Winston Churchill: Racist, imperialist, murderer

I get angry at the routine lionization of former British prime minister Winston Churchill in the west. Among US politicians he is treated almost as a god-like figure. There is now a new film about him and I fully expect it to continue that hagiographic trend. But his image in other parts of the world, especially in the former British colonies, is far less complimentary. Hence I was glad to see this article by Ishaan Tharoor that strives to provide some balance.

[T]here’s another side to Churchill’s politics and career that should not be forgotten amid the endless parade of eulogies. To many outside the West, he remains a grotesque racist and a stubborn imperialist, forever on the wrong side of history.

Churchill’s detractors point to his well-documented bigotry, articulated often with shocking callousness and contempt. “I hate Indians,” he once trumpeted. “They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

He referred to Palestinians as “barbaric hordes who ate little but camel dung.” When quashing insurgents in Sudan in the earlier days of his imperial career, Churchill boasted of killing three “savages.” Contemplating restive populations in northwest Asia, he infamously lamented the “squeamishness” of his colleagues, who were not in “favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.”

As a junior member of parliament, Churchill had cheered on Britain’s plan for more conquests, insisting that its “Aryan stock is bound to triumph.” It’s strange to celebrate his bravado in the face of Hitler’s war machine and not consider his wider thinking on other parts of the world. After all, these are places that, just like Europe and the West, still live with the legacy of Churchill’s and Britain’s actions at the time.

India, Britain’s most important colonial possession, most animated Churchill. He despised the Indian independence movement and its spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, whom he described as “half-naked” and labeled a “seditious fakir,” or holy man. Most notoriously, Churchill presided over the hideous 1943 famine in Bengal, where some 3 million Indians perished, largely as a result of British imperial mismanagement. Churchill was both indifferent to the Indian plight and even mocked the millions suffering, chuckling over the culling of a population that bred “like rabbits.”

Leopold Amery, Churchill’s own Secretary of State for India, likened his boss’s understanding of India’s problems to King George III’s apathy for the Americas. Amery vented in his private diaries, writing “on the subject of India, Winston is not quite sane” and that he didn’t “see much difference between [Churchill’s] outlook and Hitler’s.”

We should not dismiss Churchill’s views as simply reflecting the times he lived in. He was an extreme racist by any standard, as seen by the comments of his contemporary Amery.

The article pretty much sums up my feelings about Churchill.


  1. Mark Dowd says

    And now when (not if) we war with Iran or North Korea, The Dump will get the same treatment from the media.

  2. mnb0 says

    Gallipoli (WW-1) is a typical Churchill failure. His actual contributions to British warfare aren’t that impressive either. He excelled at being a symbol of anti-nazi resistance and at making elaborate insults, but basically that’s it.

  3. says

    He excelled at putting in appearances near where actual fighting was happening. But during the blitz it was an actor who went into the subways to shake hands -- the real Churchill was deep underground in a bolt-hole. Unlike Britain, Churchill never had a finest hour.

  4. Dunc says

    He did at least have the decency to bust himself down to Private and go serve in the trenches after he oversaw the slaughter at Gallipoli, which is a lot more than you can say for any of our current crop of warmongering oligarchs. (This is not intended as a defense.)

  5. says

    Serve near the trenches.
    And he was a major, commanded a reserve regiment (on refit, plenty of time to jet if they were going to deploy) -- he spent his time hobnobbing with the great French vintages, learning to fly, and visiting observation posts where he could see high explosive at a distance.

    He was careful to have pictures of him in the muddy tough spots, but he was a war tourist or playactor.

  6. Dunc says

    I stand corrected. (Adds another entry to the list of “lies they taught me in history class”…)

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