On July 17, 2003, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. House and Senate. The subject of WMD, of course, was on the front burner.
“If we are wrong, then we will have destroyed a threat that was at its least responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering,” Blair said. “I am confident history will forgive.”
Blair’s confidence is justified. History has forgiven U.K. leaders for plenty. How else, for example, could U.S. News and World Report have dubbed Winston Churchill “The Last Hero” in a 2000 cover story? In that article, Churchill was said to believe in “liberty, the rule of law, and the rights of the individual.”
As Sir Winston himself declared: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
This is precisely why so few of us ever discuss Churchill as a war criminal or racist. In 1910, in the capacity of Home Secretary, he put forth a proposal to sterilize roughly 100,000 “mental degenerates” and dispatch several thousand others to state-run labor camps. These actions were to take place in the name of saving the British race from inevitable decline as its inferior members bred.
History has forgiven Churchill for his role in the Allied invasion of the Soviet Union in 1917. England’s Minister for War and Air during the time, Churchill described the mission as seeking to “strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state. In 1929, he wrote: “Were [the Allies] at war with Soviet Russia? Certainly not; but they shot Soviet Russians at sight. They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet Government. They blockaded its ports, and sunk its battleships. They earnestly desired and schemed its downfall.”
Two years later, Churchill was secretary of state at the war office when the Royal Air Force asked him for permission to use chemical weapons against “recalcitrant Arabs” as an experiment. Winston promptly consented (Yes, Churchill’s gassing of Kurds pre-dated Hussein’s by nearly 70 years).
“I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” he explained, a policy he espoused yet again in July 1944 when he asked his chiefs of staff to consider using poison gas on the Germans “or any other method of warfare we have hitherto refrained from using.” Unlike in 1919, his proposal was denied…not that history would not have forgiven him anyway.
In language later appropriated by the Israelis, Winston Churchill had this to say about the Palestinians in 1937: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”
When not scheming a Bolshevik downfall, gassing the uncivilized, or comparing Palestinians to dogs, Churchill found time to write soulmate Benito Mussolini. In January 1927, Sir Winston gushed to Il Duce, “if I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.” Even after the advent of WWII, Churchill found room in his heart for the Italian dictator, explaining to Parliament in 1940:”I do not deny that he is a very great man but he became a criminal when he attacked England.”
Mussolini’s criminality aside, Churchill certainly took note of Axis tactics…cavalierly observing that “everyone” was bombing civilians. “It’s simply a question of fashion,” he explained, “similar to that of whether short or long dresses are in.”
Sir Winston must have been a slave to fashion because he soon ordered a fire-bombing raid on Hamburg in July 1943 that killed at least 48,000 civilians, after which he enlisted the aid of British scientists to cook up “a new kind of weather” for larger German city.
In his wartime memoirs, Winston Churchill forgave himself for the countless civilians slaughtered in Dresden. “We made a heavy raid in the latter month on Dresden,” he wrote benignly, “then a centre of communication of Germany’s Eastern Front.”
Surely the Nazis were hiding WMD there, right?
Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (www.murderingofmyyears.com) and an editor at Wide Angle (www.wideangleny.com). He can be reached at: [email protected]