On the Hypocrisy of Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill Essay
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Winston Churchill. Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

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Sir Winston Churchill was born on 30th November 1874 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. During his term as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he led Great Britain in its so-called darkest hour, from 1940 to 1945, and then again from 1951 to 1955.

Churchill is widely regarded as one of the greatest leaders to have ever lived. His legacy has continued to influence people, including many of the current world leaders, even 56 years after his death.

As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Churchill led Britain to victory in the Second World War against Adolf Hitler and his army. He is widely celebrated as a war hero and an icon, a symbol of resistance, across the globe for his leadership during the war.

Winston Churchill was instrumental in inspiring thousands of Englishmen with his patriotic and passionate speeches, which urged the common folks of England to fight for their country and defend it at all costs, and against all odds. His brave attitude, optimism, and confidence roused the English and inspired them to fight against Hitler’s forces till the end of time if needed, in order to protect their motherland from the fearsome Germans.

People credit Churchill as being the person who saved the civilized world (a highly exaggerated claim I might add), by which I’m guessing they probably mean only Europe and America, for the rest of the world, was not civilized enough for them.

But let us be honest with ourselves now. Let us examine the great man as he was, with his virtues and vices. Let us examine him with honesty, with facts. And let us be neutral, impartial, and unbiased in our examination of this 20th-century icon.

Now, where do we begin? Was Winston Churchill, in reality, the saintly and heroic figure he is made out to be in the western world? Did he really love and respect freedom and liberty and justice and equality as much as he proclaimed proudly in his speeches? Was he the great statesman he is made out to be, or was he nothing more than a bully and a tyrant to the people of the colonies? In short, does Churchill deserve to be worshipped and admired as he is in the western world?

So many questions. So many possible different answers and opinions.

For most people (not all) belonging to the west, especially the ones who do not know or care to know history, the obvious answer to all the above questions would be a loud, emphatic, and resounding Yes. Yes, all the way.

But what about the people who are citizens of the formerly colonized world? The people that belong to the east, or at least a major portion of it. People like me, from India. Or people from the rest of Asia or Africa or every other country that suffered from the yoke of colonialism in the name of civilization and development and Christ.

What about us?

Well, allow me to speak for myself only, for I do not wish to run the risk of assuming that my thoughts and views belong to all.

As one might have guessed by now, my opinion on this subject is wholly different from the one held and cherished so dearly by the west. My perspective is vastly different, and it is not my fault. For I would like to imagine that any sane human being, anyone with a little bit of heart, anyone with a little bit of humanity in them if in my position, would feel exactly the same as I.

But, as mentioned, I shall not speak on behalf of all the countries Britain claims to have colonized out of sheer benevolence. For I know for a fact that those countries, including my own (India), possess more knowledgeable, well-read, and learned citizens, who are much more capable of articulating on this subject than I.

Now that I am done with my long and winding disclaimer, allow me to begin stating my honest opinion of the great Sir Winston Churchill.

Let me begin by admitting that he is quite rightly regarded as a great leader of his people during their darkest hour (he certainly does not require anyone’s seal of approval on that, least of all mine). I also admire his great oratory skills that helped inspire the English to fight for their land and his stubborn resistance in the face of imminent defeat. These qualities of his are inspirational indeed. They are a great lesson in leadership to all the aspiring leaders out there, in business, politics, or otherwise.

But here’s the problem now. I honestly feel that referring to Churchill as the savior of the civilized world (keeping aside the fact that some might argue that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who was the savior), is a gross overstatement. And I do not think he deserves that title at all.

Let me justify myself, and then you may decide if you agree with me or not.

I say this because I am from India, a former colony of the self-proclaimed ‘benevolent’ British Empire. India, the so-called Jewel in the Crown. And being an Indian, I have a completely different point of view regarding Churchill’s political activities and policies before, during, and after his Prime Ministership.

I believe Churchill’s activities must be viewed from two different angles. One is from the point of view of the British and I guess most of the western world. And the other from the point of view of the people of Britain’s former colonies.

It is no secret now that Winston Churchill held staunch imperialist views, which, coupled with his sanctioning and support of human rights abuses in the suppression of anti-imperialist movements seeking freedom and independence from the British Empire, have garnered much criticism.

He was strongly against the independence movements of colonial nations and wished to protect and maintain the mighty British Empire, on which the sun never set, until his very last breath. He was particularly against the idea of granting independence to India or even just dominion status within the commonwealth for that matter.

Churchill held blatantly racist views. He often made disparaging comments about India and Indians. He once even told his Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, that he hated Indians and considered them beastly people with a beastly religion.

He was openly racist, and his views on race were considered extreme even by his contemporaries in the Conservative Party. Even Churchill’s personal doctor, Lord Moran, remarked that in regard to other races Churchill thought only of the color of their skin.

But if Churchill’s views were just views and nothing more, they would still be bearable and forgivable. What made his views really dangerous was the fact that he did not shy away from taking action on them or implementing them. Allow me to elucidate by giving you a couple of examples.

During the Bengal famine of 1943, at the height of World War ll, Churchill ordered India’s food supplies to be shipped to Britain to be saved as reserves during the war. He prioritized the stockpiling of food for Britain over feeding Indians in Bengal, and he did so against the pleas made by the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, and the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery. He also infamously remarked that if the shortages were so bad, how was Mahatma Gandhi still alive?

This policy of Churchill’s led to a major shortage of food stock in Bengal, directly resulting in the death of almost 3 million Indians. These helpless victims died on a daily basis, many on the streets of Bengal. They died a slow and agonizing death from starvation, even though the crisis could be avoided and controlled. But Churchill deliberately chose not to do anything about it until it was too late.

Churchill’s government forbade the press from reporting the famine crisis in Bengal. They banned articles and pictures that highlighted the plight of the Indians. They threatened to take action against the newspapers who dared to report on the situation. Even cartoons on the matter were forbidden.

According to Leo Amery, Churchill said that any potential relief efforts sent to India would accomplish little to nothing, as Indians “bred like rabbits”. Churchill’s War Cabinet also rejected Canadian proposals to send food aid to India and asked the US and Australia to send aid in their stead.

Leo Amery compared Churchill’s understanding of India’s problems to King George III’s apathy and indifference to the Americas. In his private diaries, Amery wrote that on the subject of India, Winston Churchill was not quite sane and that he did not see much difference between Churchill’s outlook and Hitler’s (a statement with which I wholeheartedly agree).

Now the above example is something I find impossible to ignore as an Indian or even as a human being. How can a great, civilized statesman, of a civilized country, do such a thing with such ruthlessness and impunity? I have often wondered. Is this what civilization was all about? Was this the reason why the British colonized remote lands? To impart this civilization of theirs, the one that the civilized Churchill had bragged about so often?

It never made sense to me. It does not now and it never will.

For me, Churchill’s role in the Bengal famine, his role in the death of millions of Indians by starvation, can never be ignored or forgotten. It is something that throws light on his flawed personality, exposing his vices which few people in the west have cared to expose.

While Churchill was willing to fight and die in order to protect England’s independence and sovereignty, he refused to grant independence to the British colonies, and he refused to understand and recognize similar traits and sentiments residing in the hearts of the freedom fighters of those colonies.

And this was one of the main reasons why he hated Mahatma Gandhi so much. This was why he denigrated and insulted Gandhi without cause, referring to him as a naked fakir and stating that Gandhi should not be released from prison on the account of a mere threat of fasting. And he went on to say that they should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.

He never realized or even suspected that maybe Gandhi had the same love for India as he himself had for his own country. He never suspected that maybe Gandhi possessed the same sentiment and desire to free his motherland, to ensure and protect her independence and sovereignty, just as he himself did.

Churchill believed that granting Indians home rule would lead to the downfall of the British Empire and the end of civilization. And he cherished his country’s freedom while denying the same freedom to the colonies.

These views of Churchill betray traits of hypocrisy in his personality, which, sadly, his admirers either conveniently choose to ignore or are genuinely ignorant about. It is important to realize that Sir Winston Churchill was not the perfect, heroic man he is made out to be. He was a human being, with virtues and vices, just as all iconic leaders were, are, and shall continue to be.

And I believe it is very important to understand this fact, for Churchill’s iconic status seems to make people forget that he was human.

If Clement Attlee would not have been elected the Prime Miniter of the UK in 1945, India would have probably not gained its independence in 1947. Not under Churchill’s watch at least. So I am sure glad that Churchill was elected out of power after the end of the war.

These flaws in Churchill’s views and character show that even though he was a great leader of his people (which cannot be denied), he was clearly narrow-minded, having an extremely narrow view of race and of other countries and their people. He was an old-fashioned imperialist, proud of his imperialist views and self-proclaimed superiority. Or as the great Nigerian playwright, Wole Soyinka, had said, he was a master colonialist.

Winston Churchill was certainly not a liberal, nor was he a savior, protector, or upholder of human rights. And this is why I say, that as an Indian, I cannot and will not, in my right mind, consider him the savior and protector of the civilized world. Because for me, India was a part of the civilized world even before the British decided to arrive and colonize it. It was a part of the civilized world even during the war when millions of Indians in Bengal died of starvation due to Churchill’s policies, arrogance, and hatred.

Perhaps, Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor was right when he said, in effect, that in relation to India and Indians, Winston Churchill was no better than Adolf Hitler. In fact, maybe he was even worse.

But I do not expect the citizens of Britain and of the west, in general, to concur with me. Frankly, I do not expect them to even understand my perspective, for it might seem impossible for them to do so when their country and their people have not suffered or been humiliated the way my country and my people have.

Also, I have no such ambition of converting people to my point of view. All I wished to do was to lay down my thoughts, my views, my side of the story, that is, the Indian side of the story. And all I wish for Churchill’s admirers to do is acknowledge his flaws and mistakes, his regressive attitude toward the colonies. To acknowledge that he was only human.

Now let us get to the neutral part. The unbiased, impartial part.

In spite of my criticism of the great man, I do understand why the citizens of Britain, and most western countries, admire and respect Churchill. It would be difficult for them not to. He did have admirable leadership qualities. He truly was a great orator. And he surely was, without a doubt, an inspiration to his people in their most desperate hour of need.

He was there for his people when they needed him the most, as true leaders always are. I also honestly believe, in spite of all that I have said, that perhaps no other leader would have been more capable of dealing with the threat of Hitler than Churchill himself. It almost seems as if he were destined to be at the helm of the British Empire at that particular hour, steering it in the right direction, although with quite a few collateral damages.

And he did not disappoint. He certainly proved himself worthy to his people.

Churchill remains a popular and iconic figure in the western world, where he is seen as a great wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. He is also praised as a social reformer and a writer (the latter of which I agree with). He truly was a great writer, prolific, eloquent, and informative. An excellent historian and memoirist.

His many awards include the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature, given in recognition of his mastery of historical and biographical description and oratorial output.

And finally, I would like to end this essay by stating that, in spite of his flaws and negative traits, Sir Winston Churchill has certainly earned the right to be regarded as one of the most significant figures of the 20th century.