Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Recent Churchill-mania does history a disservice

The recent spate of Churchill-mania, particularly in the right-wing media, which these days includes the BBC, has yet again illustrated how history can be done a huge disservice when an individual`s reputation is determined by opinion and bias, rather than actual evidence.
 Much fuss has been made, recently, over Jeremy Paxman`s regret, expressed in the Radio Times, that in the present political climate Churchill "would never be elected today", because "Westminster is so dominated by spin and PR polish". The fact that we have already far too many right-wing candidates in this year`s election, with views which outrage the majority of the electorate, was ignored, whilst Churchill`s anti trade union views are being duplicated by at least two of the main parties. His views on other races, the female sex, and chemical weapons are probably too extreme for public airing.
    Why would the British people want to cast their votes for the man, who almost singlehandedly created the idea of a Russian threat with his "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946, which led to the Cold War, and its accompanying nuclear arms race? At a time when foreign policy needs to be based on compromise and caution, when the threat of terrorist attack has to be met with conciliation rather than armed conflict, the last thing Britain needs now is Churchillian aggression.
 Then, of course, there`s the new "biography" of Churchill by would-be Tory leader, Boris Johnson, and even the review of this book in the Morning Star was surprisingly generous.(12/01/15) Sadly Churchill is still revered by the majority of people in this country, often winning accolades like the "greatest Briton" in populist polls, which, of course, is why Johnson has written the book, hoping the creation of political association, and supposed similarity between author and subject, will advance his career. The fact that the book will reach the bestselling charts, and earn for the author yet more obscene amounts of money, which Johnson will no doubt describe again as "chickenfeed", I suspect, was a minor consideration.
 The book`s content has elsewhere come under attack for its "negligible contribution to knowledge" and bearing as much resemblance "to a history book as a Doctor Who episode", but the trouble is that by describing Churchill`s racist ideas as "frankly a bit whacko", Johnson does nothing to correct the mistaken vision held by many. Until a "celebrity" book, or TV series, focuses on events like Churchill`s attempts to control the BBC during the General Strike, his sending of troops to end the strike at Tonypandy, his infamous racist comments, including the ones ensuring the death of three million during the Bengal famine of 1943, and even his encouragement of the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East, the myth will be perpetuated. 
  What a shame that the opinions of generations are being formed, not by historians who have studied all the evidence in depth, evaluated and analysed it, but by Tory buffoons and biased television presenters. It`s not as though either Johnson or Paxman have studied 20th century history in any detail, with Paxman having an English degree, and Johnson studying Classics! The fact that Johnson makes government by Tories sounding like "fun" at Greyfriars hides the underlying truth that Churchill is far from deserving the heroic status given him by fawning Tories.
       Paxman seems to have forgotten that Churchill was "unelectable" in 1945, and the millions, who have benefitted from the NHS and the welfare state since then, have reason to be grateful for the wisdom of the postwar voters. In 1945, the Tories thought putting the Beveridge plan into action could not be afforded. Where have we heard that one before? In the election campaign, Churchill, in his first radio election broadcast, accused Attlee of wanting to behave like a dictator, despite his loyal service in the war cabinet. In order to put its plans into operation, Labour would, according to the Tory leader, "have to fall back on some form of a Gestapo"!
       Even many returning soldiers failed to vote for him, disgusted as they were by Churchill`s habit of smoking expensive cigars in front of them, when they hadn`t had a richly-deserved cigarette for days. Its not as though Churchill was the most careful of politicians when it came to reducing the number of casualties, either. In World War One his Gallipoli campaign ended after eight months with over 50,000 French and British deaths. His failure to warn the Lusitania in 1915 of the proximity of a German submarine led to its sinking and the death of 1198 passengers and crew. In the second world war, as the Guardian recently reported, his "shameful decision to turn on Greek partisans" who had fought so bravely on our side, led to the death of 28 and 100s injured on 3 December,1944. His plan to return the Greek king to power meant a switch back to arming previous supporters of Hitler! Yet the British still revere him as a hero!
 What, it seems, no-one dare dispute is his inspirational leadership during World War Two, and whilst it is impossible to deny that Churchill helped maintain morale and give people hope, other factors were at work, and who is to say that Attlee or other contemporary politicians like Bevin, could not have had a similar impact. It is a well-known fact in history that civilan bombing, whether it be on innocent targets in the Blitz, or in Vietnam or modern-day Gaza, does not reduce the will to fight on, or decrease determination to resist. In fact, it has the opposite effect!
            What is worrying is that Johnson`s book will become another in a long list of "history" books being used to mislead, perpetuating dangerous ideas about war, nationalism, racial superiority, sexism, and even trade union activity. With so much being written and presented, it all sounds a little like election propaganda, with the electorate expected to believe that Churchill and his Tory acolytes have some sort of God-given right to rule. How far from the truth can you get?


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