Continued from Part 1…
Churchill was born into a world in which virtually all Britons, from the Sovereign to a Covent Garden grocer, believed in their moral superiority. They preached it to their children. All learned that the red portions of the map showed where Britannic civilization had tamed savagery and cured pandemics. Churchill’s assertions, especially as a young man, were often in line with this. And yet he consistently displayed this odd streak of magnanimity and libertarian impulse.
It was Churchill, the aristocratic Victorian, who argued that Dervish enemy in Sudan had a “claim beyond the grave…no less good than that which any of our countrymen could make.” In South Africa, he asserted that Boer racism was intolerable, that the Indian minority deserved the same rights as all British citizens. (This was something Gandhi never forgot, though Churchill did—which Gandhi praised years later, when they were opponents over the India Bill.)
Fair play and magnanimity
After the Great War ended, this same Churchill urged that shiploads of food be sent to a starving Germany as the wartime blockade ended. Other leaders preferred to “squeeze Germany till the pips squeaked.” They did, and the long-term results were not good.
The Jallianwala Bagh or Armritsar massacre of Indians in 1919 found Churchill in full cry against the perpetrators. It was Churchill who in 1920 secured India’s support in the future Hitler war, and assured independent India’s military legacy. Arthur Herman in Gandhi & Churchill writes:
For every disgruntled or discouraged subaltern who joined Japan’s puppet Indian National Army, a dozen KCIOs and VCOs served with distinction on every front in the British war effort…. And the minister of war who created the KCIOs in 1920 had been Winston Churchill…. Churchill never grasped the full magnitude of what he had done, but Gandhi nearly did. Many times over the years he had spoken of brave Indian soldiers who would defend their country and then return home to carry the future burden of freedom.
In the 1920s, it was Churchill who argued that the coal miners should be compensated after the 1926 General Strike. In the 1940s it was Churchill, not FDR, certainly not Stalin, who declared carpet bombing German cities morally reprehensible. Ten years later, he denied South Africa’s demand for Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland without the consent of their inhabitants.
A singular record
No statesmen of stature exhibited such magnanimity for so long: Not the leaders of the Tory or Labour parties; not the chieftains of wars. Many who heard Churchill’s proposals shook their heads. Some thought him a mental case, a traitor to his class, or a good man gone soft. “I have asserted many times and without being contradicted,” writes historian Larry Arnn, “that Winston Churchill never said or implied that the rights of any person were conditioned upon the color of his or her skin.”
There are countless examples of Churchill’s magnanimity bucking what Andrew Roberts called “The Respectable Tendency.” He recognized and cited the rights of minorities and the oppressed long before the World Wars. He understood that the claim to liberty was not Britain’s alone, and that understanding welled up in his finest hour. Yet similar views had governed his political thought virtually from the start.
Verdict of historians
I often quote what William Manchester wrote. Churchill, he declared,
…always had second and third thoughts, and they usually improved as he went along. 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. Given time, he could devise imaginative solutions.
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.”
Yet today some writers profess shock at Churchill’s stray, emotional, unworthy remark. Time and again, the full context of what he said produces an entirely opposite impression.
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.