February 10, 2015

Ireland & Russia

Upon his return from a painting vacation in France and Amalfi, Italy, Churchill took up the challenge from two foes: Bolsheviks in Russia and Sinn Fein in Ireland. He combined the issues in a speech at the King’s Theatre, Dundee, in October. “The cruel tyranny inflicted upon the miserable people of Russia is now admitted even by those most favourable to them. We can take evidence from people like Mr. Philip Snowden and Mr. Bertrand Russell, both most advanced and extreme politicians, both life-long Socialists. [He later cited further evidence from H.G. Wells.] Ireland is a country which, like Russia, is deliberately tearing itself to pieces and obstinately destroying its own prosperity … The measure of autonomy and independence for Ireland ought not to be what the victory of a murder gang in Ireland can extort.”

That summer a special force of the Royal Irish Constabulary called the “Black and Tans” was created to fight Sinn Fein. Although Churchill claimed in a speech to the Union Debate, Oxford, that he was against reprisals, he also said that “I do think that something more than perfunctory lip-service is required in condemning the cold-blooded repeated murders of policemen and soldiers by people in plain clothes coming up with a smile on their faces and then shooting them through their jacket.” He refused to stop the policy of reprisals until Sinn Fein would “quit murdering and start arguing.”

In a speech at the Cannon Street Hotel in London, Churchill surveyed world events. He warned that the labour movement, “a great and, on the whole, beneficient influence” would have to guard against the activities of a minority of “hotheads” who were “trying to wreck the whole system of society.” He noted that Lenin had said that “fifteen percent ought to be enough to dominate Great Britain, provided they were all out-and-out Communists.”

His perceived foes were not only internal. Churchill saw enemies in India and Egypt, as well as Turkey and Mesopotamia: “When we see all these movements from so many different quarters springing up simultaneously, does it not look as though there is a dead set being made against the British Empire?

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It is becoming increasingly clear that all these factions are in touch with one another, and that they are acting in concert. In fact, there is developing a world-wide conspiracy against our country, designed to deprive us of our place in the world and to rob us of the fruits of victory.”

But, he promised, these enemies would “feel the weight of the British arm. It was strong enough to break the Hindenburg Line, it will be strong enough to defend the main interests of the British people, to carry us through these stormy times into calmer and brighter days.”

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