Autumn 2017 edition - page 6-7

He was voted the greatest Britain of all
time in a national poll in 2002. ButWinston Church-
ill, lauded as a war hero and a great leader, was
not universally popular during his political career.
Churchill was hated, berated, and treated with
contempt by many in his lifetime. Today, some
revisionist historians even go as far as to label him
a racist and warmonger. So which wasWinston
Churchill – hero or deeply flawed politician?
Throughout his life, Churchill was always in-
volved in politics and military affairs; but even from
the beginning of his career, Churchill has always
attracted controversy. The failed attack in Gallipoli
in 1914, while he was first lord of the admiralty,
caused hundreds of deaths and brought such dis-
grace upon Churchill that it forced him to resign.
In April 1925, as Chancellor of the Exchequer,
Churchill restored the gold standard, a monetary
system based on a fixed quantity of gold, claiming
that it would restore the British economy to health.
The move, however, was catastrophic and British
exports collapsed. Industry began to suffer and on
May 5th over 1.5 million workers across the country
went on strike. The government met this strike with
aggression. Special police and soldiers were sent
in to deal with the strikers. Churchill was not only
blamed for the damage caused by the return of the
gold standard but also for the violence shown to the
strikers. Churchill, as a firm believer in capitalism,
was dismissive of the working class and during the
General Strike of 1926, allegedly commented that
“a little blood-letting” would do some good.
It is not only Churchill’s actions during his
political career that were questionable, but his
racial attitudes too. When speaking to the `Royal
Palestine Commission he said: "I do not admit for
instance, that a great wrong has been done to the
Red Indians of America or the black people of Aus-
tralia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done
to these people by the fact that a stronger race,
a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to
put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
Although views such as this were common among
the upper class of the 1930s, the statements are
blatantly racist. Churchill was also a believer in eu-
genics (improving human genetic traits) and voted
for the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, whereby those
considered ‘idiots’, ‘imbeciles’, ’feeble-minded
persons’, or ‘moral imbeciles’ could be placed into
institutions. Churchill drafted that these ‘feeble-
minded persons’ should be sterilised rather than
placed into institutions; fortunately this did not
actually occur when the act was passed.
Churchill was inarguably an excellent leader
during the SecondWorldWar and it is his record
in wartime that has established his reputation as a
legendary prime minister. Churchill handled war so
well quite simply because war was his passion. In a
letter to his friend in 1916 he wrote: ‘I think a curse
should rest on me — because I love this war. I know
it's smashing and shattering the lives of thousands
every moment — and yet — I can't help it — I enjoy
every second of it.’ It takes a level of detachment
from war to be able to speak about it in this man-
ner. It is reasonable to argue that he did so well as
a wartime leader due to his antipathy towards the
fighting and the loss of life involved, rather than
his actual leadership qualities. He wrote in a memo
during his time as minister for war and air in 1919:”I
am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against
uncivilised tribes,” This statement further highlights
a ruthlessness within Churchill, making you ques-
tion his morality.
Churchill was an excellent military leader,
his speeches stirred the public and without him
WorldWar Two could have had a different outcome;
but he also showed racist tendencies and commit-
ted crimes against humanity, for example in Kenya
when he imprisoned 150,000 Kikuyu Kenyans who
were seeking independence, allowing many to be
tortured and shot.
A man with so many faults should surely not be
considered as one of the greats simply because of
his ability to remain unwavering when faced with
the violence of war.
Camille McCarthy
Winston Churchill:
Britain's Greatest Leader?
1,2-3,4-5 8-9,10-11,12-13,14-15,16-17,18-19,20-21,22-23,24-25,26-27,...42
Powered by FlippingBook