Winston Churchill is revered by almost everyone. His superb writing about his own career gained him a literature Nobel Prize. Countless movies glorified him, and every school child was taught about his courageous stance against fascism. He alerted the world about Adolf Hitler and also about communism in his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Mo.
His memorable phrases “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” and “their finest hour” were embedded into the minds of millions, aided immensely by Hollywood films. Surely, in popular admiration of World War II leaders, Churchill overshadowed FDR, Truman and De Gaulle. A grateful Britain honored him in countless ways.
But historiography tends to change in time with the disclosure of secret primary documents which demythologize post-war views.
Before the current upheavals, British historians such as John Pearson as well as Harvard’s Caroline Elkins had already started to correct Churchill’s adulated image.
No doubt more historical realism will be offered. Since global British Imperialism caused horrible burdens for hundreds of millions, the pent-up reservoir of justified complaints will be discharging for decades to come.
Churchill, after all, was an aristocrat, a racist, at one time even an anti-Semite, a frothing imperialist and politically a life-long opportunist who switched in a most unprincipled fashion from one party to another whenever it benefited his career.
As a young reporter, he loved covering the Boer War and other imperial adventures, even bragging about having in Africa plunged a knife into the chest of a poor soul. His famous escape from a Boer prison got him elected to Parliament.
A life-long naval enthusiast, he became First Admiral of the Fleet yet bungled a disastrous Gallipoli invasion in World War I.
As colonial secretary in the early 1920s, he used poison gas to murder thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. His museum in Fulton, Mo., tells visitors that he lived, while serving in India, more luxuriously than any European royalty. He worked only five months and played polo and indulged in hedonism the rest of the year.
He considered himself for a while to be a personal friend
of Joseph Stalin. As late as 1936, he was hoping that if Britain ever lost a war, it would produce a leader like Hitler. (Was he envious of Hitler hogging the limelight with the 1936 Olympic Games?)
All along, he maltreated in a most tyrannical way his own family during volatile moods, depressions and alcohol-induced stupor. Of four children, two died of alcoholism, one committed suicide and only one lived a reasonably normal life. The image of him and his wife Clementine obscured reality.
His stature as Britain’s most admired statesman rests on WW II mythology. It is here that the most decisive revisionism appears. An anti-Hitler conspiracy contacted the British Foreign Office with the proposal of assassinating Hitler if Britain would stop the war against Germany. But no reaction, why not? The issue still needs some clarifications.
In any case, Churchill supported Stalin at Yalta and granted him vastly more concessions then Chamberlain did to Hitler at Munich. Churchill admitted that he, Stalin and FDR thoroughly enjoyed with Stalin’s vodka a nine-hour long smoking and drinking party.
Yet, worst of all was his seizure of food supply ships to Bangladesh, which caused the starvation deaths of 4 million Bangladeshis.
Some historians believe Churchill aimed to knock out German economic competition, which Britain had tried unsuccessfully since the 1880s.
But to use war for economic benefit almost always results in more burdens than benefits. At the end of WW II, Churchill was ousted by the Labour Party and Britain had a debt of 240% of GDP.
For a while, Churchill was shunned but post-war mythologizing, and his own impressive literary self-glorification got him restored as prime minister in the early 1950s. As a die-hard imperialist, whose smoking- and alcohol-ravaged mind and body were confined to his bed, he still maltreated hundreds of thousands in his African concentration camps.
After WW II, children in Britain went hungry while a defeated Germany bypassed by 1953 the per-capita GDP of Britain. At the time of Churchill’s death in 1965, the British economy was so
bad that tourists were unable to take out of Britain more than
50 pounds. Ironically, these economic problems materialized in spite of the fact that Britain got the lion’s share of the Marshall Plan.