Why we must know Winston Churchill beyond Darkest Hour: Twitter thread rips apart his legacy

History has been too kind to the World War II 'hero'.

 |  9-minute read |   22-01-2018
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With Darkest Hour, a new movie about one of modern history's most controversial figures – British statesman, army officer and Nobel laureate Winston Churchill – making waves, one would hope that the audience, especially on this side of the world, recalls what the man did, and what he could have prevented.

A recent blog post by former UK prime minister David Cameron’s ex-press chief, Giles Kenningham, asks a peculiar question: “Would Winston Churchill have survived public life in the age of Twitter?”

It is but fitting that the poser comes in the same week the official Twitter account for Ireland, curated by a new person each week, set off a social media storm by lambasting Churchill, who served as prime minister of Britain in what is regarded as the most tumultuous period in the modern era.

churchill_012218094309.jpgPhoto: Wikimedia Commons

History has been kind to Winston Churchill – after all, most would only know him as the grumpy old Brit from World War II, under whose leadership the Axis powers crumbled, albeit with the help of Russians, Americans, the French, Indians and other allies. He is remembered, almost fondly, as the gruff voice from radio broadcasts and rallies that provided Britain with the reassurances it needed during World War II, as German planes bombed city after city.

While Kenningham’s blog only notes that “Winston Churchill, with his acidic tongue and fondness for a drink, may have run into trouble in the modern era”, the Ireland thread on Twitter is an unsparing look at the statesman's legacy – especially his viciousness, his brutality and his bigotry.

Ireland (curated by David, a podcaster, last week) starts with Afghanistan and Churchill's treatment of the Pashtuns.

He moves on to other nations like Greece, Iran, Iraq, Kenya and South Africa – describing Churchill’s bloodlust and warmongering that led to deaths, rapes, torture and displacement of hundreds of thousands.  

David also mentioned a historical event that hits home: the Bengal Famine of 1942-1943, which resulted in the death of millions of India's poorest; different accounts cite tolls that vary from two million to five million. While there are some who are quick to place the blame on Churchill’s confidant and adviser, Frederick Lindemann, it is hard not to feel spite for the man who deliberately created a situation in Bengal that led to starvation and death.

According to historian Madhushree Mukherjee, the author of Churchill’s Secret War, the empire and Churchill were culpable for their deliberate negligence by causing the famine and then exacerbating it.

Large-scale exports of food from British India – more than 70,000 tonnes of rice – set aside for consumption during a war fought by Britain using large numbers of Indian soldiers would have kept nearly 4,00,000 people alive for a full year. But Churchill did not care. “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion,” Churchill famously said.

His actions would be dubbed war crimes today.

Romanticising Churchill and British colonialism has made the world forget the crimes he committed against humanity. A Jacobin profile of Churchill notes that the reason why people, especially the British, view the white-washed history of the venerated leader with rose-tinted glasses is because “his history is [their] history”.

Also read: Challenges before Modi government before its last full Union Budget

Writer

Pathikrit Sanyal Pathikrit Sanyal @bucketheadcase

The author is a culture writer who likes talking about the internet, memes, privacy and all things pop culture.

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