Sir Winston Churchill was in reality no hero – so why celebrate his life?

Sir Winston Churchill wasn't what most think of him, says Jo Kidd

Winston Churchill twice served as Conservative Prime Minister: from 1940 to 1945 and then 1951 to 1955.

He is remembered by most people as an inspirational statesman, writer, orator and leader, the man who kept the nation’s spirit up and led Britain to victory in the Second World War against Nazi Germany.

Regarded as a hero and great statesman, he was voted the greatest Briton in the BBC’s 2002 poll of the 100 Greatest Britons – from a list containing solely white people and only 12 women.

Now, Hollywood has awarded an Oscar to Gary Oldman for his portrayal of Churchill in The Darkest Hour.

The reality is, however, that Churchill was far from a hero. Alternative definitions could be war criminal, mass murderer, racist, odious imperialist!

Green activist Jo Kidd offers an alternative view on Sir Winston Churchill

In the words of Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India: “He was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, yet is the only one, unlike Hitler and Stalin, to have escaped historical odium in the West.”

Churchill was born at the height of the British empire. At Harrow and then Sandhurst, he was told the story of the white man’s burden and he embraced it as his own.

Its narrative was of the superior white man conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation.

Churchill was a militarist at heart and once he’d joined the Royal Cavalry he couldn’t wait to get out there to charge off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples”. 

This was founded on his belief that “the Aryan stock is bound to triumph”. He travelled widely, served his early career in India, the Sudan and South Africa fighting in imperialist wars.

While First Lord of the Admiralty, he orchestrated the disastrous Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns during the First World War, where more than 130,000 lost their lives.

Heavily criticised for this error, he resigned from his position and travelled to the Western Front to fight himself.

Winston Churchill advocated gassing

When talking about the Kurdish uprising against British rule, he postured: “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes. It would spread a lively terror.” 

He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, wiping out an entire village in 45 minutes.

During the Irish fight for independence in the 1920s, as Secretary of State for War and Air, he commanded the notorious Black and Tan thugs to terrorise Ireland’s Catholic civilians.

He was even in a minority in favouring the bombing of Irish protesters, suggesting that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them.

He was vehemently opposed to Indian independence. As the resistance against the British regime surged, he announced: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Time and again he showed his refusal to see indigenous and non-white people as entitled to equal rights. “Gandhi-ism and all it stands for,” he declared, “will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed.”

During the 1943 famine in Bengal, widely believed to have been caused by British policies, Churchill refused to allow supplies into the region, instead diverting them to well-supplied British soldiers and even to add to European stockpiles.

His rationale was that the famine was the fault of the local people due to their “breeding like rabbits.”

Dresden devastated by firebombing raids

During the Second World War, Churchill declared himself in favour of “terror bombing.”

He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers”. Results were terrible raids like the firebombing of Dresden.

In post-colonial Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced resettlement 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: “Britain’s Gulag”.

On Churchill’s watch, various forms of torture were used by British authorities against Kenyans which included Barack Obama’s grandfather: among them rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots and electric shocks.

Churchill was responsible for the creation of Iraq, forcing together disparate and conflicting groups of people within an artificial state, with the resulting violence and unrest that has been this country’s story for the decades since.

He also offered the “Promised Land” to both the Jews and the Arabs, despite his racist contempt for both groups.

But wasn’t Churchill simply a man of his time? Didn’t most people think this way then? The answer is that they did not and that the majority of his colleagues felt his views extreme and dangerous.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was warned by Cabinet colleagues not to appoint him. Even his own secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery, said that he could see very little difference between Churchill’s attitude and Adolf Hitler’s.

Was Churchill really greatest Briton?

However, in resisting Nazism – maybe he recognised a greater thug than himself – Churchill wrote some of the most outstanding prose in defence of freedom and democracy.

It was never intended to include people of colour but, ironically, his words have been used by democrats and freedom-fighters all over the world, including the colonies and ex-colonies.

As Shashi Tharoor notes: Words, in the end, are all that Churchill admirers can point to. His actions are another matter altogether.

So, with all this evidence, why would the British public place Winston Churchill as the Greatest Briton ever?

We are a tolerant, open, liberal, welcoming nation, are we not? But we have short memories and defeating the Nazis is our most recent victory.

State and media propaganda is not the sole preserve of our enemies, the bad guys, the “Other”. Winston Churchill and his rhetoric has been subsumed as the symbol for this propaganda.

Jo Kidd is a member of the Green Party and lives near Canterbury. She organises Canterbury’s annual Vegan Festival. 


  1. I normally try to be respectful in debates, but only one word does this article justice: pathetic. (That’s not a criticism of the Journal; I presume this is not the Journal’s view.)
    It has become fashionable among some sections of the left to engage in Churchill bashing, and I don’t quite understand why, because if he hasn’t taken the reins in 1940 everything you describe above would pale into insignificance against the horrors that would have ensued had Hitler not been defeated. It is thanks to Churchill’s leadership that we are free today and it is shocking that the author seems not to understand this. It’s ironic that a member of a party supposedly intent on building a better world, and whose ideals are rooted in a belief in the decency of human beings, could take a hero like Churchill and choose to focus on his less pleasant qualities rather than the fact that he literally saved the world. That > everything.
    There are plenty of genocidal, dictatorial, oppressive regimes in the world today. Why not spend one’s time working to oppose them, rather than tearing down the man whose leadership saved us from a similar fate.

  2. This woman needs to realise it’s the actions of Churchill that gives her the freedom to walk these streets and sadly offer ludicrous opinions such as the one she writes here.

  3. Let’s dismiss inconvenient historical facts and point our finger anywhere else. So predictable…

    Every tragedy, every war and every genocide happened because people didn’t learn the lesson of the past. They will happen again and again just as long as the mainstream narrative is to excuse, justify or – preferably – completely forget mass killing just because the victims were of a ‘wrong’ ethnicity or a psychopathic, racist mass murderer who ordered the slaughter is hailed as a national hero.

    I was born and raised in what used to be the easternmost province of Germany. Even today bodies are still being found there – the aftermath of a forgotten genocide. With full awareness of what my family and almost every other family in that part of the world suffered from Nazi and Soviet invaders, I cannot find any justification for the extermination of German people in 1940s.

    ‘I do not want to receive any suggestions how we can destroy militarily important targets in Dresden’s hinterland, I want to get suggestions how we can fry 600,000 refugees from Breslau in Dresden.’ -Winston Churchill (26 Jan 1945)

    Well done, Mr Churchill.


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