Joined: 30 May 2013
|Posted: Sat Oct 11, 2014 10:46 pm Post subject: Churchill was nearly as bad as Hitler
|In his otherwise excellent book, 'Wales Since 1939', Martin Johnes remarks that if an image of Winston Churchill hove on the screen during the newsreel in any Welsh cinema before the Second World War, it would be greeted by furious boos and catcalls. This was because of a curious misconception that Churchill had sent troops into Tonypandy in 1910 and 1911 who shot strikers dead.
During the war, it was temporarily forgiven if not forgotten, but later the hostility re-emerged although it was based on a myth. Only this week, somebody has written to the Western Mail asking that this fairy tale should be put to bed finally. The correspondent quoted Churchill himself on how tragic it would be for the poor parents if youths were taken out by trigger happy soldiers, and how important it was to avoid this kind of confrontation.
So was it a myth and, if so, what was the truth? Lewis Jones' novel 'Cwmardy' has eleven strikers shot down in cold blood by soldiers in Tonypandy.Is this work of fiction the source of the myth?
Churchill denied that he was responsible for any bloodshed in Tonypandy except that which might flow from the nose. But Churchill was not above writing fiction himself. He said 'history will be kind to me because I shall write it.'
The fact is that hundreds of people were injured in confrontations with Churchill's troops. It is alleged that one person, Samuel Rhys, did lose his life, although he did not die of gunshot wounds. It looks as if he was clubbed to death with a spade by a policeman. I do not think that is any improvement on being shot.
But even if that is not true, Churchill was telling something like a double bluff. He denied -perhaps truthfully- that anyone had been shot dead in Tonypandy. He conveniently forgot to mention the people that his troops undoubtedly shot dead in Llanelli at about the same time!
I believe the two events have been confused in the public mind, because the natives of Tonypandy were proud of defying Churchill's troops. In Llanelli we were ashamed. We didn't want to talk about it. So it's no wonder people associated the outrage with Tonypandy.
When assessing Churchill's reputation, we should remember another event of 1911. As Liberal home secretary he turned up in person at a sieged in Sidney Street, London where two Latvian anarchists were trading gun shots with the police.
When the house unexpectedly burst into flames, Churchill ordered the fire brigade who had rushed to the scene, not to put out the fire but to let the anarchists burn to death. And they did. During his tenure, Churchill was responsible for the extra-judicial violent deaths of at least nine civilians.
Churchill was voted the greatest Briton of all time. He was almost deified after the Second World War, but that was not how he was seen before the war at all. He was considered flaky and unreliable. He had deserted the Conservatives to join the Liberals and then 're-ratted' back to the Conservative benches.
He had a terrible military disaster in his past. His crazy recklessness was entirely responsible for the fruitless carnage at Gallipoli in the First World War. If it happened now, he would probably have never enjoyed office again. In Admiral Byng's time, he might have been executed.
A TV film fondly focuses on Churchill's lovable addiction to Dundee cake, his amusing untidiness and how he exchanged touching baby talk with his wife. At one stage, a servant or aide comes in to tell him how Hitler is persecuting the physically different in Germany. At this Churchill's face falls, and he looks deeply glum. The historical Churchill would have approved. He wanted people he considered eugenically unsound to be put in labour camps.
Although subject to depression himself, he thought that 'the insane classes' should be prevented from breeding. He supported the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 which allowed poor single mothers to be incarcerated in mental hospitals for life.
His autobiographical book, 'My Early Life' is light and witty in tone, probably the best thing he ever wrote. But it is marred by his account of his time in the British raj in late Victorian times. He found the Indians he met friendly and helpful but couldn't get over his upbringing. He always referred to them as amenable but primitive.
He and his colleagues heard that tribes in the Hindu Kush were not best pleased with British rule. Their method of winning hearts and minds was to demolish the malcontents' houses, cut down their shady trees, block up the wells and drive them up to the mountain tops where they would be 'extremely uncomfortable'. He described this bit of ethnic cleansing as if it was a boy scout picnic and described a Sikh on his own side, who lost his turban, as 'a tragic golliwog.'
In opposing Indian independence, Churchill said he hated Indians. They were 'beastly people with a beastly religion.'That is probably why during the Second World War, there were not one but at least two war leaders engaged in genocide.
Churchill was not hell bent on genocide as Hitler was. Nor would he have thought that that was what he was doing. The word 'genocide' did not even exist in English until 1944, and he was more lackadaisical than Hitler.
Yet it is impossible to deny that the artificial famine which Churchill deliberately created in Bengal in 1943 amounted to genocide as Madhursee Mukherjee charges in her book 'Churchill's Secret War.' I should hope that future historians will concentrate more on genocide and less on Dundee cake.
People in the Indian subcontinent feel no conflict in 'loving to hate' Churchill as a contributor to 'On this Deity' put it. The rest of us feel a bit uneasy. My adoptive father said that Churchill was a cruel man but he was the right man for the job in 1940. Did he not save us and the rest of Europe from the thousand year reich?
Well, perhaps not. Maybe, we should embrace the most heretical notion of all.Perhaps, we do not have to be grateful to Churchill for saving us from the Nazis. Maybe, he didn't so much win the war as his enemies lost it through their own misjudgements.
Churchill told an aide that the Nuremberg trials showed how importaI nt it was to win. ''You and I would be in a pretty pickle' if they were judge by the same standards. However strategically sensible it was, Churchill was guilty of a war crime against an ally in sinking the French fleet to prevent it falling into German hands.
I remember 'Reader's Digest' had a sycophantic piece about how a servant interrupted Churchill in the bath to tell him that he had lost the 1945 election. Churchill was not at all upset. He said ''That's what democracy is all about. It's what we've been fighting for. Now hand me that towel.''
It's impossible to believe this. It sounds more like a homily in morning assembly than anything a politician would say in real life - at least in private. Churchill did not think that he was fighting for democracy but for the British Empire. During the Boer War, he described allowing women to vote as 'a dangerous experiment' which he did not support.
We can understand how his parents' indifference and dislike combined with the public school system made Churchill what he was. At the beginning of a radio programme about how Churchill's headmaster had treated him, listener discretion was advised. It would make upsetting listening for a sensitive person. On the plus side, it would have been a real treat for sado-masochists.
Understanding is not the same thing as making excuses. There can be no excuses, and painting this evil man as a hero is not doing anyone any favours. We don't need fake role models. We deserve the truth.