Friday, September 10, 2010

Sir Winston, C.B.E. (Crazy Bigot of Empire)

The 1943 conquest of Burma by the Japanese precipitated a famine in Bengal that ultimately claimed as many as 3 million lives. It has long been known that this was preventable, though it has been assumed that the reason for it was mismanagement of the British Raj, under duress of world war. According to a new book by Madhusree Mukerjee, though, the blame falls directly at the feet of one man: The old bulldog, Winston Churchill.

In Churchill's Secret War, she argues that the Brits administering the Raj battled, to no avail, to obtain relief for that starving province, and were checked by Churchill on every occasion. She also proves, by analyzing a number of records and archives of the time, the old standby excuse of no ships being available to send rations is a lie, that any number of ships passed India during this time, filled with grain. She also claims that both the United States and Australia repeatedly offered to send food, but were prevented from doing so by the cannard regarding ship availability. She also says the U.S. finally offered to provide shipping, but that the Churchill government ignored the request. She argues that he was unhinged in his hatred of the Indian people, supporting her claim by citing an observation in the diary of Leo Amery, the British secretary of state for India, questioning Churchill's reason on the issue. "I am by no means sure," Amery wrote, "whether on this subject of India he is really quite sane." Amery also reportedly compared Churchill's attitude to that of Hitler's, after one particularly upsetting anti-Indian rant. He is quoted by Amery as saying that he hated Indians, calling them a "beastly people with a beastly religion", and going so far as saying they deserve to starve, because they "breed like rabbits." Mukerjee associates Churchill's "racist hatred" for India with his love for the (bloated, stinking carcass of) the British empire. He regarded India "in the way a jealous husband loves his trophy wife: he would rather destroy it than let it go." It bears mentioning here, I think, that a man who would rather "destroy" his wife than "let her go" has ceased being jealous, and has become psychotic—and a man who would permit the starvation of 3 million human beings because of disquiet regarding their political will has graduated from being psychotic to being a monster.

As an aside, I've always had negative feelings about Churchill. His attitude toward the Irish—as well as his role in inflicting the black and tans on them—has always pissed me off, as has his advocacy of torture and poison gas (among the "uncivilized"—a designation which can be properly translated as meaning "unwhite" or "Irish"). Yea, he could be a charming guy, and had a droll wit, and he kept that damn Lady Astor in her place. Bottom line, though, if we're looking for someone to cast as the sordid face of empire, in my book he'll do just fine.

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