Was Winston Churchill a bad man?

SWR2 knowledge Winston Churchill - statesman of contradictions

Racism allegations against Churchill

June 2020: At the # BlackLivesMatter and anti-racism demonstrations in London, protesters smeared the Churchill memorial in the British capital. You accuse the former prime minister of racism.

"This accusation comes from historians and publicists who have dealt with Churchill's role in the Bengal famine," explains Churchill biographer Peter Alter. It is estimated that around 3 million people died of this famine in 1943. "It was said that Churchill had deliberately not released the food supplies that existed on the Indian subcontinent in order to help the starving people." However, Alter explains Churchill's decision primarily with the political situation. "It is clear that he was not in favor of helping the Indians immediately, providing comprehensive help. His main interest was the European theater of war."

However, Alter admits, there are also "unflattering" quotes from Churchill in this context. He described the Indians as "the most beastly people after the Germans" and expressed himself disparagingly about blacks and "people with slanting eyes".

From Peter Alter's point of view, however, these quotations do not fit the general picture of Churchill. "That is far too radical" - because, conversely, there were also situations in which he denounced the cruelty of the British army on other continents.

Who Was Winston Churchill?

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill is a child of the British aristocracy. He was born on November 30, 1874 in Blenheim Castle near Oxford, the opulent ancestral home of his ancestors, the Dukes of Marlborough. The Churchills hadn't been particularly prominent in British history since John Churchill, an eighteenth-century military genius.

Winston's father, Lord Randolph, was a major conservative and finance minister at the end of the 19th century. His son Winston is sensitive and vulnerable. Like all members of the British upper class, he has to attend a private boarding school. Corporal punishment is part of their upbringing there. Winston Churchill writes in his autobiography about his school days:

"Everything ricocheted off of me. Wherever my interest was not aroused, my reason and imagination were involved, then I would not or could not learn."

Winston Churchill

Churchill - a failed son?

Winston Churchill's academic performance is disastrous. But the loner shines in two subjects: history and English literature. They become defining elements of his life. When he finishes with a bang, the father is at first at a loss as to what to do with the failed son.

He became a passionate soldier and ardent supporter of the British Empire, which reached its greatest territorial expansion at the end of the 19th century. The young officer is seen by his comrades as helpful and downright sentimental - but also as eager to drink, reckless and irascible. In 1896 there was a Muslim state in Sudan under the leadership of a Mahdi, a self-proclaimed savior. It emerged from the first successful rebellion of an African population group against colonialism and also threatens Egypt, which is under British administration.

War correspondent Churchill

When an expeditionary force against the jihadists was put together, Winston Churchill volunteered for this campaign - although at that time he was already participating in a campaign against rebels in Afghanistan. With the permission of the Army, he reported on both wars for British newspapers. But in his articles he does not provide the public with the heroic image they would like to see, says Churchill biographer Peter Alter. Instead, Winston Churchill describes the cruelty of the British Army against the Sudanese Muslims just as ruthlessly as the arrogance of the Commander-in-Chief Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

When Winston Churchill's article was published as a book in 1899, a year after the rebellion was put down, it became his first best-seller in a long line of literary successes. The Boer War in southern Africa, in which he participated as a war correspondent, marked the beginning of his political career.

Media star Churchill

Churchill is captured, but becomes a war hero and media star in his homeland through a spectacular escape via Mozambique. The 25-year-old decides to use this popularity and become a politician. In 1900 he was elected to the British House of Commons for the first time as a member of the Conservative Party. He is the youngest MP - and will be in this House for over sixty years.

This gentleman, who passionately plays polo and tennis up to a serious shoulder injury, who can recite long passages of English poetry or historical works, quickly became known in the British Parliament as a warrior and hot spur. His speeches are feared and often sharply ridiculed against political opponents. He combats a slight lisp with disciplined speech training - but quickly forgets it when he gets into a rage. Winston Churchill feels like a fish in the water in the House of Commons.

Scandal of change

He is extremely ambitious. Just four years after his first election, Churchill took a step that was a scandal at the time: he switched from the Conservatives to the Liberals. The change is worthwhile: from 1906 Winston Churchill successively became Deputy Colonial Minister, Head of Economic Affairs and Home Secretary. Financially, he lives beyond his means and is constantly on the verge of bankruptcy, especially since the British state does not pay its parliamentarians any diets. He is a master of self-presentation who likes the image of the bully. This also means that a cigar is stuck between his lips almost continuously.

He finances his lavish lifestyle with a cook, chauffeur and butler through lectures and writing. By the time he married Clementine Hozier in 1908, a committed campaigner for women's rights with whom he would have five children, he had already written eight mostly historical books, including a biography of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who died in 1895.

Winston Churchill is a loving father and husband, he often takes his children with him to Parliament, they are the only ones allowed to disturb him in his office. As he gained weight over the years, his wife and children affectionately call him "pug" - pug.

Another change

Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the once liberal politician Winston Churchill turned into an anti-socialist hardliner. In 1924 he changed sides again and was again a Conservative MP and Minister of Finance under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. But the British Labor Party grew stronger during these years and in 1929 provided the head of government. This marks the beginning of a ten-year phase without any political office for Churchill. He went through periods of deep depression, which he called the "black dog", but also a time of lively journalistic activity.

The fatefulness of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was shown on September 1, 1939: The Wehrmacht invaded Poland, an ally of France and Great Britain. When the British Empire declares war on Germany two days later, a new cabinet is formed at the same time, with Winston Churchill again as "First Lord of the Admiralty". He is modernizing the fleet in a hurry, knowing that Great Britain is not strong enough to wage war against a highly armed Germany. When the Wehrmacht attacks France on May 10, 1940, Churchill becomes Prime Minister of an all-party government. He's realist enough to know that Britain's very existence is at stake.

Address against fear

British troops fought in France in May and June 1940. As the defeat becomes more and more foreseeable, the British manage in an unprecedented joint effort to evacuate their expeditionary corps, which is trapped near Dunkirk, with private boats and fishing cutters from France. But it is clear that the next Nazi target will be the British Isles. In this situation of greatest threat, Winston Churchill surpasses himself. In a moving radio address, he calls on his countrymen, paralyzed by fear, not to kneel before the Hitler tyranny, but to show their teeth.

On September 11, 1940, Winston Churchill spoke to the British via the BBC from his underground office and living quarters. Slowly but steadily, the losses of the German Air Force are higher than those of the Royal Air Force and Churchill warns of an imminent major offensive.

Winston Churchill: inventor of the "iron curtain"

Four days later, on September 15, 1940, it becomes clear how right Churchill is: With a major attack that begins early in the morning, the Nazis want to razed London and force Great Britain to surrender. The dogfights last all day. In the evening, the losses of the German Air Force are so immense that Hitler abandons the plan to land in Great Britain. The danger of a German invasion is finally averted.

The Second World War ends in Europe on May 8, 1945. From the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in the presence of the royal family.

When Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister again in 1951, the division of Europe into a communist and a democratic bloc was in full swing. He had already foreseen this in a speech in 1946 when he coined the catchphrase of an "iron curtain" between East and West. Now he wants to convince his compatriots: The West needs the young Federal Republic of Germany as a reliable ally against the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

1955 Winston Churchill resigns from the office of Prime Minister, but remains in the lower house as a member of parliament. When he died at the age of 90 on January 24, 1965, Europe lost one of its greatest and most courageous, but also most controversial statesmen. Because Winston Churchill was never streamlined.

In 2018, his time as British Prime Minister was filmed in the film "The Darkest Hour".

SWR 2015/2020

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