Today is 24 January 2017. On this day, 52 years ago, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill passed away.
Churchill has been praised internationally for being a great leader and inspirational speaker. Strangely, India is also in awe of him. There are textbooks which still applaud Churchill and his brand of leadership.
Which is troubling, considering Churchill was one of the most overrated, racist, genocidal, warmongering, imperialist of human history.
Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, and again from 1951 to 1955. He was also an officer in the British Army, a writer, and a historian. Throughout his long political career, he held many important positions in the British Government and was one of its most vocal advocates for colonialism.
In a 2005 speech to the Sudanese Assembly, South African President Thabo Mbeki attacked Churchill as a man of vicious prejudice who justified British atrocities by depicting Africa’s inhabitants as inferior races who needed to be subdued. He said ,“To some extent we can say that when these eminent representatives of British colonialism were not in Sudan, they were in South Africa, and vice versa, doing terrible things wherever they went, justifying what they did by defining the native peoples of Africa as savages that had to be civilised, even against their will.”
Churchill should be criticised like all violent people are, but we praise him instead. Let us consider only a few of his views and crimes.
The Bengal famine
This is something surprisingly few Indians know about even though it killed over three million Indians in 1943. The famine was caused by cyclones and fungus attacks on rice crops. However, the famine escalated because Churchill exported food grains from Bengal to Britain and also turned down offers of food supplies from Canada and the US to India. When authorities in New Delhi notified him about the rising piles of dead bodies in Bengal, his reply was “If food is so scarce, why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” He is also reported to have said: “Famine or no famine, Indians will breed like rabbits.”
A war criminal
He was a fervent advocate of chemical weapons during WW1. He remarked, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised [people].” Additionally, he was in favour of using chemical weapons against rebellious tribes in India and political rivals in Germany and Russia.
An overrated war leader
Churchill’s ineptitude during the Gallipoli campaign of WW1 killed or injured over 100,000 colonial troops. The mishap was disastrous in nature and is still remembered in Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, during WW2, the premature invasion of Italy prolonged the War and killed millions more by postponing the Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled France. Churchill was also one of the reasons for the expansion of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Iron Curtain.
Views on Indian independence
We all know that most British politicians then were against Indian independence. But Churchill’s ideas are on a different level. The animosity that the British PM had towards Indians is well-documented. A typical colonialist, he deemed Indians as backwards and the plight of millions of Indians starving and dying did not move him one bit. Also, he viewed Indians as an inferior race that had to be civilised, something he assumed was the moral duty of the British Empire.
A racist and colonialist of the highest degree
Besides using brutal force to crush peaceful demonstrations in many countries from Kenya to Greece, he was an ultra-nationalist who wanted to “Keep England White” and complained that the Irish “refused to be” British.
Xenophobic, elitist, insulting – if the 1930s and 1940s had Twitter and spray tanning, Churchill would’ve been the British version of Donald Trump. “Imperialist” and “colonialist” are on the same level as “racist” or “bigot”.
Yes, he was a great speaker. But so were Hitler and Mussolini. Speech should not be a metric for morals. Churchill wrote and spoke brilliantly, but that does not absolve him of his crimes.
History has been too kind to Winston Churchill. We have been too kind to Winston Churchill. It is time we admonish him for the imperialist he was instead of honouring him for being the hero he wasn’t.