Words by Will Day
Few names can produce such a visceral response simply by its mention than that of war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill. As Brits we grow up taught to revere him, shown clips of his speeches, told tales of how he single-handedly galvanised the nation and defeated the Nazis. He is presented to us as a God – this is the man who gave you everything, without him we’d all be speaking German and eating currywurst, no Churchill, no fish and chips just boiled sausage and Nazi’s. We are told Churchill is the embodiment of the nation, our courage, our wit, our freedom, the Churchillian spirit surges through all our veins and we are Great because of it.
We soak this all in because we want to hear it. We want to feel special. We don’t question what we are told. if someone does dare to slander Churchill, they are WRONG and probably a bloody communist. We know everything of his spirit, his courage, D-day, and his two-fingered V celebration. Yet we are taught so little of the actual man. Why? Could it be we have been taught a distorted narrative of Churchill, one that celebrates his achievements whilst sweeping his grave flaws under the rug? That doesn’t sound very Britishy – I suppose there was that whole Empire thing, but we couldn’t possibly have done it twice – right? It’s time for Britain to face the truth – the man we’ve revered as a God is one of the most problematic figures in this nation’s history.
Winston Churchill was a racist. Please, don’t take my word for it – take his.
“I hate Indians they are a beastly people with a beastly religion”
Not enough? How about Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India?
“He hates India and everything to do with it”
Still not enough? How about some more Churchill?
“The PM said the Hindus were a foul race protected by their pullulation from the doom that is their due and he wished Bert Harris could send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them.” (From Churchill’s secretary’s diary)
Look if you’re reading this trembling with rage, trying to suppress the scream of BUT EVERYONE WAS RACIST THEN (argument no 1 in the racist apologist’s playbook). I know alright – take a breath, stop reading for a moment and calm down. I’m not disputing that society wasn’t overtly more racist then than it is now. Judging Churchill by today’s standards would be wrong. The problem is Churchill was massive racist even by the racist standards of the 1950’s. Andrew Roberts (Churchill’s biographer), a man who describes Churchill as a “true hero” acknowledges Churchill anachronistic views on race,
“although racist views were almost universally held (in Britain) during the 1950’s, Churchill was profoundly more racist than most”.
John Charmley, author of Churchill The End of Glory notes,
“Churchill was very much on the far right of British politics over India. Even to most Conservatives, let alone Liberals and Labour, Churchill’s views on India between 1929 and 1939 were quite abhorrent”.
Churchill’s views on race cannot and should not be explained as a product of his generation. This isn’t the type of ignorance your nan might slip out with after one too many sherries at Christmas (not that this should be excused either), Churchill was racist to his core. His extreme views transcended intense hatred towards others. Winston Churchill was a white supremacist.
I know these are difficult words to digest but they are true, nonetheless. Whilst white supremacy is contemporarily conflated with Neo-Nazism (I’m not suggesting Churchill goose-stepped his way around Whitehall), it is predicated on the pseudo-scientific belief that the white race is inherently superior to all others. In this, Churchill was an ardent believer.
Speaking to the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937, Churchill stated,
“I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race… has come in and taken its place.”
These comments, amongst many others, led Andrew Roberts (remember MASSIVE Churchill fan) to claim,
“He was a convinced white-not to say Anglo-Saxon- supremacist and thought in terms of race to a degree that was remarkable even by the standards of his own time”.
In isolation, these repugnant attitudes towards race highlight striking flaws in a man we’ve been convinced was beyond reproach. These views were not, however, restricted to rhetoric and in the case of the people of Bengal, they had devastating consequences.
Since the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain perpetually drew grain and resources from India. When famine broke out in the Bengal region, India continued to be exploited. Instead of addressing the famine, Churchill placed blame solely on the Indians for “breeding like rabbits”. As India’s food reserves were exported to Sri Lanka, Australian ships sailed past India carrying wheat destined to be stockpiled in the Mediterranean to help ease the post-war burden. Churchill resisted diverting any ships to help the starving and refused the offers of Canadian and American aid. India was forbidden from using their own sterling reserves or ships to import food. Any remaining food was reserved for the white man, as Indian politician and writer, Shashi Tharoor claims, Churchill “deliberately ordered the division of food from starving Indian civilians to well supplied British soldiers”. When confronted with the suffering caused by the famine, he responded,
“Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” (He really didn’t like Gandhi)
Whilst Churchill showed a callous disregard for the plight of Bengal when famine struck Greece, he was eager to divert food. In a cabinet meeting in 1943, Churchill stated,
“the starvation of the under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks”.
Fitting with Churchill’s beliefs, the white European was deserving of help; the inferior Indian was not. An estimated 3 million Bengalis perished in the famine, the largest loss of life on the British side during the war. Churchill’s views on India were so abhorrent that the Secretary of State for India and Burma claimed,
“I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s.”
Blaming Churchill entirely for these deaths would be unfair – he did not orchestrate the famine. He does, however, bare significant responsibility. His white supremacist beliefs undoubtedly contributed to the suffering and starvation of millions of Indians. To Churchill, stockpiling food for the white man was more important than Indian women, men, and children.
Why are we so afraid to confront the truth about Churchill?
Even when presented with the evidence, many will dispute it: “Churchill can’t have been a bad guy he fought the Nazis!” Yeah well so did Stalin and I hardly think it would be appropriate to have his canine manifestation selling the nation car insurance.
Does Churchill perhaps represent the final horcrux of British exceptionalism – if he falls so may finally the façade that’s been fed so fervently to us? Does our fear resonate then from a daunting truth we are slowly beginning to realise – there’s nothing Great about Britain?
Churchill played a significant role in the Allied victory. Churchill was a repugnant man with repugnant beliefs. Both statements are true. If you wish to continue to celebrate his achievements, then do so, but you must acknowledge the man you celebrate. To not hold him accountable is a vindication of his views and is utterly disrespectful to those who suffered because of them.
For those who refuse to acknowledge or even refute his grave flaws. Those who continue to start their day clutching their little red book whilst belching out Rule Britannia towards the portrait of Churchill hanging above their mantlepiece, then they should do so in the knowledge that they are probably (definitely) a racist.
Our nation’s refusal to acknowledge the real Churchill is just a small part of a failure to recognise our deeply flawed attitudes towards race – both past and present. Every time we appear to be making progress, the push-back shows us just how far we have to go. As the cry of Black Lives Matter grows louder and louder, sadly, so does the cry of All Lives Matter. As many Brits try to confront our nation’s dark past, we are accused of trying to rewrite history. But the truth is history has already been rewritten; it is the oppressor who has shaped the narrative we have for so long failed to question. Addressing our nation’s troubled past is not an attempt to ‘rewrite’ the past instead, it is an acknowledgment of the truth.