- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Unshackled by Morality
If most of the moral outrage performed on Fox News is patently absurdly overwrought and insincere, the unhappiness expressed about the removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office in the Obama White House, temporarily or permanently, is a notable exception. Bustgate bubbled up, ‘erupted’ is too strong a word, because of a July 26th column written by the dour neoconservative Charles Krauthammer and a July 27th response by Dan Pfeiffer that the bust was still in residence outside the treaty room.
In all probability, Krauthammer and his fellow neo-conservatives are genuinely offended by that change in physical location. Rather than a popular symbol of fortitude in adversity, the neo-conservatives venerate Churchill as a model political leader. That’s precisely what ought to offend the rest of us.
The unhappy truth is that the actual historical Winston Churchill was a monster. Decisions that he made during the Second World War rank among the most brutal in that extraordinarily brutal conflict.
Consider the decision to allow millions Bengalis to perish in a famine that was not only preventable but made inevitable by Churchill’s government. In a panic after the loss of British colonies in Malaysia, Singapore and Burma to the Japanese, and fearing the loss of India, his government ordered the removal of Bengal’s staple rice supplies and then later refused to allow the U.S. or Canada to ship wheat to the feed the starving Bengalis. If the Japanese were going to seize the Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire, so the thinking appears to have been, then let them first occupy a starving province. The result of that horrific calculation was the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, in which at least 3.5 million died needlessly.
Or consider the decision to conduct air strikes against German cities. Rather than attempt to target military and industrial targets in Germany like the U.S. Seventh Air Force, Churchill’s government ordered the Royal Air Force to target population centers with incendiary bombing raids. The result was the needless deaths of between 600,000 and 900,000 German non-combatants. We know that the darling of the neo-conservatives considered doing worse, because there is a nasty wartime memo in which he orders the mass production of anthrax bombs.
Or consider the decision to divert the British Army from the primary task of defeating the German Army in the Balkans for weeks to help Greek royalists defeat Greek communists in a struggle for control of that country. How many perished in the concentration camps because their liberation was delayed while Churchill was busy fighting over the postwar geopolitical spoils?
Or consider the decision to use British troops to reestablish French colonial rule in Indochina the end of the Second World War. Ever the imperialist, Churchill intended that not only would Britain hold onto its colonies but so too would still enfeebled France. The butcher’s bill, after the decades of warfare and the defeats of both France and the United States, was the death of 2.5 million Vietnamese and Laotians.
There is more to the list of charges against Churchill but a body count in the millions ought to be sufficient to justify the removal of his bust from the Oval Office.
So what is that neo-conservatives find so attractive about a foreign leader responsible for so much needless death and suffering? Part of the answer is that the majority of the victims were not white. Like the object of veneration, the neo-conservatives tend to be rather more partial to the welfare and freedom of some peoples than to others. Another part of the answer is that they are unwilling to venerate the American leader who gave us victory in the Second World War. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a liberal.
Perhaps most important for the neo-conservatives is that Churchill got away with his crimes. Not only did he escape a war crimes trial by being on the winning side but he spun a narrative successfully casting himself not as a villain but as a hero. Unshackled by the sort of conventional morality that requires sacrificing near term political advantage because of concern for long term negative consequences, Churchill represents the sort of thinking that resulted in our decades long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now threatens to drag us into a similar nightmare in Syria. That Churchill’s wartime foreign policy focused on events in the Middle East and largely ignored threats in East Asia would also make him a model for contemporary American neo-conservatives. What the neo-conservatives fail to grasp is that their cigar smoking aristocratic icon is best understood not as a model to be emulated but as a warning against the sort of irresponsible leadership that sometimes afflicts great powers.
- Images: Photo of the statue of Winston Churchill covered in bird droppings by Pete Morawski from his flickr photostream and used under creative commons license. Photo of Churchill with the tommy gun, public domain.
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Could there be a more appropriate monument to the War in Terror than the wasteful and counterproductive prison camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base? At a cost of $4,360.00 a day per prisoner, it is among the most expensive lock-ups on the planet and surely the most expensive for inmates who are neither deposed heads of state nor leaders of defeated rebellions. (For that amount you could book a Premier Suite at the Ritz Carleton Central Park and still have a thousand dollars left over to pay for dinner!) The cost in international reputation cannot be calculated in dollars but there Read on →
A friend sent me a video compilation of the 100 best movie insults. I enjoyed watching all of them but they all fell flat when compared to a few I have had the pleasure to hear personally. There are several types of insults, both intended and unintended. An insult can be delivered in anger, disguised in humor, masked as love and caring, or just thrown out like a fast ball. The preferred delivery is as personal as your fingerprints, formed from observing insulting in action or from being a target of masterful insults. All of these delivery methods have advantages Read on →
Last Friday, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes had the job of announcing that the Obama administration had decided to officially begin arming the Sunni Islamist insurgents attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. All that lobbying by the war party in Washington and its ‘friends in the Gulf’ is finally paying off. You would think that the problem was explaining why to a skeptical news media. Not so. Rhodes began the press conference by offering an intelligence estimate that the Syrian military had used Sarin nerve gas on a small scale to kill 100 to 150 people, thereby cro Read on →
That is the 21st Century question. Whether agents of government are tasked with telling the public what to do or, as the United States Constitution suggests, are to limit themselves to prohibiting socially injurious behaviors by individuals and corporations. Republicans, being descendants of royalists, whose model of social organization is the family with its paternalistic head of household, continue to hold fast to the belief that their fellow man needs to be strictly ruled. Because people doing their own thing make them feel really insecure. This is what accounts for the sudden resurgence of legislation all over the country, some organized by Read on →