continued from part 1…
Churchill’s early attitudes toward British “moral superiority” were unfounded—but he was born into a world in which virtually all his countrymen believed the same thing, from the Sovereign to a Covent Garden grocer.
And yet it was Churchill, the aristocratic Victorian, who argued that Sudanese had a “claim beyond the grave…no less good than that which any of our countrymen could make”; that in South Africa, Boer racism was intolerable and the Indian minority deserved the same rights as all British citizens. (This was something Gandhi never forgot, though Churchill did, and something which Gandhi praised years later, when they were opponents over the India Bill.)
It was this same Churchill who urged that shiploads of food be sent to a starving Germany after the Great War ended the wartime blockade; that the 1920 Armritsar massacre in India must be condemned and its perpetrators punished (“Frightfulness is not a remedy known to the British pharmacopoeia”); that the coal miners should be compensated after the 1926 General Strike; that carpet bombing German cities in World War II was morally reprehensible.
Nobody else of similar stature from 1898 to 1945 questioned any of these outrages with the same seriousness. Many of Churchill’s listeners in those years thought he had lost his mind, calling him a traitor to his class, a good man gone soft, and so on.
There are countless other examples of a Churchill bucking what Andrew Roberts called “The Respectable Tendency”: of recognizing the rights of oppressed peoples long before the World Wars), of understanding that the claim to liberty extended beyond Britain—all of which welled up in his finest hour. Yet those views had dominated his political thought virtually from the start.
I like what William Manchester wrote about him: “It was part of his pattern of response to any political issue that while his early reactions were often emotional, and even unworthy of him, they were usually succeeded by reason and generosity.”
Or Martin Gilbert, who wrote about the thousands of documents he examined in writing the official biography: “I never felt that he was going to spring an unpleasant surprise on me. I might find that he was adopting views with which I disagreed. But I always knew that there would be nothing to cause me to think: ‘How shocking, how appalling.’”
On the matter of Eugenics (part 1), to equate Churchill’s record with “the extremities practiced to a tee by the Nazis is”—forgive me—pretty extreme.