Churchill out of context

He epitomizes eloquence, courage and love of country.

The Editorial Board
Sat, 08 Aug 2020 04:00:00 GMT

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Eighty years ago, the Battle of Britain was under way. It seems more worthy to note that and remember it than to defame Winston Churchill, the man whose words and resolve led the British people through their greatest crisis.

That’s what happened on a recent episode of 1A, a radio talk show distributed by NPR. Artist and activist Aliyah Hasinah claimed that World War II was “ideologically started” by Churchill, whose principles developed out of his belief in eugenics. “I think there is a huge contradiction in us glorifying him fighting the Nazis,” Ms. Hasinah said, when, she asserted, Churchill “gave Hitler his ideas.”

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That he briefly believed in eugenics is part of the Churchill story, but not the whole story. The Social Darwinian belief that mankind is organized hierarchically by race was considered scientific fact by many when Churchill was coming of age in the late 19th century. Karl Marx, progenitor of socialism, also held this view earlier in the century. Does that mean Marx will be canceled, too?

That is the kind of thing that happens when we view history only through the prism of the present.

What existed between Churchill and Adolf Hitler was mutual loathing. Hitler was “the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that ever corroded the human breast,” Churchill wrote.

A lifelong supporter of the Jewish people, Churchill pressed his Cabinet to relax the 1939 White Paper policy against Jewish immigration into Palestine, and to bomb Auschwitz and its railway lines once the Nazi concentration camps were discovered.

Thousands of people who lived under Nazi occupation testified that it was Churchill who gave them hope when little else did. They listened to his speeches on secret radio sets, even though doing so could be a capital offense. To imply that the two men conspired or that Hitler’s genocidal motives originated with Churchill is wildly misleading and displays a profound misunderstanding of history.

NPR gave airtime to an activist who has a clear ax to grind against Churchill, yet it couldn’t find a scholar or biographer to give us a depiction of the whole man?

British historian Andrew Roberts, who published a single-volume biography of Churchill in 2018, could surely be granted the customary seven minutes NPR gives to writers to discuss Churchill in all his complexities and contradictions.

After the death of George Floyd, protesters spray-painted “Is a Racist” on Churchill’s statue in the center of London, and the monument is currently in a box to prevent further vandalism.

The statue debate is a confused one. As we unpack the words and deeds of the people who made history, let us not forget to leave room for nuance and context.

Churchill was not a perfect human being. He was often wrong and some of his failures were spectacular.

But for the most part, he epitomizes eloquence, courage and love of country. He also saved Britain and therefore, arguably, the West.