Indians Again: No Oscars for Movies about War Criminals

Indians Again: No Oscars for Movies about War Criminals

If some peo­ple have any­thing to say, Gary Old­man and Dark­est Hour are inel­i­gi­ble for praise. “Oscars cel­e­brate Win­ston Churchill,” writes Tom Black­well in the Van­cou­ver Sun. “Some won­der if he was more war crim­i­nal than war hero for starv­ing Indians.”

No doubt some peo­ple also won­der if it rains up.

Fair and Balanced?

Mr. Black­well makes a weak effort at bal­ance, quot­ing Arthur Her­man, emi­nent author of Gand­hi and Churchill. Absent Churchill,” Her­man says, “Bengal’s Famine Would Have Been Worse.” He lists the true caus­es of the Ben­gal famine—which were many and varied—and Britain’s efforts to relieve the plight of Indi­ans. These words deserve more ink than they get.

The rest of this piece most­ly relies on a dis­cred­it­ed 2010 book which failed to look at con­text and sources. And a his­to­ri­an who thinks per­haps that Churchill “didn’t prize the lives of peo­ple in Ben­gal very high­ly.” To vapid asser­tions not backed by fact, Churchill’s biog­ra­ph­er Sir Mar­tin Gilbert used to say, “Per­haps not!”

I was part of the edi­to­r­i­al team on The Churchill Doc­u­ments, Vol­ume 19, Fate­ful Ques­tions, Sep­tem­ber 1943 to April 1944 (2017). Numer­ous entries show that Churchill and the War Cab­i­net did their utmost to relieve suf­fer­ing among Indi­ans. This includ­ed ship­ping 350,000 tons of Aus­tralian wheat. They even offered Iraqi bar­ley, but were frus­trat­ed to find that Indi­ans wouldn’t eat it.

Documentary Evidence

The War Cab­i­net act­ed quick­ly on the dan­ger to Indi­ans.  On 4 Novem­ber 1943 Churchill acknowl­edged Prime Min­is­ter Macken­zie King’s offer of Cana­di­an wheat. This, he said, would take “at least two months” to reach India. Instead he was rely­ing on Aus­tralian wheat,w hich would take only “three to four weeks.”

In ear­ly 1944 the British Empire exhaust­ed its sources of food relief. Churchill turned to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt. Des­per­ate­ly he appealed for help (which FDR denied, say­ing Amer­i­ca, too, had insuf­fi­cient ship­ping). Churchill wrote:

I am seri­ous­ly con­cerned about the food sit­u­a­tion in India and its pos­si­ble reac­tions on our joint oper­a­tions. Last year we had a griev­ous famine in Ben­gal through which at least 700,000 peo­ple died….By cut­ting down mil­i­tary ship­ments and oth­er means, I have been able to arrange for 350,000 tons of wheat to be shipped to India from Aus­tralia dur­ing the first nine months of 1944. This is the short­est haul. I can­not see how to do more.

We have had much hes­i­ta­tion in ask­ing you to add to the great assis­tance you are giv­ing us with ship­ping but a sat­is­fac­to­ry sit­u­a­tion in India is of such vital impor­tance to the suc­cess of our joint plans against the Japan­ese that I am impelled to ask you to con­sid­er a spe­cial allo­ca­tion of ships to car­ry wheat to India from Aus­tralia…. have resist­ed for some time the Viceroy’s request that I should ask you for your help, but…I am no longer jus­ti­fied in not asking….

To the War Cab­i­netChurchill said “his sym­pa­thy was great for the suf­fer­ings of the peo­ple of India.”

Does any of this sound like a war criminal?

Fur­ther evi­dence of Churchill’s efforts are cit­ed in detail by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.

“I hate Indians…”

Frus­trat­ed once with Del­hi offi­cial­dom, Churchill exclaimed, “I hate Indi­ans.” In mod­ern con­ven­tion, that is an offence of geno­ci­dal mag­ni­tude. But it is hard­ly dis­pos­i­tive. In his World War II mem­oirs he wrote quite dif­fer­ent­ly about Indians:

But all this is only the back­ground upon which the glo­ri­ous hero­ism and mar­tial qual­i­ties of the Indi­an troops who fought in the Mid­dle East, who defend­ed Egypt, who lib­er­at­ed Abyssinia, who played a grand part in Italy, and who, side by side with their British com­rades, expelled the Japan­ese from Bur­ma…. The loy­al­ty of the Indi­an Army to the King-Emper­or, the proud fideli­ty to their treaties of the Indi­an Princes, the unsur­passed brav­ery of Indi­an sol­diers and offi­cers, both Moslem and Hin­du, shine for ever in the annals of war….

Upwards of two and a half mil­lion Indi­ans vol­un­teered to serve in the forces, and by 1942 an Indi­an Army of one mil­lion was in being, and vol­un­teers 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.

A lit­tle more bal­ance would be wel­come at the Van­cou­ver Sun.

3 thoughts on “Indians Again: No Oscars for Movies about War Criminals

  1. As usu­al you are cor­rect. Most “revion­ists” do not know what they are talk­ing about, one-dimen­sion­al and igno­rant of facts. A reli­able book about this sub­ject is by Roy Jenk­ins, a Labour and Lib-Dem MP, and Mar­tin Gilbert, Churchill’s great­est and most reli­able biog­ra­ph­er. Thanks for keep­ing the record straight.

  2. As usu­al Richard Lang­worth is total­ly correct.
    There are con­stant­ly revi­sion­ists out there. They either
    do not know what they are talk­ing about or are out for per­son­al gain. Most reli­able books about this are
    the authors Roy Jenk­ins, MP for the Labour Par­ty !! and Mar­tin Gilbert, great­est and most reli­able biog­ra­ph­er on Win­ston Spencer Churchill.

    Thanks Richard Lang­worth, for keep­ing the record strait.

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