Thursday, January 10, 2013

SUMMER SNIPPETS: On Churchill

If you’re like most people, the summer break is an ideal chance to catch up on your reading. And if you’re like me (for which you have the sympathies of my friends), you like to highlight parts of books as you read them for later use. Here’s a few selections I read over the holiday break from Richard Toye’s Churchill’s Empire: The World That Made Him and the World He Made :

  • [Churchill] showed much hostility to Islam in his early writings, this died away and was replaced in the inter-war years with a near-fanatical hatred of Hinduism. In 1943 he remarked, “I’m pro-Moslem—the only quality of the Hindus is that there’s a lot of them and that is a vice.”
  • [Churchill] was a great admirer of Rudyard Kipling’s writing … but, although they met on a number of occasions, he never reciprocated Churchill’s respect for him. During the latter's period as a Liberal [after Churchill had party-hopped for the first time] Kipling remarked of him that “it is impossible to cure a political prostitute from whoring” … and wrote in 1935 , “The only point at which, I personally, in would draw the line in present politics would be in following Mr. Winston W. Churchill.” Churchill was a man who “very many praise but dam-few follow.”
  • “He [Churchill] cared little for the improvement of the human race,” reported the Birmingham Daily Post [in 1899]. “The supremacy of our own race was good enough for him.”
  • Throughout his career, Churchill argued that the Crown was fundamental to the Empire, serving as the mystical link that held it together, in spite of the weakness of its formal constitutional structure.  This was, perhaps, a way of reconciling his strong emotional attachment to the monarchy with his recognition that it had little formal power. (Such that it had withered further during the course of his lifetime.) These early comments however [“The natives of India,” he argued, “would be impressed by the Imperial… In India these things count”] should alert us to the fact there was an instrumental, even cynical, aspect to his championship of titles and ceremony.  If the pomp associated with the Crown could be used to impress “the natives,” then so too, as the years went on, could it be used as a rhetorical fig leaf to disguise the increasingly naked decline of British power.
  • In the final article [of an 1897 series on Britain’s “forward strategy” on India’s North-West Frontier], Churchill argued that the gains from trade in the pacified valleys would never repay the cost of military expenditure, but that it was impossible to retreat. He also remarked that “morally it was unfortunate for the tribesmen that our spheres of influence clash with their spheres of existence.” When he reproduced this observation in his book, the United Service Gazette commented that it was not a bad epigram, “though to our duller comprehension it would seem as if the moral misfortune did not attach to the tribesmen.”
  • In 1906 Abudullah Abduraman, a Cape Malay doctor trained in Glasgow who was president of the nascent African Political Organisation [observed] … the Coloured people [of South Africa] had been told [in order to enlist their support against the Boers] that the resolution of the injustices they faced [including the lack of the vote] depended on British victory in the Boer War, he said: ‘[Colonial Secretary Joseph] Chamberlain promised the franchise clearly clearly and plainly in the name of the Imperial Government.” But after exploiting their grievances the British [in the form of then-Colonial Minister Winston Churchill] had cast them aside..
  • “… for Churchill it was England, and not the wider Empire, that was “the starting point and the ultimate object of policy” … To quote the Wellington Evening Post [of 1913]: “It becomes increasingly clear that if we do not ourselves attend to what is primarily our own [defence], we cannot expect our friends on the other side of the world to do it for us.” This was a lesson that the Australasians would have to learn again, rather painfully, during World War II [and might again].
  • The journalist H.W. Nevinson, who arrived [at Gallipoli in the early days of the military debacle] found “depression and loss of heart, bitter criticism of GHQ, and savage rage against Mr Winston Churchill, who ‘ought to be publicly hanged’ for having suggested the campaign.” In private, Churchill admitted some culpability. When Wilfrid Scawen Blunt visited him in August he found him painting—a new hobby which helped alleviate his gloom.  “There is more blood than paint upon these hands,” Churchill said…
  • In the autumn of 1915 the true state of affairs at Gallipoli started to filter back to the British and Empire publics. In September the London representative of the Sydney Sun wrote that Churchill, in his predictions of victory, had been “talking hot air.  The ferment of his own imagination betrayed him into gross and inexcusable exaggeration.”
  • [After military retribution in Amritsar for violent challenge to British rule in which soldiers were ordered to shoot into a crowd of Sikhs, firing 1,650 rounds and killing 379 people] Gandhi called off his campaign, confessing to a “Himalayan miscalculation” in having launched it before his supporters were spiritually ready for the practice of non-violence.
  • [After unilaterally declaring in 1920 that it was “the duty of the wartime allies” (including NZ, Australia and Canada) to defend, by force, of need be, the neutral “Zone of the Straits” against Turkish aggression] the Toronto Star observed, “Winston Churchill, being colonial secretary, is overlord of Mesopotamia. He can’t divorce the idea that he is also the overlord of Australia and Canada, South Africa and New Zealand—the one statesman to whom continents are bailiwicks.”
  • In general, though, [by 1923] Churchill was increasingly thought of as a diehard. Gandhi, for instance, said that he understood “only the gospel of force.”
  • [When Churchill “re-ratted” and party-hopped back to the Conservatives] Viscount Wolmer … complained that Churchill discredited the campaigns [against protectionism and Indian Home Rule]: “we are acting from conviction but everybody knows Winston has no convictions; he has only joined us for what he can get out of it.”

That’s probably enough for now. More tomorrow if you’re interested.

PS: Feel free to post in the comments your own favourite snippets from your holiday reading. I’ll re-post the better ones.

PPS: For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t recommend the book. Toye writes a whole book on empire and imperialism without ever once bothering to discuss whether or why or in what respects empire and imperialism was or could be good or bad. That’s only the first problem with the screed. 
Still, it was a useful follow-up for me to my controversial post last year arguing Churchill was a grandiloquent self-promoter with a knack for taking the wrong side on every important issue and both sides of those he considered unimportant.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Roy Davidson said...

My favourite so far:

"The breathtaking arrogance, the sheer gall of reviewing a book in a language in which he could not grasp new ideas, and then
denouncing the book for containing nothing new, was all too characteristic of Keynes."

Murray Rothbard on Keynes on von Mises' Theory of Money and Credit

1/10/2013 11:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Simon said...

"The Germans took a somber decision. Upon the western front they had from the beginning used the most terrible means of offense at their disposal. They had employed poison gas on the largest scale and had invented the 'Flammenwerfer.' Nevertheless, it was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed train like a plague bacillus from Switzerland into Russia."

Churchill

The World Crisis, Volume five.

1/11/2013 10:53:00 am  
Blogger Peter Cresswell said...

@Simon: That's a marvellous passage, isn't it. The old bastard could certainly turn out a phrase--a collocation so memorable you couldn't ever afterwards remember an event without hearing in your own head his description of it. One reason, perhaps, he's remembered so well--because what he's remembered so well for are the events he himself has described.

@Roy: For that, as for so many other reasons, it would have been better for the last century if Keynes had stayed a mathematician.
Just imagine if an actual economist had reviewed the book in 1912 and arranged for its translation into English. It's not too much to suppose the whole twentieth century would have been different.

1/11/2013 11:31:00 am  

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