Had Churchill not led Britain to victory in World War Two he would, or should, have been remembered as a failure. He was perhaps best known for advocating the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, in which tens of thousands of British, French and ANZAC troops were killed. He had spent the 1930s engaged in futile and cruel attempts to keep India and Ireland in the Empire and had damaged himself politically by supporting the disgraced Edward VIII.
Even Churchill’s wartime record is scarred by the consequences of his reckless and hubristic behaviour. He masterminded the failed Norwegian Campaign and at best enabled the horrific Bengal Famine.
Nonetheless, without Churchill’s spirit, courage and confidence we might have crumbled in the face of Nazi success. As avoidable as war may have been early on – at least before the Treaty of Versailles that Churchill correctly opposed – it had become inescapable by the mid-1930s. Without his defiance once he had ascended to power the best that Britain could have hoped for would have been tame submission to a Nazi-dominated Europe, and, much as I loathe the fact the Poles, Czechs and others were left in the hands of the Stalin, they had at least been the genocidal anti-Slavic plans of the national socialists.
There is much to dislike about Churchill, then, but less than you may think from reading Remi Joseph Salisbury’s hatchet job in the Independent. It is full of arrogant mistruths. Churchill failed the Indians dying in the Bengal famine but his role was not “pivotal” and it was not a “genocide”. You would not ship aid to people you were trying to exterminate. He did advocate the use of “poisoned gas” to pacify “uncivilised tribes” but what Salisbury fails to inform us is that his reference was to tear not mustard gas.
Failing to check his own source, never mind assessing others, Salisbury spreads a downright lie when he asserts that Churchill “oversaw the massacre of protestors in Greece”. Not only does the Observer article that he links to make no reference to Churchill supervising the massacre but a correction highlighted at the top of the page retracts its claim that British soldiers were involved in killing. Salisbury’s rotten sourcing continues when he asserts that Churchill argued that “100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilised”. Churchill did support eugenics, that much is correct, but Salisbury’s only reference is to an unsourced quote in the hard left magazine Counterpunch and I can find no source elsewhere. That he is so blithe in smearing a much-admired public figure is shameful enough but that the Independent didn’t do the most basic fact-checking is disgraceful. Small wonder that it is collapsing.
Salisbury, I suspect, typed “churchill crimes” and “churchill racism” into Google and referenced whatever he could find, quite regardless of whether it was true or not. He was on a mission to condemn the man and wrote not so much as a sentence on his resistance to Hitler, an achievement that one might think should at least somewhat redeem his reputation as a leader and a man.
“A nation that forgets its past has no future,” Salisbury smugly quotes Churchill as saying. True. But we should remember both its failings and its triumphs. Just as surely as jingoists focus on the latter in promoting their invasions, progressives concentrate on the former in promoting internationalism. A sensible patriot should disdain both.