Current Contentions: In Defense of Churchill (1): Cancel Culture

Current Contentions: In Defense of Churchill (1): Cancel Culture

Text of my Zoom address to the Chartwell Soci­ety of Port­land, Ore­gon on 10 May 2021, 81st anniver­sary of Churchill tak­ing office as Prime Min­is­ter. “Cur­rent Con­tentions: In Defense of Churchill” is avail­able as an iTunes audio file. For a copy, please email rlangworth@hillsdale.edu.

Part 1: Defense, defense

DefenseSen­a­tor Pack­wood, Jus­tice Gillette, mem­bers and guests of the Chartwell Soci­ety: I wel­come you, if only vir­tu­al­ly, so you won’t even be able to throw rolls if I say some­thing sil­ly. Tak­ing his first tv screen test, Sir Win­ston mut­tered: “Even though we have to sink to this lev­el, we always have to keep pace with mod­ern improve­ments.” At least you’ve made me put on a tie, which I haven’t done since the 2019 Hills­dale Col­lege Cruise.

Like every­one in our cowed and whipped world,  I bow before the awe­some pow­ers of the Wu Flu.[1] Defense, defense! We need a spark from God knows where, as Churchill said. Because if we’re pre­pared to be fright­ened and ruled by fear, then the only thing to do is fight to the last.

Seems we’ve heard such words before…

At least those alive and sen­tient on this day 81 years ago heard them—when as Jim West­wood says, Lord Hal­i­fax was not sum­moned to Buck­ing­ham Palace. It was that oth­er fel­low, the “half-beed Amer­i­can.” A civ­il ser­vant remarked: “I spent the day in a bright blue new suit from the Fifty Shilling Tai­lors, cheap and sen­sa­tion­al look­ing, which I felt was appro­pri­ate to the new Government.”

I’d like to quote Hills­dale Col­lege Pres­i­dent Lar­ry Arnn, whom you host­ed two years ago: “If nature has changed to the point where peo­ple are ready to be despo­tized, then they’re going to be despo­tized, because there are always those ready to do that to them, and there are a lot of them right now. Ulti­mate­ly that means the end of self-gov­ern­ment, where the ordi­nary per­son gets to decide anything.”

The alter­na­tive is the promise Churchill held out, which as Dr. Arnn says is also the promise of Amer­i­ca: “That each of us is enti­tled, under the laws of nature and of nature’s God, to live a full and human life.”[2] But if we believe in that alter­na­tive, we’re going to need great­ness and leadership.

Experts and the mental pandemic

I nev­er thought I’d see the day when we would grow accus­tomed to the idea that free peo­ple should be policed on the advice of experts who dis­agree with each oth­er and reverse them­selves. Dr. Arnn often quotes some­thing young Win­ston wrote to H.G. Wells in 1902, when Churchill was only 28:

“I can­not think that there can ever be a soci­ety gov­erned by experts,” he wrote. “Expert knowl­edge is nar­row knowledge…practical deci­sions involve weigh­ing all the fac­tors.”  Five decades lat­er he remarked: “Sci­en­tists should be on tap, but not on top.” [3]

No one can be an expert about all the fac­tors involved in, say, Covid. And even as the pan­dem­ic eas­es, the men­tal pan­dem­ic con­tin­ues. Iron­i­cal­ly, the most vir­u­lent expres­sions of men­tal distemper—the most fero­cious tocsins—are over here, and dimin­ish as you move east. They’re weaned some­what in Lon­don, and lose steam in Paris, where Pres­i­dent Macron, leader of the free world, speaks for the defense. Not one French stat­ue shall be top­pled, not one street renamed, he says, because they are part of our history.

By the time you get to Prague, or Budapest or Bratisla­va, in the old War­saw Pact, the toc­sins are bare­ly detectable. Thir­ty years ago, who would have guessed? It’s incred­i­ble that the cap­i­tal which ought to be in the best posi­tion not to slide over the cliff is where we are most afflict­ed with the men­tal pandemic.

Cancel Culture

And Win­ston Churchill, of all fig­ures, is a prime tar­get of peo­ple drunk with the mad­ness called can­cel cul­ture. We in the Churchill Stud­ies business—and that includes you, for you know more about him than most—have adopt­ed a siege men­tal­i­ty. Indeed Andrew Roberts and I con­tem­plat­ed orga­niz­ing a rapid response defense team to con­front each new lie as it erupts. We thought to use a friend­ly news­pa­per or cable chan­nel. We gave it up when we real­ized the real­i­ty. Such is the men­tal pan­dem­ic that few who have made up their minds would let us try to change them.

It’s espe­cial­ly notice­able on social media, a foun­tain of igno­rance Churchill nev­er had to con­front. In his day when you said some­thing you usu­al­ly signed your name to it. Anonymi­ty is, I sus­pect, part of what dri­ves the worst out­bursts on Twitter.

Andrew has a much larg­er mega­phone because of his incite­ful biog­ra­phy, Churchill: Walk­ing with Des­tiny. It’s the Churchill vol­ume to read if you read only one. In March he teamed up with a bril­liant young Ethiopi­an, Zewdi­tu Gebrey­ohanes, in a point by point refu­ta­tion of a one-sided pan­el in Cam­bridge, home of the Churchill Archives of all places, which rel­e­gat­ed Win­ston Churchill to the out­er reach­es of Nazism.

Their response to “The Racial Con­se­quences of Mr. Churchill” is on Hillsdale’s Churchill web­site. Read it and you’ll mar­vel at the will­ful igno­rance and slip­shod his­to­ry of the pan­elists. They remind me of Churchill’s descrip­tion of ora­tors who, “Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speak­ing, they do not know what they are say­ing; and when they sit down, they do not know what they have said.”[4]

Some racist…

More­over, wrote Roberts and Gebreyohanes,

a racist or white suprema­cist wants bad things to hap­pen to non-whites, where­as Churchill ded­i­cat­ed much of his life to pro­tect­ing: Pun­jabi farm­ers from invad­ing Tal­iban tribes­men, Sudanese civil­ians from the Khalifa’s slave-trad­ing, Cape coloureds from the Afrikaan­er republics, Indi­ans from the Japan­ese (who killed 17% of the Fil­ipino pop­u­la­tion from 1941 to 1945), amongst many oth­er examples.[5]

As Churchill put it:

We will endeavour…to advance the prin­ci­ple of equal rights of civ­i­lized men irre­spec­tive of colour. We will not—at least I will pledge myself—hesitate to speak out when nec­es­sary if any plain case of cru­el­ty of exploita­tion of the native for the sor­did prof­it of the white man can be proved.[6]

Ms. Gebrey­ohanes’ part in all this is one of the most encour­ag­ing things about the defense effort. She can’t be accused of any of the bias­es they like to throw at old-time Churchillians. (Inci­den­tal­ly, while work­ing on this paper, she filled me in on what Ethiopi­ans think of Haile Selassie, their famous leader. She says it is much less than Churchill thought of him when he was thrown out by Mus­soli­ni in 1936.)

Take Bengal…please

The Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project has ben­e­fit­ted from the work of promi­nent Indi­an his­to­ri­ans, on the long, bad­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed role of Churchill in the Ben­gal Famine: the hottest top­ic in the broad array of “Churchill Derange­ment Syndrome.”

Zareer Masani, biog­ra­ph­er of Indi­ra Gand­hi, painstak­ing­ly describes Churchill’s efforts to alle­vi­ate the famine:

The true facts about food ship­ments to Ben­gal, amply record­ed in the British war cab­i­net and gov­ern­ment of India archives, are that more than a mil­lion tons of grain arrived in Ben­gal between August 1943, when the war cab­i­net first realised the sever­i­ty of the famine, and the end of 1944, when the famine had petered out. This was food aid specif­i­cal­ly sent to Ben­gal, much of it on Aus­tralian ships, despite strict food rationing in Eng­land and severe food short­ages in new­ly-lib­er­at­ed south­ern Italy and Greece.[7]

Dr. Masani not­ed that the deplorable things Churchill said about Indi­ans, always quot­ed over the Ben­gal famine, were in fact aimed at Del­hi sep­a­ratists, not the Indi­an peo­ple. Fur­ther, they have main­ly one source—Leopold Amery, his Sec­re­tary of State for India.

Churchill loved to tweak the excitable Amery. He nev­er dreamed that 75 years lat­er, Amery’s diaries would be dredged up to prove he hat­ed brown peo­ple. In fact Churchill made fun of every­one: Britons, Arabs, Amer­i­cans, Chi­nese, Ital­ians, Alba­ni­ans, regard­less of whether they were white or any oth­er color.

Churchill respected peoples…

…when they deserved respect. “I can­not see any objec­tions to Indi­ans serv­ing on His Majesty’s Ships where they are qual­i­fied and need­ed,” he wrote in 1942, “or, if their virtues so deserve, ris­ing to be Admi­rals of the Fleet.”[8] Lat­er in his war mem­oirs he wrote:

The unsur­passed brav­ery of Indi­an sol­diers and offi­cers, both Moslem and Hin­du, shine for­ev­er in the annals of war…. Upwards of two and a half mil­lion Indi­ans vol­un­teered to serve in the forces, and by 1942…were com­ing in at the month­ly rate of fifty thou­sand…. The response of the Indi­an peo­ples, no less than the con­duct of their sol­diers, makes a glo­ri­ous final page in the sto­ry of our Indi­an Empire.[9]

In July 1944, over lunch with the Indi­an states­man Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar, a mem­ber of the war cab­i­net, Churchill was heard to say “the old notion that the Indi­an was in any way infe­ri­or to the white man must dis­ap­pear.” He was quot­ed as say­ing: “We must all be pals togeth­er. I want to see a great shin­ing India, of which we can be as proud as we are of a great Cana­da or a great Australia.”[10]

Reality checks, honest debates

Tirthankar Roy of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics led the defense against the lead­ing text of the British Empire Hate Lob­by. He showed that under the Raj, things got bet­ter not worse for the Indi­an mass­es by almost every stan­dard of mea­sure­ment: “As a soci­ety that had invent­ed the idea that the touch of anoth­er per­son could cause pol­lu­tion,” Dr. Roy wrote…

India did not need the British to know how to oppress and degrade oth­er peo­ple. British rule, imposed from the out­side, unleashed forces of change, weak­en­ing this home-grown cru­el­ty. The Depressed Class­es wel­comed the British as their deliv­er­ers from age-long tyran­ny and oppres­sion by the ortho­dox Hin­dus. The migra­tion of mil­lions of Indi­ans from servile labour back in their vil­lages to mines, fac­to­ries and plan­ta­tions all over the Empire cre­at­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of real free­dom. Of course, after the war, most Indi­ans believed the British need­ed to leave for India to thrive. But they did not think that the British were the root of India’s problems.[11]

Abhi­jit Sarkar of Oxford wrote a con­tro­ver­sial the­sis sug­gest­ing that Mus­lim-Hin­du prej­u­dices were at the heart of the food shortages:

The All-India Grand-Assem­bly pur­sued the famine for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es. It alleged that the Mus­lim Ben­gal gov­ern­ment was cre­at­ing new Mus­lim grain traders, under­min­ing the estab­lished Hin­du traders. It pub­li­cized the government’s fail­ure to avert the Ben­gal famine to prove the eco­nom­ic “unvi­a­bil­i­ty” of cre­at­ing a sep­a­rate Pakistan.[12]

There is much debate about Dr. Sarkar’s the­o­ries among Indi­ans. I’m hap­py to say that we’ve pub­lished both the pros and cons, made in good faith, and a desire for the truth.

Defense international

We are proud to wel­come schol­ars East and West in defense and debate of accu­rate his­to­ry. A “Churchill Derange­ment Primer,” which you can find on my web­site, lists every accu­sa­tion and attack from “A is for Aryans” to “W is for White Suprema­cy,” pro­vid­ing links where you can find sober, hon­est, foot­not­ed dis­cus­sion of the charge in ques­tion. The truth doesn’t always favor Churchill. But the aver­age isn’t too bad.

For instance, we have pub­lished “Hearsay Doesn’t Count: The Truth about Churchill’s Use of Racial Epi­thets.” I ran every offen­sive racial or eth­nic slur through our dig­i­tal resource. A hun­dred mil­lion words by and about Churchill, includ­ing his own books, arti­cles, speech­es, let­ters and papers.

I began nervously—didn’t know what the result would be. I found that they are extreme­ly rare. For exam­ple, I could find not one instance of Win­ston Churchill using the n-word, or even being quot­ed using it, though Leo Amery used it fre­quent­ly. Will the his­to­ri­ans who con­sis­tent­ly accuse Churchill of it revise their screed? We’re waiting.

Churchill’s defense also ben­e­fits from the fact that he is as respect­ed as ever among the broad mass of peo­ple. Six months ago Richard Cohen estab­lished an inde­pen­dent Facebook group called sim­ply “Win­ston Churchill.”  You can post any­thing you want there. About 95% of the posts are pos­i­tive and they come from all over the world. In six months—I’m amazed by this—the group has grown to near­ly 20,000 mem­bers. Mr. Amman Mer­chant and col­leagues in India estab­lished a web­site punc­tur­ing Churchill slan­der. And Hillsdale’s Churchill Project has 60,000 sub­scribers. These are encour­ag­ing numbers.

Con­tin­ued in Part 2: Pre­cepts for the Defense of Churchill

Endnotes

[1] The morn­ing after, I was accused of using a “racist term” (Wu Flu). I looked up the euphemism in the Urban Dic­tio­nary, which would say it’s racist if it were. Such is the “men­tal pan­dem­ic” that it sets the terms of the debate by label­ing some­thing racist. If you dis­sem­ble, you acknowl­edge it. So don’t dis­sem­ble! Wuhan is not a race. Chi­na is not a race. If every­thing today is racist, then we’re all racists.

[2] Lar­ry P. Arnn, Hills­dale Col­lege Nation­al Lead­er­ship Sem­i­nar, Franklin, Ten­nessee, 26 April 2021. Audio link to be post­ed later.

[3] Win­ston S. Churchill to H.G. Wells, April 1902. WSC to Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne, ca. 1959 in Mon­tague Browne, Long Sun­set (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1995), 265.

[4] WSC on Lord Charles Beres­ford, 20 Decem­ber 1912, in Richard M. Lang­worth, Churchill by Him­self (New York: Roset­ta Books, 2016), 325.

[5] Andrew Roberts and Zewdi­tu Gebrey­ohanes, “Cam­bridge: ‘The Racial Con­se­quences of Mr. Churchill,’ a Review,” Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, 14 March 2021. (All web­sites cit­ed were accessed in May 2021.)

[6] WSC, House of Com­mons, 28 Feb­ru­ary 1906, in Ran­dolph S. Churchill, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 2, Young States­man 1901-1914 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2007), 163.

***

[7] Zareer Masani, “Churchill and the Geno­cide Myth: Last Word on the Ben­gal Famine,” Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, 27 Jan­u­ary 2021.

[8] WSC to Admi­ral Lit­tle, 14 Octo­ber 1939, in Mar­tin Gilbert, The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 14, At the Admi­ral­ty, Sep­tem­ber 1939-May 1940 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2011), 240.

[9] WSC, The Sec­ond World War, vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 195o), 182.

[10] Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walk­ing with Des­tiny (New York: Viking, 2018), 785.

[11] Tirthankar Roy, “The British Raj Accord­ing to Tha­roor; Some of the Truth, Part of the Time,” Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, 7 August 2020.

[12] Abhi­jit Sarkar, “The Effect of Race and Caste on Relief in the Famine, Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project, 29 Jan­u­ary 2001.

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