Winston Churchill & The Green Party MSP


Posted by in April's Magazine

Protempore …

In recent days, there has been something of a heated debate in public about former Prime Minister Winston Churchill and whether he was (and remains) the greatest ever Briton or whether he was in fact, a racist with a pathological disregard for human life. I have my own views on the matter, which we’ll return to later, but for now, here is how it all started.

Ross Greer is 24 years old and a Green Party Member of the Scottish Parliament. He recently responded to a tweet marking the anniversary of Churchill’s death by tweeting that: ‘Churchill was a white supremacist mass murderer’. Cue thunderous outrage from those who believed that Churchill was single-handedly responsible for repelling the Nazi hordes in World War Two. Quite right too some of you might think, but that’s the problem with Twitter – it doesn’t allow for context to be included alongside the barbed remarks. In this case that wasn’t a problem because in the days that followed, Ross Greer was invited on to a plethora of media platforms to explain what many thought were outrageous remarks. 

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In doing so, he pointed out the following. Churchill referred to Indians as “a beastly people with a beastly religion”; he spoke of the inevitable triumph of “Aryan stock”; he was accused of complicity in the Bengal famine in which 3 million people starved to death; and he supported the use of poison gas against what he perceived to be “uncivilised tribes” in Afghanistan and Northern India. The British Cabinet at that time was opposed to the use of poisoned gas, much to Churchill’s irritation. In a cabinet memo, he wrote:

‘I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes’. 

He also criticised his Cabinet colleagues for their ‘squeamishness’, declaring that:

‘The objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than the high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war’.

The end of his memo best sums up the dismissive imperialist that Churchill really was:

‘Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?’ he asked. ‘It is really too silly’.

Would it have made a difference to the searing outrage which spewed forth from the likes of that revered historian Piers Morgan?

If Ross Greer had been able to include this context in his original tweet would it have made a blind bit of difference to the searing outrage which spewed forth from the likes of that revered historian Piers Morgan? No, it wouldn’t because Churchill has, in some quarters, been lionised by actual historians who have conveniently airbrushed the ugly and brutal side of the man completely out of the picture. If people want to elevate such characters to the giddy heights of national hero, they have to be able to accept that they cannot simply put to one side the fact that these people were flawed and in Churchill’s case, something of a cold-blooded reactionary when faced with people who didn’t share his imperialistic outlook.

I said earlier that I have my own views on Churchill and as far as I’m concerned, I’m with Ross Greer on this one. Notwithstanding the outrages mentioned above, Churchill was also a callous and ruthless bastard closer to home.   

He was fervently opposed to trade unions and when the Home Secretary, sent in troops to deal with strikes in Tonypandy in Wales and Liverpool the army killed two workers. He also sent tanks and 10,000 troops to Glasgow during widespread strikes about the mistreatment of workers. 

In 1920, when British Secretary of War, he sent the murderous Black and Tans into Ireland as a last roll of the dice to quell the rise of Irish republicanism following the uprising of 1916. Churchill knew that the Black and Tans were a disorganised and psychopathic unit of temporary soldiers who counted amongst their numbers ex-prisoners and fervent unionists whose orders consisted of inflicting unrelenting violence on republican sympathisers and to shoot to kill. Churchill gave the order to send them in despite the fact that Sinn Fein had won 73 per cent of the vote in the 32-county election in 1918. It was also Churchill who came up with the idea of forming the Auxiliaries who carried out the Croke Park massacre by firing into the crowd at a Gaelic football match, killing 14 people. 

This didn’t fulfill Churchill’s desire to repress people who he described as “odd” for their refusal “to be English”, as he went on to advocate the use of air power in Ireland against Sinn Fein members in 1920. He suggested to his war advisers that planes should be dispatched with orders to use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to “scatter and stampede them”.

Churchill once said that history would be kind to him as he intended to write it. I don’t remember him writing any of this. ν

Protempore

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