The Huffington Post for November 23rd (“Shocked by anti-Muslim Hysteria? Churchill Wanted to ‘Collar the Lot'”). They include an unsubstantiated Churchill quote to describe something about Syrian refugees Donald Trump said, or did not say. It distorts Churchill’s record.
Anent Trump’s alleged proposal for a database of Muslims (which he did not propose, exactly), the Post assures us this was nothing compared to that well-known xenophobe, Winston Churchill:
Churchill went even farther. He ordered the internment of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees in England, labeling them dangerous enemy aliens. … Nationals from Germany and Austria, who were living in England when World War II broke out, had already been assigned to different groupings based on their apparent threat to the UK. Category A were the “high security risks.” All 600 of them were immediately interned.
Those deemed “no-security risk” in Class C, included 55,000 refugees from Nazi oppression. The great majority of them were Jewish. They were left free—at first. But then, in the Spring of 1940, with the fall of France, the fear of a German invasion, and the entry of Italy into the war, there was an outbreak of spy fever in England, a demand that more be done about the thousands of “dangerous aliens” living there. Unwilling to consider which of those foreigners might actually be dangerous, Churchill commanded “Collar them all.”
Churchill had other things on his mind in Spring 1940 than which refugees were dangerous. But let it go. People who write such things have no concept of what it was like to live in 1940 Britain, under the threat of imminent extinction.
The “rounding up” of 70,000 German, Czech and Austrian aliens in Britain was done regardless of religion. No doubt a lot were Jews—they had the best reason to be running from the Greater German Reich.
According to Norman Rose in Churchill: The Unruly Giant, “collar the lot,” or “collar them all” was an expression meant to protect alien refugees from “outraged pubic opinion.” It did not refer to preventing spying or acts of sabotage. That we can believe. During World War I, Londoners kicked dachshunds in the streets because they were a German breed. But I can’t find either expression in anything Churchill said or wrote.
We often distort these quotes. I have just gone round with a reader of my piece on François Hollande who insists—re bombing ISIS—that we should mimic Churchill, who wanted to “make the rubble dance” in Nazi Germany. But what Churchill said referred not to bombing Germany but to London’s bravery in the Blitz. He said that after awhile, the only thing the Germans could do to make things worse in London was “make the rubble jump.” Which is quite different.
Hillsdale College’s Winston S. Churchill, Document Volume 15 shows that Churchill soon reconsidered his attitude toward interned aliens. In 1940, he favored expelling them, but a year later he had reconsidered. He said it would be more humane to conscript some into public service, perhaps as “a Foreign Legion.” You can look it up: page 391.
What Churchill Concluded
Churchill was in the vanguard of those urging that wartime restrictions on liberty be lifted as soon as possible. In 1943 he ordered the release of the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, who had been interned in 1940:
The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgement by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian Governments, whether Nazi or Communist….Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of civilisation. —Churchill by Himself, 102
Churchill, as William Manchester wrote, “always had second and third thoughts, and they usually improved as he went along. It was part of this 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.”
It isn’t worth remonstrating with the Huffington Post, which is only looking for another way to skewer Mr. Trump—who says so many skewerable things that it’s hardly necessary to make any up.
It does suggest another chapter for my next book: Churchill Urban Myths: Lies, Fables, Tall Tales, Distortions, and Things that Go Bump in the Night.