Gentle and Simple Bearing

Nicholas Baker takes neo-con demigod and hero Winston Church to task in his latest book, Human Smoke, a revisionist history of World War II. According to Mark Kurlansky, who reviewed the book for the Los Angeles Times:

Churchill is a dominant figure in “Human Smoke,” depicted as a bloodthirsty warmonger who, in 1922, was still bemoaning the fact that World War I hadn’t lasted a little longer so that Britain could have had its air force in place to bomb Berlin and “the heart of Germany.” But no, he whined, it had to stop, “owing to our having run short of Germans and enemies.”

Churchill was not driven by anti-fascism. In his 1937 book “Great Contemporaries,” he described Hitler as “a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner.” The same book savagely attacked Leon Trotsky. (What was wrong with Trotsky? “He was still a Jew. Nothing could get over that.”) Churchill repeatedly praised Mussolini for his “gentle and simple bearing.” In 1927, he told a Roman audience, “If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.” Churchill considered fascism “a necessary antidote to the Russian virus,” Baker writes. In 1938, he remarked to the press that if England were ever defeated in war, he hoped “we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among nations.”

As Baker’s book makes clear, between the two World Wars communism, not fascism, was the enemy. David Lloyd George, who had been Britain’s prime minister during World War I, cautioned in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, that if the Allies managed to overthrow Nazism, “what would take its place? Extreme communism. Surely that cannot be our objective.” But even more than the communists, Churchill’s enemy No. 1 in the 1920s and early ’30s was Mohandas Gandhi and his doctrine of nonviolence, which Churchill warned “will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed.”

I’m always happy when heroes are brought down to size. The Churchill myth — that the good Sir Winston was the only resolute Western leader who understood the Nazi threat and the only one with foresight about the evils of fascisim — clearly does stand up to muster (and probably owes a great deal to Churchill’s own writings). It has also been the cause of a great deal of Anglo-American aggression over the last 60 year, from Egypt (1956) to Iraq and many places and times in-between. It is a myth that does not serve us. It is a myth that has empowered our most murderous impulses.