Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole
When we are taught of Winston Churchill, it is only in relation to the great Nazi threat. Winston Churchill, widely regarded as Britain’s best Prime Minister and (according to a BBC poll in 2002) the ‘greatest Briton’, saved our country from terror, tragedy and injustice.
But did he enforce all those things too? Many have argued that it was Churchill specifically who played the main role in starving 4.3 million Indians during the Bengal famine of 1943. A war hero, a saviour to his people, but also a racist responsible for the deaths of millions.
As a young soldier fighting in Afghanistan, his actions appeared to be far more reckless than necessary. When discussing the Mohmands, a local tribe, he said that ‘All who resist will be killed without quarter’, but perhaps more worryingly this was because ‘the Pashtuns need[ed]to understand the superiority of race’. It is important to understand his racism, as with all racism of the time, in its relevant historical context. But even so, this is not some casual discriminatory remark common of the time, this is justifying an action on the grounds of white supremacy.
This racial superiority instilled in Churchill was the driving force behind the Bengal famine of 1943. ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.’ Churchill clearly didn’t care for Britain’s murder, pillage and theft in India. In his tenure as a journalist before politics, he had described the British, compared to the Indians, as the ‘dominant race’, and had described Islam as ‘increasing the fury of intolerance’, ironically not tolerating it. When invaded, occupied and forced to labour, people tend not to be the most tolerant and co-operative. Possibly my favourite quote though on this subject, is Churchill’s following remark: ‘The religion of blood and war [Islam] is face to face with that of peace.’ ‘Luckily the religion of peace is usually the better armed.’ This is apparently meant without a hint of irony.
Even given this racial pretext, the events of 1943 were still extreme. Food was diverted from the Indians it was meant for, and stockpiled for the already well-supplied British army and its stockpiles, as well as elsewhere in Europe, including Greece and Yugoslavia. Churchill not only stole millions of tons of food from the Indians, but he refused to allow aid from other nations in the Empire. Canada offered 10,000 tons of rice, the U.S 100,000 but Churchill simply refused to allow aid. Not only were the Indians begging for their food, but British politicians were outraged at the injustice taking place at the base of Britain’s wealth and status as a world power. Churchill not only dismissed criticism of his policies that helped four million Indians starve to death, but took a bullish and care-free attitude towards this atrocity. In response to a telegram from India begging for food, he infamously replied:
Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?
Gandhi was another object of Winston’s hatred. When Gandhi started his campaign of peaceful resistance to the British, Churchill remarked that he ‘ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant’. It is clear that Churchill stood for democracy and freedom only for the British, and utilised the devised racism justifying colonisation to steal, starve and hoard. When proclaiming his wish for partition in India (a move that has caused a whole host of geopolitical turmoil) he stated that ‘I’d rather see them have a good civil war’.
Winston Churchill defended Britain saving millions of lives. Unfortunately, he also defended the British Empire too, killing millions. Heroes are tricky.