“Churchill, his life, his crimes”: the great man demystified

Book. Boris Johnson has, for the moment, left the forefront of British political life, but he has left a lasting mark on the history of the country through the role he played in Brexit. His buffoonery was sometimes tinged with a so-called seriousness, when he found himself playing the junk Winston Churchill, as if his country was resisting the European Union, a continental power determined to submit the island kingdom. This “churchillmania” did not start with him, and it is to unbolt this statue that the writer and essayist Tariq Ali, a great voice of the British left, decided to write this counter-biography entitled Churchill, his life, his crimes.

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Churchill is fine “the only important politician of the ruling class to have understood from the end of 1938 that not to resist the IIIe Reich would lead to catastrophe” : Tariq Ali admits it. However, Churchill did not distinguish himself from the British elites of the time when it came to ensuring the preservation of the British Empire and the control of colonial subjects. Tariq Ali gives various examples.

At the end of the Great War, Winston Churchill was appointed Secretary of State for War. It is for him a rehabilitation after the military failure of the Battle of the Dardanelles (1915-1916), a campaign targeting the Ottoman Empire of which he had been one of the main promoters. He therefore strives to show that he is the worthy servant of His Majesty when the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) breaks out. In March 1920, he sent to the island the Black and Tans (the “blacks and browns”), a paramilitary unit which is, in reality, a death squad that reigns terror among the civilian populations.

Suffering inflicted with indifference

Then, between 1939 and 1945, when the war effort had to be supported, an inflationary policy was deployed. Prices are also soaring in Bengal, where rice is produced, especially for soldiers. But in this province of British India, foodstuffs were so expensive that between 2 million and 4 million people died of hunger in 1943. Churchill showed himself to be insensitive to this tragedy and did not mention it in his Memoirs of World War II (published from 1948 to 1953). This famine is, in the eyes of Tariq Ali, particularly overwhelming.

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The indifference to the suffering inflicted continues after the war. Several colonies then aspired to independence, such as Kenya. Africans are forced to do forced labor sixty days a year and the settlers have appropriated the best land. The armed struggle begins and the prisoners taken by the British are held in a network of detention camps created with the support of Churchill. Detainees report rape, torture and starvation. The portrait painted by Tariq Ali is dark, it is enlivened by the reminder of satirical plays featuring Churchill in the 1970s. The country had not yet sunk into hagiography.

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