Churchill vs. Castro

churchill tommy gunWhen you are lionizing a thug, homophobe, mass murderer and all-round enemy of human dignity, there are two ways to go about it. The first is simply to ignore those gross moral deficiencies, which was the tack taken by Canadian PM Justin Trudeau when heaping praise on the finally dead Fidel Castro. Alternately, and this is the path taken today by Fairfax columnist Ruby Hamad, you can acknowledge the Cuban dictator’s jackbooted tendencies while simultaneously dismissing them as no worse than the flaws of other, more highly regarded figures. On the whole Trudeau’s approach is safer, as neglecting to mention a tyrant’s bloody history can be subsequently presented as a careless oversight, which is what Trudeau did in an addendum to his initial paean. Hamad, by contrast, sets out to draw a flattering comparison with Winston Churchill and fails in this undertaking even more spectacularly than is her addled, fact-challenged norm. Here she goes:

Winston Churchill famously said “The truth is incontrovertible”. Indeed, it is. Including the truth about Churchill. His victory over Nazi Germany may have led him to be voted the greatest ever Briton in 2002, but Churchill also spoke in favour of using poison gas against “uncivilised tribes”, presided over the Bengal famine that killed up to three million Indians, and boasted about killing “savages” as a young soldier in Africa.

Let’s take the Fairfax errorist’s accusations one at a time, starting with the implied charge that Churchill was all for killing dusky foreigners. Here he states his position in his own words (emphasis added):

It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.

Churchill was talking about tear gas, not Zyklon B. And to put things in further perspective, as Hamad might have done had Castro been advocating the use of poison gas, there is also this from Churchill:

If it is fair war for an Afghan to shoot down a British soldier behind a rock and cut him in pieces as he lies wounded on the ground, why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?

Now to Churchill’s alleged complicity in the deaths of “up to three million Indians” in the Bengal famine. What Hamad doesn’t mention is that the famine occurred in 1943 and was occasioned by Japan’s invasion and control of Burma, formerly the chief source of Bengal’s rice supplies. Churchill was asked to provide relief ships but did not — indeed, could not — comply, as few vessels were not otherwise occupied dodging German U-boats in the Atlantic. Nevertheless, Churchill did end the famine by appointing General Archibald Wavell as viceroy:

Wavell immediately commandeered the army to move rice and grain from areas where it was plentiful to where it was not, and begged Churchill to send what help he could. On 14 February 1944 Churchill called an emergency meeting of the War Cabinet to see if a way to send more aid could be found that would not wreck plans for the coming Normandy invasion. “I will certainly help you all I can,” Churchill telegraphed Wavell on the 14th, “but you must not ask the impossible.”  The next day Churchill wired Wavell: “We have given a great deal of thought to your difficulties, but we simply cannot find the shipping.”

Finally, there is Hamad’s condemnation of Churchill for killing “savages” as a young soldier in Africa. It should be enough to know that those “savages” were followers of the Mahdi — and a savage, fanatical lot they were too. Hamad would no doubt disagree but the right side won that particular encounter at Omdurman, so one can’t begrudge a little crowing. Nor can anyone, other than a Fairfax columnist, dispute the truth of this Churchill thought from the first, two-volume edition of The River War, his account of the Sudanese campaign:

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.

No wonder Hamad doesn’t like the man who defeated Hitler. Her column can be read via the link below.

— roger franklin

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