This January 24 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of a great defender of Empire, Winston Churchill. Although he is presented as a hero, in truth he was the racist leader of an evil empire.
Born into an affluent aristocratic family in 1874, Churchill was part of a rulling class that believe that the colonial actions of the British Empire were beneficial to the peoples of Asia and Africa. Like many, he was taught that white supremacy was the natural way of order and was required to bring civilization upon those considered to be “lesser races.” He represented the interests of Britain's rulng class while in and out of government over many decades and as Prime Minister from 1940–1945 and 1951–1955.
An overarching view on Churchill's attitude on race was plain to see during the 1937 Peel Commission where he stated, "I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. 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. "
It comes as no surprise that numerous revolts and uprisings occurred as Britain desperately tried to maintain its hold on its colonies. However, as the people subjected the British Empire fought to be free, Churchill never wavered. As Mahatma Gandhi, one of India’s numerous revolutionary figures, led his peaceful revolution to free the subcontinent, Churchill, angered that a supposed inferior race would dare bid for its democracy, stated that Gandhi "ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back."
Millions died due to Churchill's contempt for the Empire's subjects. In the Bengal Famine of 1943 around the latter half of the Second World War, up to 4 million people were intentionally starved to death. The colony of India was only a source of resource extraction for Britain. Not only did this lead to wide and systematic mismanagement, but also vast food and resource shortages for local peoples. Although there were many causes of the Bengal Famine, most notably colonial mismanagement, the British government could have arranged enough aid to keep people fed. While high ranking government officials such as Leopold Amery, India's Secretary of State, and Sir Archibald Wavell, India's upcoming Viceroy, planned a strategy to equip Bengal with needed supplies, Churchill refused. As other officials urged Churchill to act, he stated Bengal itself was responsible for "breeding like rabbits."
Churchill supported the creation of concentration camps in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). As Secretary of State for War, he was responsible for war crimes against independence movements–from sending the Black and Tans to attack the Irish, to using chemical weapons against Iraqis. As he said, "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes...(to) spread a lively terror." At the close of WWII, he supported fascists in Greece against the left, and he was Prime Minister while detention camps in Kenya were used to hold, torture and kill those presumed guilty of supporting independence from Britain during the Mau Mau Uprising (1952–1960). Whole villages were forcibly relocated to detention camps that eventually held 80,000 people. Just last year over 40,000 Kenyans launched a law suit for compensation for the torture they suffered at the hands of British officials in Kenya.
It is no defence to consider Churchill and his governments as just products of their time. There was widespread opposition to the British empire in all the colonies by the subject peoples from the wars fought to establish them, and throughout the brutal methods used to keep them. Churchill should only be missed by those who still yearn for a world where a few rich nations, like our own, can invade and occupy poor nations to guarantee access to their resources.