The Churchill Myth

From The Guardian:

Why can’t Britain handle the truth about Winston Churchill?

Priyamvada Gopal
 

A baleful silence attends one of the most talked-about figures in British history. You may enthuse endlessly about Winston Churchill “single-handedly” defeating Hitler. But mention his views on race or his colonial policies, and you’ll be instantly drowned in ferocious and orchestrated vitriol.

In a sea of fawningly reverential Churchill biographies, hardly any books seriously examine his documented racism. Nothing, it seems, can be allowed to complicate, let alone tarnish, the national myth of a flawless hero: an idol who “saved our civilisation”, as Boris Johnson claims, or “humanity as a whole”, as David Cameron did. Make an uncomfortable observation about his views on white supremacy and the likes of Piers Morgan will ask: “Why do you live in this country?

Not everyone is content to be told to be quiet because they would be “speaking German” if not for Churchill. Many people want to know more about the historical figures they are required to admire uncritically. The Black Lives Matter protests last June – during which the word “racist” was sprayed in red letters on Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, were accompanied by demands for more education on race, empire and the figures whose statues dot our landscapes.

Yet providing a fuller picture is made difficult. Scholars who explore less illustrious sides of Churchill are treated dismissively. Take the example of Churchill College, Cambridge, where I am a teaching fellow. In response to calls for fuller information about its founder, the college set up a series of events on Churchill, Empire and Race. I recently chaired the second of these, a panel discussion on “The Racial Consequences of Mr Churchill”.

More at the link. I confess that I’m a sucker for the Churchill myth, but even I will admit that he has more than a few skeletons in his closet, and it’s not a bad thing to examine all aspects of a person’s legacy. Christopher Hitchens explored this issue back in 2002 for The Atlantic. (Hitchens does claim the Churchill was right about the one thing that mattered.)

UPDATE: A friend comments:

It’s interesting that Gopal situates her critique of Churchill within the academically uncontroversial bounds of providing a more truthful and nuanced picture of an important historical figure.

We all know that’s not what she is aiming to do and that it is about destroying one narrative and replacing it with another.

That’s why she has encountered so much emotional resistance and it’s disingenuous to pretend that this is nothing more than a liberal exercise in pursuing historical truth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *