August 29, 2013

Finest Hour 106, Spring 2000

Page 12


David Irving, the Hitler apologist and Churchill hater, has lost a three-month libel battle in England’s High Court against Penguin Publishing and Deborah Lipstadt, whose book, Denying the Holocaust, had called him a World War II holocaust denial fanatic. The judge’s summary was damning, branding Irving as a “racist and an anti-Semite” who associated with neo-Nazi groups. There wasn’t a redeeming sentence in the judgement. Irving doesn’t seem to be at all repentent, but we suspect his bank manager is. Estimates are that this case will have cost him at least £2 million.

1) GAME: A novel bleat was published in the February 18th Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, from one David Kipling, protesting a February 16th column by Marcus Gee, who named Churchill the greatest figure of the 20th century: “Well, the man certainly scored a heck of a body count among soldiers and citizens—including a few striking Welsh miners even before the Second World War. A parliamentary tactician devoid of political commitment, with an artful line of patter straight out of Queen Anne’s reign, he climbed on stage for the Hitler thing and caused less evil than Adolf. This ranks as ‘great’?….Under orders ‘we’ had to fight each other on the beaches, but you bosses fought from cozy concrete bunkers 50 feet underground….No more ‘Churchills’ of any name or nation!” Finest Hour replied: “There are plenty of legitimate Churchill critics and critiques, so why give space to cranks? The Churchill Mr. Kipling says fought World War II ‘from cozy concrete bunkers’ had to be restrained from spending Blitz nights on the Downing Street roof, and—aged 65-70—flew around the world in cold, unpressurized aircraft, contracting pneumonia on one trip, in the interest of the war effort, which is more than we recall any other leader doing.”

2) SET: Incredibly, this drew a response from David Irving (see above), who apparently subscribes to the Globe and Mail! “If I may respond, as a historian who has worked for 20 years on the great man’s biography: It may well be, as Richard Langworth says (letter, March 8), that Mr. Churchill spent many a night on the roof of No. 10 Downing Street. As we now know, however, those nights on the roof were nights when Winston knew from codebreaking that London was not the target. When he knew that London was going to cop it, he hopped into his Daimler and had himself driven out to Dytchley [sic] in Oxfordshire, for the night. Comparison of his desk diary, which I have, and the Air Ministry records indicate this beyond doubt. Of course, he was a magnificent orator….”

3) AND MATCH…It took us just ten minutes to send the Globe and Mail the first citation challenging Mr. Irving: The War and Colonel Warden, by Gerald Pawle, based on the recollections of Churchill’s wartime naval aide Cdr. C. R. “Tommy” Thompson (London: 1963, chapter 8, page 82): One night at Downing Street, “a strong presentiment of danger” prompted Churchill to send his kitchen staff to a shelter, just before the kitchen was destroyed by a bomb falling on the Treasury. Churchill immediately went in search of his staff and, finding them safe, led some guests “through the India Office quadrangle to Storey’s Gate, and up to the sandbagged emplacement which had been built for him as an observation post on the roof of the Air Ministry. This was his favourite coign of vantage in air raids.” (He had it BUILT—get it?) Mr. Irving (we wrote) says he is a historian, but he is clearly unfamiliar with the function of Ditchley. Churchill went there not to avoid London, but to avoid Chequers (the official country house of Prime Ministers) when, on weekends of the full moon, Chequers could easily be spotted by enemy bombers. The PM explained that he did “not object to chance but feels it a mistake to be a victim of design.” (Fringes of Power, Colville, London: 1985, p. 263). Churchill visited Ditchley exactly seven times during the entire war. (Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. VI, London: 1983, passim.) Mr. Irving may like to know that the Luftwaffe visited London rather more frequently, and not just on weekends. Numerous serious historians, from Higgins and Roskill to Rhodes James and Charmley, have written cogently of Churchill’s flaws which, like his qualities, were on a grand scale. The points is that the qualities outnumbered the flaws—which did not include cowardice.

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4) JUST SHUT UP! All of the above (and many other letters to the editor), was too much for Globe and Mail columnist Rick Salutin, who wrote on March 17th: “Will all you people please shut up about Winston Churchill? It hasn’t stopped since before the millennium….Now, four months later, with Y2K just a memory, the Churchill torrent pours on. Letters, articles, columns… Last week, David Irving took time off from his Holocaust denial trial in London to write The Globe on Churchill, followed by a flood of rebuttal. My own view of Churchill is more restrained. I’d say he was wrong on every issue in his life except one. But if you’re only going to be right once, it’s a good thing if it’s about Hitler. Otherwise: He largely opposed the vote for women; favoured forcible sterilization of ‘the feeble-minded and insane classes’; helped repress the Irish independence movement; supported military intervention against the Russian revolution; welcomed Mussolini’s coup in Italy; wanted to use the 1926 General Strike as a pretext to smash British labour; opposed India’s independence; and helped launch the Cold War by sending British troops to Greece to crush the anti-Nazi resistance. He was also an unapologetic racist. He called Indians ‘baboos’ and Africans ‘fuzzy-wuzzies.’ In 1919, when asked to allow use of poison gas ‘against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment,’ he said: ‘I do not understand the squeamishness.’…He believed in the destiny of the ‘British race’ and ‘English-speaking peoples’….One merit of the Churchill yakfest is it lets us notice that the old-fashioned racism of imperial days is still around. Take the allegations about murders of natives by Saskatchewan police….” and on and on ad infinitum in which Mr. Salutin managed to insert his view of Canadian politics.

6) SHUT UP YOURSELF! The trouble with replying to the same old lies by people who ignore responsible sources is that they get paid to write, whereas letters to the editor get no pay. But new legions were coming to our aid…

“Rick Salutin has identified a point that we must not forget: even our heroes were human, with flaws in their character and mistakes in their record. Winston Churchill’s 90 years of life and 70 years of military and political service certainly have moments that were not his “finest hour.”

“Babe Ruth struck out more than 1,000 times, but his legacy is based on his home runs, many at critical moments for his team. Salutin has the right to challenge the legacy of Churchill, but it is also fair to ask him to be accurate in his knowledge of history.

“Salutin is obviously unaware that the Irish nationalist who gave his life for a peace settlement, Michael Collins, sent word to “tell Winston I could never have done it without him.” Churchill led the resistance to a communist takeover in Greece, but surely Mr. Salutin is not suggesting that Stalin would have removed Soviet troops from Poland, Hungary, East Germany, etc. had Churchill given him that war-ravaged land! Churchill warned of the “Iron Curtain” from “Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic” when other world leaders either didn’t see it or refused to recognize it. He did indeed have his battles with labour leaders, but his leadership established unemployment insurance and labour exchanges (employment centres) in Britain prior to WWI.

“Yes, he made his mistakes, and being “a man of his times” is not always justification, but he just as often admitted them. He readily accepted that he sometimes had to eat his own words. “And on the whole I find them a tasty diet,” he said. I do hope that Mr. Salutin, after a deeper reading of history, will find his just as tasty.” John Plumpton, President, The Churchill Center, to the Globe and Mail 

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