March 15, 2015

Finest Hour 159, Summer 2013

Page 42

By Richard M. Langworth

Many readers say they like to read our rebuttals to ignorance, bias, nonsense and exaggeration in the media. This is an amusing part of our work, and a lot goes on that you never see, for we don’t want to bore you with it. However, with some hesitation, we offer the following for your amusement or forgiveness.

“Redeeming Racism: Forgiving Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson” by Dr. Suyneel Dhand, International Business Times, 11 December 2012

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Dear Editor:

Dr. Dhand should be less smug and gratuitous in forgiving Churchill’s “racism,” since his understanding is superficial and his accusations smack of what William Manchester called “generational chauvinism.”

Churchill for his time was not a racist, although he could say startling things about Asians and Africans on occasion. His oft-quoted remark, “I hate Indians,” in response to disputatious bureaucracy in Delhi in the midst of a battle for survival, was ably described by one of our speakers: “I have no 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 hated Indians? His early books are filled with accounts of the bravery and steadfastness of Indian troops, particularly Sikhs, whom he ardently admired. As Geoffrey Best wrote, Churchill did share the conviction of his era that white Westerners were the most advanced peoples. But that belief was tempered by a fundamental fairness that led him to defend non-white subjects as early as 1899, when he took issue with the violent racism of his Boer captors at Pretoria; or 1906, when from the Colonial Office he defended the rights of the Indian minority in South Africa.

Churchill did have a tic about the early Indian independence movement, with its Brahmin roots. Yet after the India Act had passed, in 1935, he declared that Gandhi had “gone very high in my esteem since he stood up for the Untouchables,” and sent Gandhi encouragement through G.D. Birla, a mutual Indian friend, who lunched at Chartwell. Gandhi replied: “I have got a good recollection of Mr. Churchill when he was in the Colonial Office and somehow or other since then I have held the opinion that I can always rely on his sympathy and goodwill.”

There was also his famous regard for Nehru, whom Churchill called “the Light of Asia,” after he learned that he and Nehru were both Harrow Old Boys.

Churchill’s generally positive views toward India are still relevant to certain Indians who have written in our pages. As one of them, Inder Dan Ratnu, put it, the Axis Powers had quite different ideas in mind for India than the old British Raj.

Winston Churchill is simply not easy to pigeonhole. He thought more deeply on these issues than most politicians, indeed most contemporaries. So did Thomas Jefferson, whom Dr. Dhand also forgives. As Paul Addison wrote, “It is rare to discover in the archives the reflections of a politician on the nature of man.”

“Winston Churchill’s Portrayal of the Indian Army in the Second World War” by Catherine Wilson, M a r s & C l i o , Autumn 2012 British Commission for Military History, newsletter/M&C35.pdf

To: Dr. Matthew Ford, Editor

Without professing any expertise in the Indian Army, I do have some ordinary layman’s questions about Catherine Wilson’s “Casting a Long Shadow: Winston Churchill’s Portrayal of the Indian Army in the Second World War” ( M & C 35, Autumn 2012,

“Churchill…narrated how, during the First World War, ‘the steadfast Indian Corps in the cruel winter of 1914, held the line by Armentieres.’

“In reality, Indian troops had served with distinction not only in the trenches of Northern France but also in Mesopotamia  and each of the major theatres of the First World War. The seed of Churchill’s low opinion of Indian troops had been sown….”

Are we to infer that because he wrote of Indian troops’ steadfastness at Armentieres, but not elsewhere, he had a low opinion of them?

“…in 1939, Churchill…recommended that the ‘only way in which our forces in France can be rapidly expanded is by bringing the professional troops from India, and using them as the core upon which the Territorials and Conscripts will form.’

“What Churchill alluded to was that it was the British officers of the Indian Army, and not the Indian officers, who were the professional soldiers. In one sentence he had cast aspersions about the nature, ability and professionalism of the small number of Indian Officers that existed, let alone the lower Indian ranks.”

One fails to see the aspersions, but how does Ms. Wilson know to whom he was alluding?

“Judging Churchill’s racism by twenty-first century standards is mismatched, especially as it was then bolstered by spurious eugenic theory, but it was also a view that was shared, albeit to varying degrees, by the majority of his contemporaries.”

Churchill’s brief (pre-Great War) fling with eugenics hardly applies to World War II, but Ms. Wilson is certainly right about judging past figures in today’s light. Yet her article goes on at great length over Churchill’s “racism,” which rather spoils the point.


There followed a summary of Churchill’s statements to Birla, Gandhi, Nehru, and his “shock” outburst about hating Indians, as per our letter to the International Business Times.

Mars & Clio is a curious journal, seemingly reserved only for members of the British Commission for Military History; they seemed a bit miffed that outsiders had accessed their article site (we were tipped off). So the URL addresses cited above may not work when you search on the web.

The author replied at length—so great a length that we were unable to get through it. A copy of her reply is available from the editor by email.

However, for a “fair and balanced,” well-crafted appraisal of Churchill and the Indian Army, which is anything but uncritical of WSC, see Raymond A. Callahan, “The Leader as Imperialist: Churchill and the King’s Other Army,” Finest Hour 158: 25-27.

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