It’s wrong to judge Winston Churchill, who was born in the era of the cavalry charge, by modern standards, but Green MSP Ross Greer’s claims he was a “white supremacist” and “mass murderer” were a reaction to the equally flawed, cultish devotion towards the former Prime Minister, writes Alastair Stewart.
If you read the old James Bond novels, you’ll likely be appalled by the racist language. Ian Fleming spares no adjective or pejorative term, notably in ‘Live and Let Die’, to describe black Jamaicans. You’ll still find the book in shops; the namesake film is hailed as a classic and Bond is a multi-billion pound franchise.
Ross Greer MSP has committed a cardinal sin in applying modern standards to a historical figure like Winston Churchill. Of course, Churchill said things that are distasteful to modern sensibilities – he was born in the age of the cavalry charge and died when The Beatles were at their global zenith.
Looking back with the benefit of today’s social development is a pointless exercise in reactionary politics. Mr Greer tweeting that Churchill is a “white supremacist” and a “mass murderer” betrays the opportunity for legitimate criticism in favour of short-term shock value.
Churchill’s nomenclature is undoubtedly prejudiced in places. His actions are equally capricious, but they do not justify a blanket, superficial censure.
It’s true Churchill endorsed gas in Iraq, but he supported its use to stun rather than kill. He praised Benito Mussolini, and even Adolf Hitler as being good for their respective countries when it was fashionable to do so in the 1920s.
The Gallipoli Campaign in 1915-16 ended Churchill’s career at the Admiralty, he deployed the ‘Black and Tans’ into Ireland in 1920 as Secretary of State for War, restored Britain to the Gold Standard in 1925 as Chancellor, which is all to say nothing of his conduct in World War Two.
The bombing of Dresden in 1945 may be remembered as the staple criticism against him, but Churchill’s leadership also provoked a no-confidence vote in 1942.
Lambasting Churchill as a mass murderer is not only offensive to the victims of actual tyrants, but an inaccurate form of historiography.
This entire exchange represents the dangers of what Christopher Hitchens called the “Cult of Churchill” (what he missed out was the rise of the “Detractors Club”). American presidents are particularly prone to holding Churchill up as a defiant idol while ignoring his controversial past, and the error works both ways.
Across the political spectrum, there’s a real danger of reducing Churchill to an artificial hero or villain.
Ross Greer is the reactionary response to reactionary adulation. In the middle ground, there is an honest debate and that should be a rallying call for better public discourse.
Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and journalist. He writes regular features on politics and history with a particular interest in nationalism and the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart