Cognitive Dissonance: Getting to Grips with the Real Winston Churchill

While perusing an internet forum I frequent, I came across a thread that was sonorous with disbelief and indignation. It concerned an article in the Daily Mail that expressed Tory outrage at the proposed idea of a statue honouring Tony Blair to be installed in Westminster. After the individual had vented his spleen on the decision to immortalise this much-maligned figure in British politics, he listed the names of three Britons, who have all been honoured in statue (Cromwell, Churchill, Attlee) followed by Tony Blair, and then asked, with a confident air that suggested the answer was self-evident, “who is the odd one out?” Of course, these are the names of four British leaders. Given the nature and content of this particular forum message, it is fair to assume that he considers the first three men named, to be of high pedigree and permanent residents in the pantheon of great British gentlemen; Tony Blair, however, being more akin to a villainous cretin who, if he were on fire, would be unworthy of the this poster’s urine, and therefore the odd one out. However, when I read his message I, without hesitation, put all my conviction into the Clement Attlee camp. The other four cannot boast the clear conscience that the quiet, unassuming and modest Attlee must have enjoyed when he retired to private life. Attlee successfully administered Britain’s transition into peacetime following the Second World War and competently surmounted the effective bankruptcy that followed. Attlee brought the National Health Service into existence: a critical component in the reconstruction of Britain. He granted independence to India and Burma and oversaw the beginnings of decolonisation, thus finally delivering on disingenuous promises made by the Tories, on which they continuously stalled; free secondary education became a universal right for the first time under his government; Britain’s agricultural production would go up 20% by 1952 as Britain would develop the most efficient and mechanised farming industry in the world; the economy slowly recovered; living standards were raised, and a level of full-employment was maintained throughout the majority of Attlee’s Premiership.

Following my short deliberation, I began to dissect each of the other ‘Great Britons’ that were mentioned, and it occurred to me that nothing truly “great” can be said of them at all – except in the pejorative sense. After a few moments I began to grow more distressed at the fact that men like Churchill and Cromwell should enjoy such an exalted status, praised as heroes and patriots, given the extent of the destruction and devastation they caused in their tenure as supreme leader of Britain and England, respectively. I also ruminated over why their transgressions against humanity were allowed to remain in the murky shadows of the British consciousness. Was it because they were victors in their respective war-time endeavours? We know that history generally favours the victors, in such a way that they are seen as the “good” that triumphed over “evil.” It soon became clear to me that we have allowed these myths to perpetuate themselves for so long, that it is now almost impossible to raze them to the ground. This is where cognitive dissonance comes into play. For one to read or hear stories of Churchill that run counter to what one has been led to believe can be too much for most minds to process, understand and accept.

So, here I begin a piece that will serve to dismantle the many erroneous, preconceived notions regarding Winston Churchill, and bring to light the harrowing truths that reveal his execrable iniquities, as well as offering inescapable insights into his callous indifference to non-British humanity. I feel that, before I continue, I must append a warning which will be especially serviceable to those reactionaries who hold up Churchill as the paragon of the Tory ideal . What you are about to read is a damning historical testimony against one Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, that will show him to be analogous to any other jingoistic war criminal who we vilify and condemn today. The evidence of which I will apprise you, and the true nature of ‘our greatest Briton’ that will be illustrated in this blog, will elicit, from you, a fiery disdain of me; you will be outraged, call me a liar, even a blasphemer; an ungrateful miscreant who desecrates and denigrates Britain’s “saviour” who stood up for freedom, and delivered us from the Fascist menace. But do not worry, I shall not be unnerved or harbour any ill will toward you, as I know that it will be the cognitive dissonance engendered by these largely unknown truths that causes your misplaced anger. Britain and the western world had been fooled into accepting, without deviation, the image of a virtuous, heroic, utilitarian Churchill; only recently has that tacit acceptance begun to be aggressively challenged. Churchill’s career in politics was a devastating affliction for many; from his time as First Lord of the Admiralty to the final weeks of the second world war, Churchill directly and indirectly visited misery upon millions. However, as Churchill said himself “history will be kind to me for I intend to write it” and as victor, write it, he did.

Churchill’s tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War was plagued by a determination to stamp his mark on British and world politics. It was also blighted by an endless stream of woeful decision-making on the future PM’s part. The foolhardy Dardanelles campaign in 1915, in which he was one of the chief engineers, is a prime example. This disastrous failure precipitated the genocide carried out against Armenians, which brought a death toll of between 600,000 and 1.8 million men, women and children between 1915 and 1923. Churchill had yearned for war ever since his appointment in 1911. On July 28 1914, before war had broken out, Churchill mobilised the Home Fleet, in the biggest assembly of naval power in global history up to that point. Informing only Herbert Asquith of his plans – he feared the naval actions would be seen as provocative by the Cabinet, which they certainly were – the fleet was ordered to proceed at high speed, under darkness and without lights to its operations base at Scapa Flow. The subterfuge was consistent with contemporaries descriptions of Churchill radiating with a “glowing zest”, when war was announced; in stark contrast with the despondency of his fellow chiefs in the war ministry. What was most important to Churchill were his interpretation of British interests; those that complimented his own chauvinistic and reactionary politics. As the very definition of a jingoist warmonger, the egotistical Churchill gave little thought to anything that did not inflate his own political and global prestige. Only he managed to consummately shroud his megalomania with a heavy veil of ultra-patriotism, and a pseudo sense of divinely ordained duty. Churchill cared  little for those who were not British and his profligacy with the lives of people is harrowing. The moment war was declared Churchill implemented a hunger blockade that would kill 750,000 Germans civilians.

Churchill’s political machinations did not end with clandestine provocations to war and duplicity in his communication with the ministry and parliament. From the outset of hostilities, Churchill had wanted to embroil America in the conflict. Although it is not altogether certain whether Churchill had a hand in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, in which 1195, mainly American, passengers and crew died, but evidence shows that Churchill saw attacks on merchant shipping as the most likely catalyst to propel the United States into the war in Europe. Churchill had written to Walter Runciman, President of the Board of Trade, a week before the disaster, that it was “most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores, in the hopes especially of embroiling the United States with Germany.” Prior to the sinking, Churchill had ordered captains of merchant ships to ram German submarines, a command of which the Germans were aware. The German government going as far as to place ads in New York newspapers warning Americans not to board the Lusitania. As we know, Churchill got what he wanted; an American catastrophe later propelled the US government into entering the conflict. This theme would continue with Churchill into the Second World War.

Churchill’s tenure as war leader from 1940 to 1945 is so profanely littered with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and disastrous military endeavours -the product of the PM’s feeble and complacent mind – that it is impossible, within the scope of this article, to enumerate them in detail. Many Second World War enthusiasts will, for example, be aware of his threats to fire on French ships, to preclude their falling into German hands, following France’s surrender, as well as the instance where he followed through on this warning – against the wishes of his chiefs of staff – and fired upon a French fleet north of Algeria when they refused to relinquish their vessels, resulting in the deaths of 1500 sailors. In-line with his cynical and egregious skullduggery during WWI, Churchill had the opportunity to warn America of the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor, but chose not to, as he was again eager to involve more Americans in his war. Prior to December 7 1941, after a talk with Churchill, Joseph Kennedy, who was American ambassador to Britain, noted that “every hour will be spent by the British in trying to figure out how we can be gotten in.” Kennedy pleaded with the State Department to announce that if the ship taking him back to New York from Lisbon, should happen to spontaneously explode in the Atlantic, the United States would not consider it a reason to declare war on Germany. Kennedy would later write in his memoirs: “I thought that would give me some protection against Churchill’s placing a bomb on the ship.” In the 1940s, ambassador to Britain was the highest honour an American politician could have conferred upon him, after the Presidency of course, and so to perceive Churchill in such a way tells its own lurid story of Churchill’s true nature. Indeed it is a vociferous testimony that annihilates the image of Churchill that has been painted since VE-Day. Churchill’s influence was also palpable in the anti-German pro-British propaganda that was emanating from Hollywood before America’s involvement in the war, such was his unrelenting desire to fight to the last American.

The penultimate focus of my exposé on Winston Churchill will be on his treatment of the Asian natives who lived – and fought – under the protection of the British Crown; more specifically his contempt for the indigenous population of the Indian subcontinent, and his cruel indifference to their plight. Churchill had been very sympathetic with regard to the right to self-determination for the peoples of Europe. However, he vehemently opposed Indian self-determination until the end, like a true die-hard Tory. Churchill had known that British rule of India depended on the enmity between Muslims and Hindus (divide and rule) and he continued to foment Hindu-Muslim antipathy which was influential in the unwise and rushed partition of India, the ramifications of which, we are still seeing today. But this hypocrisy was not just the intransigence of an old reactionary who was still marvelled in Britain’s imperial history, wishing to hold onto one of the dying embers of empire that still masqueraded as a glittering jewel in the eyes of traditional conservatives. It also revealed, in vivid technicolor, the Prime Minister’s racism and passé views on racial superiority, or more aptly in this case, inferiority. This depiction of Churchill, uncomfortable for many it can be sure, is compounded by events following the fall of Burma. After this humiliating reversal Britain began stockpiling rice and other staples of the Indian peasantry; the food was diverted from where it was desperately needed, and redirected to already well-fed British troops, or sent to Greece. Consequently, the last large-scale famine to hit India took place under British rule, actively precipitated by Churchill. Churchill’s twisted rationale and his nefarious indifference to humanity can be summed  no better, than by the charismatic orator’s own words: “The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious” than that of “sturdy Greeks”, he argued. “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” Churchill nonchalantly blamed the Bengalis for their own plight for “breeding like rabbits”. Churchill’s contempt for human existence had a long history: in 1919, he described himself as being “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilisedtribes”, arguing that it would “spread a lively terror.“Six million Indians were to starve to death; Churchill confessing to the deed in a letter to FDR.

The final chapter in the dark side of Churchill delineates the war crime for which he is most infamous: the terror-bombing of German cities to force Germany’s capitulation, most notably in the final weeks of a war that had already been irretrievably lost by the Germans two and a half years beforehand. The state sanctioned murder of German civilians continued as late as April 1945, ending only when the head of Bomber Command, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, declared that there were no targets left. Churchill brazenly lied to Parliament and the British public when he proclaimed that the RAF would target purely military and industrial centres; while his plan from the beginning had been to kill Germany’s civilian population at an alarming rate, and thus terrorise them into submission. (The bombing of Dresden – which was of no strategic significance – is an example of the sanguinary Churchill.) Over 600,000 German civilians would die from Allied terror bombing – ten times more than the British civilian death toll – and a further 800,000 were seriously injured in the bombing raids. It need not be mentioned that Churchill supported the atomic bombs used on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to devastating effect.  The judgment of a conservative like Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is worth considering, he wrote: “Non-Britishers did not matter to Mr. Churchill, who sacrificed human beings their lives, their welfare, their liberty with the same elegant disdain as his colleague in the White House.”

I have always thought that it is important to consider any controversial figure within the context of his or her time, but the actions of Churchill are beyond redemption. Nothing should have delivered Churchill from his deserving resting place, which is on the dung-hill of history. But alas, he was on the side of the victorious and as a result he was, and is unjustly acknowledged as a hero, the resilient British bulldog who defeated the Fascist menace and vanquished the armies of darkness, revealing their horrendous atrocities perpetrated under the banner of National-Socialism while dissembling his own campaigns of murder and genocide which were quickly forgotten, if they were known of at all, among the rapturous victory celebrations. When I think of Churchill, the pathetic apparition of a deplorable human-being presents itself before me; one who was scornful of the humanity of non-British people, indifferent to the well-being of non-whites, most of whom were under the aegis of British rule. Churchill had an humanitarian duty towards those who Britain unjustly subjugated and enslaved in a climate of iniquity and privation, and those who sacrificed their blood for the freedom of Europe. In present day society he is venerated as the paragon of the Conservative model, the epitome of a patriot, the man who encapsulates the nation’s “stiff upper lip” spirit, and embodies a noble and courageous fortitude. But to me, the man is deserving not of praise, but of revulsion and vilification. And so, I give my blessing to any proposed bust of Tony Blair. For if we honour this war criminal who has brought death and destruction to many, we can say that it is consistent with, and justified by precedent.

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About johnny3wishbone

University of Bristol alum Follow me on Twitter @DanielAdshead25 A few of my favourite things: International development, human rights, justice, wildlife conservation, primates, politics, literature, music, catharsis, theatre, my fiance, history, environment, current events, writing, reading, running, fundraising, campaigning, activism, travel, Prague, Bristol, Mexican food
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