Amid all of the recent unrest, protestors have taken to the streets across the world.
The murder of a black man named George Floyd by American police has sparked one of the biggest movements of recent time, as Black Lives Matter is echoing around the globe once again.
Protests spread to the UK, where tens of thousands of people descended on London to protest against racism, both in America and institutionally in Britain. Among much cause for criticism was vandalism, with one defacement in particular causing outrage.
Protestors vandalised the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, the British prime minister during World War II, in Parliament Square. His marble-etched name was crossed out with spray paint, and underneath the words ‘Was a racist’ were written. While it was washed off the following morning, the damage had already been done.
The debate over his legacy has been huge, one which has been disputed for decades and reignited amid this latest act of vandalism and episode of anti-racism protests.
So, how should we remember Churchill?
Before starting, there should be no unfair accusations of bias on my behalf. Being both British and Indian myself, my words and views reflect both sides of the argument, relating to and being able to understand both accounts.
There are two sides to Churchill, and if you grew up under the British education system like myself, you’re likely to only have heard the first.
Britain’s greatest son
Churchill was voted the Greatest Briton ever in a 2002 poll by the BBC, beating the likes of William Shakespeare and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He is recognised on British shores for his significant role in World War II, helping to win the war against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
After Neville Chamberlain resigned from office eight months into the war, Churchill became prime minister in May 1940. He had a huge task ahead, having to resist Nazi invasion and defeat in what was one of the most horrific wars in modern history.
Churchill lead Britain through the war, keeping British spirits high amid the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. His strategy was crucial in the war, along with the help of American ally and president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Whether it was his rousing speeches in the House of Commons, his protection of the British people in evacuating children from London or the landing of allied troops on D-Day, Churchill was at the heart of Britain’s fight during WWII. He led the country heroically, culminating in VE Day (Victory for Europe Day) and the end of World War II; victory for Britain.
Churchill lost the 1945 General Election to Clement Attlee and the Labour Party, losing 189 seats in a negative swing of 11.6%. Nevertheless, he was re-elected for a second term six years later, winning the 1951 snap election with a majority government. He resigned as prime minister in 1955, bringing an end to nine combined years in office.
A decade later, Churchill died on 24th January 1965 at the age of 90. He was given a state funeral – the first non-royal to earn that honour in 67 years – and laid to rest at his family plot in Bladon, Oxfordshire.
That is the Churchill most Britons have come to know and love, but look beyond his national legacy and there is a racist.
India’s cruellest oppressor
When there’s a whole Wikipedia article on Churchill’s racist views, it’s clear that these aren’t meaningless allegations.
Churchill despised Indians, making horrible comments about the Indian people. When India was gaining momentum in its struggle for independence, he said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” He oppressed the country and its people throughout colonial rule, until gaining independence on 15th August 1947.
He particularly disliked Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s peaceful independence campaign. Churchill stated that Gandhi “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” Later on, he declared that, “We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.”
The 1943 Bengal famine devastated India, with an estimated 3 million Indians dying of starvation – 5% of the Bengal province’s population. Churchill refused to supply them with food when he was in power, blaming the famine on the dying Indians as it was “their own fault for breeding like rabbits.”
For all the lives he may have saved in the war, his actions resulted in the preventable deaths of millions of innocent Indians. India in particular suffered from the brute and violence of Churchill, yet they are just one of many groups and nations who were victims at the hands of Britain’s prime minister.
India wasn’t the only group Churchill held racist attitudes towards. He considered China a “barbaric nation”, and said of Egypt that “if we have any more of their cheek, we will set the Jews on them and drive them into the gutter, from which they should never have emerged.” There are strong accusations that he was Islamophobic and anti-Semitic too, with comments showing prejudice and discrimination against them.
Churchill was also a supporter of chemical warfare against Kurds and Afghans, openly supporting the use of poison gas. In a 1919 memo, he wrote, “I cannot understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”
His British heroism simply cannot hide the ugly truth.
If you can take anything away from this argument, let it be that you cannot be blind to the truth. Churchill deserves his legacy as Britain’s war prime minister who led us to victory, but must also face his atrocities of racism, violence and murder.
Whatever side of the fence you sit on, please acknowledge that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Churchill wasn’t perfect, nor was he a complete villain. He helped win World War II, but also was racist in particular towards Indians in the British Empire.
When you see his statue standing high in Parliament Square, you are entitled to your view and opinion of him. But remember, for as much as Churchill is recognised as the saint of the United Kingdom, his status as a sinner cannot be forgotten in history.