War crimes and racism: the dark side of Winston Churchill

60 years after after Churchill’s resignation as British Prime Minister, we ask, was the man who is considered one of the greatest ever Brits really that great?

Peter Iantorno April 6, 2015

This week marks 60 years since Sir Winston Churchill, regarded as one of Britain's greatest ever heroes, resigned from his post as prime minister of the United Kingdom. Following his resignation due to ill-health, tributes poured in from all over the world, for a man who carried the nation through the horrors of the Second World War and presided over the crushing of the evil Nazi party.

There can be no doubt that Churchill had a lot of great qualities and did a lot of great things. He believed in democracy and helped forge the special Anglo-American relationship that still stands firm today; and he was a master of rhetoric, inspiring the nation with his rousing speeches to come together as one and fight against the Nazis - a movement he was one of the first to warn against in the late 1930s.

He was a great war hero - that much is certainly true - but behind that British stiff upper lip, puff of cigar smoke and trademark two-fingered victory salute everyone associates with Britain's finest hour, a lesser-known dark side of the great Winston Churchill lurks, and it's association with some of Britain's most shameful times is clear. Winston Churchill the dark side Once such time that nobody would have predicted would make modern news back when it happened in 1952 was the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, where the locals rebelled against the British Empire. On Churchill's watch as Prime Minister, any Kenyans suspected of being rebels were detained and in some cases subjected to torture to extract information from them.

This is horrendous in itself, but as with many atrocities that have been clouded by the passage of time, it could easily have been forgotten but for one thing: it just so happens that one of those suspected rebels was a Mr Hussein Onyango Obama - grandfather to current US President Barack Obama.

With this in mind, it was no surprise that Obama, when he first stepped into his Oval Office as President and saw a bust of Churchill - the very man who had overseen this terrible treatment of his grandfather - left there by George W Bush, he decided to pack it up and send it back to Britain.

Now, before we're too quick to condemn Churchill, the troubles in Kenya - as terrible as they were - could easily have been an isolated incident. Maybe the soldiers were acting out of turn? Or maybe the stories have been exaggerated over time? However, delve a little further into Churchill's past and it becomes clear that even if he wasn't directly to blame for this incident, he actually held some rather controversial views that were at best unsavoury, and at worst downright dangerous.Churchill BustThe first traces that something may not have been quite right in the mind of Britain's future great leader came in the late 1890s when a young Churchill described his role in India as part of the British Army as fighting in "a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples". He also noted that the locals in the Swat Valley, which is now part of Pakistan, had a "strong aboriginal propensity to kill".

By the time he'd hung up his rifle and moved into politics he was coming out with gems like, "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes," which he wrote as president of the Air Council in 1919.

Even more damning were his comments to the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937: "I do not admit... that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia... by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race... has come in and taken its place." Worrying to say the least.

There can be no doubt that these words are not the words of a truly great man, and they paint Churchill as not only unpleasant, but even dangerous if his views were left unchecked. However, there is one thing that will always play in Churchill's favour: as wrong as his views were and as menacing as he appears, at the time he was in power there was a far greater menace to the world growing in Nazi Germany, and if it wasn't for Churchill, that menace could have spread even further than it did.

While his views and many of his actions are inexcusable and completely unacceptable in modern Britain, and anywhere else in the free world for that matter, without him, that free world may not exist at all.