The Churchill cult has a lot to answer for: In England and the United States virtually every foreign policy disaster or near-disaster of the last six decades – from Suez to Viet Nam to Iraq – has been justified with pious invocations of Churchill’s prescient warnings against appeasement and his wartime leadership. So a book challenging the Churchill cult is sorely needed. Alas, Pat Buchanan’s new cut-and-paste tome doesn’t so much critique the Churchill cult as invert it, giving us less a debunking of religion than a Black Mass that turns a familiar ritual upside down. Instead of Churchill as the great hero and repository of wisdom we get Churchill as arch-villain responsible for all that went wrong in the early 20th century, from the outbreak of the two World Wars and the degradation of British power.
Winston Churchill loved India but hated Indians, a seemingly anomalous stance which is all too common among imperialists, who tend to disdain inhabitants of coveted lands. It’s worth asking how these divergent strands of Churchill’s thought – his desire to keep India under British rule and his extreme distaste for the real people who lived in that country – coexisted.
I’m not a fan of Winston Churchill. The man had his virtues and did some good but he was also a militarist (of the type that romanticizes war as a grand adventure), an imperialist, a bungling administrator (Gallipoli being only the most famous of his many botched operations), a racist, and a militant supporter of ruling class interests. Still, reading Pat Buchanan’s new book Churchill, Hitler, and “The Unnecessary War”: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World had the unexpected effect of creating in me some sympathy and affection for the old reprobate British bulldog.
I’ll have more to say about Churchill in some subsequent posts, but in the meantime, my initial take on Buchanan’s book can be found in this Guardian column.