It would spread a lively terror

Shashi Tharoor points out that the Hollywood Churchill was first the mass murderer Churchill.

During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result.

In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them.

Like what the fascists carried out in Guernica, but decades earlier. The fact that Churchill liked the idea doesn’t mean it happened, and I don’t think it did, though there was plenty of violence without that – but the fact that Churchill was keen is of interest.

Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.

In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.”

In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.

But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.”

Figuratively shot down that is, which is not what he had in mind for the Indians.

This isn’t one of those “yes but things were different then” situations. Churchill was way out there even for 1920 or 1940. (Also, we don’t give Roosevelt the “different times” excuse for the internments; he was wrong and he had plenty of people telling him he was wrong.)

In such matters, Churchill was the most reactionary of Englishmen, with views so extreme they cannot be excused as being reflective of their times. Even his own secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery, confessed that he could see very little difference between Churchill’s attitude and Adolf Hitler’s.

Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”

Not just a cute old geezer with a cigar and and a gift for rhetoric.

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