to have sent troops to attack strik­ers.

McDon­nell was crushed under a mas­sive reac­tion by press and public—a sign that the truth is win­ning. Iron­i­cal­ly, back in the day, the same Guardian was defend­ing Churchill for his mod­er­a­tion. (See “Churchill, Tony­pandy and ‘Pound­land Lenin.'”)

In 1965 the BBC inter­viewed sur­viv­ing Welsh strik­ers, includ­ing Will Main­war­ing, who had been one of the youngest mil­i­tants in the South Wales coal­fields. Half a cen­tu­ry on, he still spoke with pride of cham­pi­oning the min­ers and of his record as a pro­tes­tor. Of Churchill’s deci­sion to send troops to the Rhond­da in 1910 Main­war­ing said:

We nev­er thought that Win­ston Churchill had exceed­ed his nat­ur­al respon­si­bil­i­ty as Home Sec­re­tary. The mil­i­tary did not com­mit one sin­gle act that allows the slight­est resent­ment by the strik­ers. On the con­trary, we regard­ed the mil­i­tary as hav­ing come in the form of friends to mod­i­fy the oth­er­wise ruth­less atti­tude of the police forces.

Churchill’s Defenders Welcome Allies

For forty years, much of my work has been to defend Churchill’s good name from igno­rance, some of it around for a cen­tu­ry. It still cir­cu­lates, but I’ve noticed how lit­tle now goes unchal­lenged.

When­ev­er a slan­der sur­faces nowa­days, the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project is inun­dat­ed with email ask­ing us to pro­claim the truth. And we’re not alone. Many sources—the Churchill Archives Cen­tre, the var­i­ous Churchill soci­eties, aca­d­e­mics, press and the pub­lic online, share the defense. This is an encour­age­ment to us, to bal­anced biog­ra­phers, and to any­one who wish­es to under­stand the great­est Briton. The only thing worse than fight­ing with allies, as Churchill said, is fight­ing with­out them.

5 thoughts on “Current Churchill Contentions: “The Invasion of the Idiots”

  1. I agree Red­dit is noto­ri­ous­ly far left­ist (Holodomor denial is rama­pant) and infest­ed with Russ­ian, Chi­nese and Iran­ian trolls who seek to sow dis­cord, spread pro­pa­gan­da and indulge in whataboutism and lies.

    Red­dit at one point thought Churchill was worse than Hitler ! I jest but only slight­ly.

    How­ev­er [this](https://www.reddit.com/r/HistoryPorn/comments/bkjflm/a_21yearold_winston_churchill_as_cornet_of_the/) recent post is one such exam­ple of the changed sce­nario on Red­dit.

    The lies are down vot­ed and the truth is up vot­ed.

    Things ARE chang­ing on Red­dit and I hope it stays this way.

    As usu­al thank you and please keep up the great work !

  2. Thanks, that’s most encour­ag­ing. My son, who mon­i­tors Red­dit from Sil­i­con Val­ley, says: “Red­dit is most­ly left­ist snark, and any­one can say any­thing (though the site has its own com­ment eti­quette), so there’s usu­al­ly a lot of crap when Churchill things come up. Also note that Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da trolls are very present and active — I’ve seen troll posts about Brex­it men­tion­ing Churchill — but the Red­dit com­mu­ni­ty appears to be aware of them and attempts to deal with them. Usu­al­ly, posts about Churchill appear under the forums (sub­red­dits) /r/quotes, /r/HistoryPorn, and /r/TodayILearned”

    Some links:
    Churchill posts from the last month. (Ignore any­thing with less than 100 points.)

    Posts linked to richardlangworth.com.

    Some­one is doing spade­work for the truth—click here.

  3. I agree the truth is win­ning. On Red­dit until mid 2018, when­ev­er Churchill was men­tioned, peo­ple imme­di­ate­ly accused him of geno­cide, mass mur­der and oth­er nasty things. Now how­ev­er the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fer­ent, slow­ly but sure­ly Red­dit is chang­ing. Peo­ple have read up on the mat­ter and now put forth a strong case in defence of Churchill and skill­ful­ly com­bat such vicious lies. Your web­site is invalu­able and has played no small part in aid of all this. I thank you, I hope it stays this way and please keep up the good work !

  4. I def­i­nite­ly qual­i­fy as an ally to the side of the Good Guys and Sir Win­ston is one of the great Good Guys in his­to­ry. My par­ents admired him, my aunts and uncles admired him, my god­par­ents admired him, my grand­par­ents admired him which is remark­able since they came out ofthe Red Clyde and leaned strong­ly Labour. In my expe­ri­ence, those with mil­i­tary expe­ri­ence in WWI and WWII had respect­ed Churchill the man for his courage and for his mil­i­tary ser­vice in the front lines. We always have to remem­ber Noah. God said he was a good man IN HIS GENERATION. We can­not expect WSC to be PC accord­ing to our lights. But upon the whole and it is upon the whole that such things must be judged British influ­ence was and is a kind­ly influ­ence. The influ­ence of Sir Win­ston Churchill is a kind­ly and noble influ­ence on us all. Besides being the great war leader he was one of the great­est and most pro­lif­ic authors of the Eng­lish lan­guage.

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