FINEST HOUR 136, AUTUMN 2007
BY RICHARD M. LANGWORTH
“I hate Indians”…All right, he said it!
TORONTO, JULY HTH— Canadian readers were pained to report a Churchill quotation, “I hate Indians,” in a Globe and Mail article blaming Churchill (and Gandhi) for the bloodbath following India’s 1947 partition. That again!
Churchill’s remark, reported in Barnes-Nicholson, ed., The Leo Amery Diaries (London: Hutchinson, 1980), vol. II, 833 is well known—and often dredged up by careless writers to suggest WSC’s inherent racism. We prefer to regard this as William F. Buckley, Jr. did, speaking at the 1995 Churchill conference in Boston:
” [He was] working his way through disputatious bureaucracy from separatists in New Delhi….I don’t doubt that the famous gleam came to his eyes when he said this, with mischievous glee—an offense, in modern convention, of genocidal magnitude.”
Churchill’s attitudes to India are ingrained in the public mind, and regularly come to our attention—often from Indians, whom we find remarkably more open-minded and interested in the truth than westerners. We refer all to articles on our website, and our Indian correspondent, Inder Dan Ratnu, who wrote several of them; and our website search engine to find such subjects as “India Act” or “Churchill and India.”
In this interesting piece, Mr. Ratnu mentions the little-known contact of Churchill with Gandhi after the India Act had passed, showing that neither harbored the bitterness commonly ascribed to them. Gandhi told 1905, when Churchill had defended the rights of the Indian community in South Africa (get that feeling of deja vu?—see page 52, column 3!)
Always, to demonstrate that we are not hopeless hagiographers, we refer critics to my own “Eighteen of Churchill’s Flaws and Mistakes,”, particularly number 6: “Wasting political capital opposing the India Bill.”
This in turn refers to Professor Manfred Weidhorn’s foreword to the republished American edition of Churchill’s India (Hopkinton, New Hampshire: Dragonwyck, 1990).
Alas a lifetime supply of India was destroyed in a fire some years ago, so we laboriously copy out the history of it, along with a long quotation by Professor Weidhorn.
India was proposed by Churchill to Thornton Butterworth, his current English publisher, on 21 March 1931, when the author offered a package of seven “very good speeches…! have taken much more trouble with them than any book.”
Churchill’s object was to gain support for his campaign against the India Bill, over which he had broken with his party leadership, believing these relatively modest reforms would lead to the loss of India to the Empire.
Thornton Butterworth responded enthusiastically, saying he supported Churchill’s cause. But he was possibly more interested in re-cementing a relationship that had only just survived Churchill’s threat to drop him in a dispute about World Crisis royalties. To the initial seven speeches Churchill added three earlier addresses and a pithy introduction, and India was published in cloth and paperback two months later.
Eminendy a product of its time, India was fast overtaken by what Churchill called the “Gathering Storm” of World War II. Although our author usually favored republication of his earlier books, he saw no reason to revive India. After all, his cause had been lost when the India Bill had passed Parliament in 1935. Churchill even sent Gandhi his best wishes for success, and lent tacit approval to Attlee’s plan to grant India Dominion status (thus de facto independence) in 1948.
What he did not approve was the sudden rush to quit India under Attlee’s Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, who arbitrarily moved Britain’s departure date up to August 1947. British authority thus ended before boundaries could be worked out between Moslems, Hindus and Sikhs—a vast shift of population, with bloody attacks by the various sides against each other. Later Churchill would exclaim to Mountbatten, “What you did in India was like striking me across the face with a riding crop.”
India remained largely forgotten except to collectors, inaccessible to students of rhetoric and political science. In 1990, we were able to publish a new American Edition with an introduction by Manfred Weidhorn, and enough of the production run got into circulation that copies can still be found on the used book market. For a search, go to www.bookfinder.com.
WEIDHORN ON INDIA —from the 1990 edition
Setting aside the merits of the substance of these speeches, one must admit that as rhetorical exercises they are impressive. They were made when Churchill was at the height of his oratorical powers and one of the best speakers in the House of Commons.
Stanley Baldwin has much to answer for at the bar of history, but in this matter he was right. Churchill carried on about how the facts were against Indian independence. Baldwin urged people to face up to the truth. The principal fact “today,” he concluded, was that “the unchanging East has changed.” With that one nugget, the usually pedestrian Baldwin shoots the usually eloquent Churchill, with his romantic, Victorian, imperial rhetoric, right out of the water.
Churchill’s prophecies were not so erratic. What would happen to the rest of the Empire, he asked rhetorically, if it lost its centerpiece? That loss, he went on, “would mark and consummate the downfall of the British Empire….[It would be] final and fatal [and] reduce us to the scale of a minor Power.” He was also right in warning about sectarian strife and Hindu domination in the wake of the British departure; up to to two million lives were lost in fighting between Hindus and Moslems during the weeks and months following independence. The Sikhs even today resort to violence against what they consider Hindu oppression. He warned also about balkanization of the sub-continent masquerading as a nation; in fact, Moslem Pakistan broke away from a mainly Hindu India only to have Bangladesh in turn break away from it, and tensions and clashes have long reigned in places like Kashmir.
Most Pakistanis and Indians, would, of course, say that all this was the price necessary for independence and dignity and that it was well worth paying. A Tory in 1776 might have reasonably argued that Britain’s holding on to the American colonies would spare them the fate of undergoing either balkanization or a brutal civil war, and he would have been correct. Yet how many Americans wish to undo the Revolution for that reason?
We would like genius to be discerning and moderate, to be a little bit more like the rest of us. Few geniuses have been so. Churchill had the vices of his virtues. In judging him we err by unconsciously depending on the wisdom of hindsight. No one could tell at the time how the campaigns of 1931 and 1940 would turn out. If responsible voices across the political spectrum in 1931 told Churchill that the imperial age in India was over, just as many responsible voices in 1940 said that Hitler could not be beaten and should be negotiated with.
If Churchill had been amenable to prudence in 1931, he would have spared everyone embarrassment, but that same prudence would have dictated in 1940 negotiations with Hitler. Only the pugnacious mule of 1931 could see his way through the impossibilities of 1940. A more civilized, commonsensical soul like Halifax did negotiate with Gandhi. And, had Halifax rather than Churchill been made Prime Minister in May 1940, he would have negotiated with Hitler.
Genius exacts its high price. If we like the way 1940 turned out, we have to comprehend 1931.
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