Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Letter From Winston Churchill’s Disappointed Mother (theatlantic.com)
79 points by whocansay on Sept 28, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 92 comments

Churchill was a notorious scoundrel, constantly in debt and bailed out by unsavoury characters https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/no-more-champ...

'...On his first day at school, Winston Churchill asked his mother for more cash. She groused: “You do get through it in the most rapid manner… and the more you have the more you want to spend.” He was 13, and already he was spending more than a family “of six or seven have to live upon”.....

> Churchill was a notorious scoundrel

The topic of churchill was the first time I realized I lived in a bubble. In the US, we laud churchill as a great statesman and take pride in that he's half-american by his american mother. He's seen as, next to FDR, the most important man in the fight against nazi germany to free europe. And naively we assume the rest of the world also loves churchill. Turns out much of the world hates churchill because the guy was virulently racist, genocidal and a war criminal. The things churchill said and did were no different than what hitler said and did. The first time I heard my indian colleague say something negative about churchill, I was shocked because I was so conditioned into thinking the guy represented good.

"As the resistance swelled, he announced: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." This hatred killed. To give just one, major, example, in 1943 a famine broke out in Bengal, caused – as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has proved – by the imperial policies of the British. Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population."


Were it not for the unprecedented horrors of hitler, churchill would rank up there with the worst of the leaders of the 20th century.

As a Brit, through history classes and exams, I didn't learn anything other than how brilliant Churchill was. Then in my 20's the internet appeared and Churchill's real history was there in black and white. All it did was make me question everything I'd been taught about Britain and the establishment.

Questioning everything from then on, only lead to the concrete conclusion that the British education system and establishment (aristocracy, business, corporation of London, parliament, the lord's, judiciary, the class system) was designed/evolved to keep them rich and holders of power ad infinitum.

The rest of us, the plebs, we're/are kept deliberately misinformed and devoid of virtually all the opportunities "they" had and still have.

The plebs that rise up the ranks into politics, banking and business are brought into the club and the system of corruption and ignorance continues.

The US founding fathers knew what they were doing with the declaration of Independence.

the British education system and establishment (aristocracy, business, corporation of London, parliament, the lord's, judiciary, the class system) was designed/evolved to keep them rich and holders of power ad infinitum.

Noted by John Stuart Mill in the 1870s, as reported by Han Jensen:

the members of the university "hierarchy" made it their "business, the business for which they ... [were] paid," to "uphold certain political as well as religious opinions," namely those of the "ruling powers of the state" (J.S. Mill, Autobiography and Literary Essays, p. 429 (1981), J.S. Mill, Journals and Debating Speeches, p. 350. (1988) ). Thus the universities pursued with vigor their assignment to inculcate in their students those political and ideological views that were cherished by the power elite. The graduates of the ancient universities were, therefore, well prepared for employment in, and by, those institutions that were instrumental in perpetuating the existing maldistribution of income.

Hans E. Jensen, "John Stuart Mill's Theories of Wealth and Income Distribution". Review of Social Economy. Pages 491-507. Published online: 05 Nov 2010.


Exerpts and commentary: https://old.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/6x7u6a/on_the_...

Thanks for the info and links - and multiple hour (so far..) rabbit hole! I read Mill at School, but obviously need to re-visit him again.

Your reddit sub is really interesting too, trawling it now!

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” — Winston Churchill...who was principally a writer...

1943 - the British were in engaged in a multifront war against Germany, Italy, and Japan with their very survival in doubt. Then, Japan cut off a major food supply to Bengal. Blaming this all on Churchill is a bit much.

Yeah, Churchill may have been controversial at times, but he was absolutely the best possible person to lead Britain at that moment at that time. It just boggles my mind that people try to flatten people of history and cast them in a very specific shadow, out of context of the world, events, and viewpoints of the moment.

It seems to be a trendy Twitter thing to shit on the legacy of Churchill after Scott Kelly’s tweet quoting him. Churchill was probably just as bad or even worse than Hitler and to put even the faintest of a positive light on any of his achievements and fruits of his leadership at the time just shows how racist you are.

I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m also fucking frustrated that we tear down figures of history whith honrible qualities into the ruins of racists and despots. Would the world have been a better place without Churchill?

When Stalin starved millions of people we invented a completely new word for it, when Churchill does it it's barely 'controversial'.

Churchill didn't invent famines for crying out loud. It wasn't an evil plot on his part. The year was 1943...the entire world was at war...maybe you heard about it. The Japanese cut off supplies. Lots of people were being murdered, Britain might not have even survived but for Churchill. War is fucking hell. You have to make trade-offs and decisions that lead to real deaths and the consequences are felt for centuries after. Boy you name one leader of any war torn nation that has never made zero mistakes.

Correct me if i'm wrong but wasn't there more then enough food, he just wanted to send it over to England?

Yeah that kind of thing never happens now, just ask puerto rico, Haiti, ethiopia, Rowenda

Backing Poland was a choice in the 1930s.

Just like not backing the Ukraine was a choice in the 2010s.

There were applicable treaties. It was a choice, and now all your friends are dead.

> Backing Poland was a choice in the 1930s.

Not backing Poland has to be blamed on the guy before Churchill though?

Fine, Chamberlain.

The Dunkirk fiasco and movie should be renamed "So maybe don't back Poland next time"

Although the WWII's successes are taught as such, there just isn't a history of nobility to support what happened.

Have you a source for Japan cutting off it's supply of food, I'd not read about that before.

Wikipedia talks about it a bit:


Japan occupied Burma, cutting off supplies.

Japan was also sinking British shipping - the whole empire was in extremis. It seems likely that this whole sad episode would have turned out quite differently without the war going on.

It would be better to give the whole truth rather than try and land it on Churchill individually, quoting one suspect author as only source.

1. The UK had a coalition government and a war cabinet of 9 not a Churchillian dictatorship, so blaming it on Churchill is pure hyperbole.

2. Burma fell in 42 from which point Bengal lost previous regular rice imports and was now on the front line with the Japanese. Had Japan reached Bengal the death figures would have been an order of magnitude higher. To hugely understate it, Japan didn't have a great reputation for treatment of populations of countries they occupied. Burma was the location of the infamous Burma-Siam railway that was being built with slave labour, to supply Burma and the expected Bengal front.

3. Many of the Indian states under their respective Maharajas applied trade restrictions with Bengal after the fall of Burma, through 42 starting with Punjab. That significantly heightened food shortages and profiteering. Seeing how prices rose most of the other Indian states joined in. It was the inability to internally import rice that was perhaps the largest single factor. Thanks to the vassal nature of the states under the Raj these decisions were not by the British.

4. Bengal was inundated with half a million refugees fleeing Burma, and thousands more defeated troops. Most were injured and ill.

5. At that point in the war there was little could be done to prevent Japanese attacks in the Bay of Bengal. The War Cabinet did indeed decline Mountbatten's requests for shipping food due to expected shipping losses. The cabinet papers are now freely available.

6. A series of natural disasters in the region, including extensive crop disease, a cyclone that killed 15,000 and spread the disease spores widely, followed by further floods. What was Churchill's part in these?

Churchill had faults, and some appalling decisions in his career that could be easily criticised. The Bengal famine is probably one of the weakest as it is mostly untrue.

Something that's completely socially unacceptable to say:

The real thing that put Hitler in power to begin with was the horrendous war reparations Germany was saddled with from WW1 because it was "last man standing" on the losing side. You get called a Nazi sympathizer and things like that for trying to provide that context, but to my mind that is the real reason they said "Never again" and instituted global protections for financial stuff at the end of WW2.

People seem to forget the entire world was suffering through a depression prior to WW2 and most wars are, at their root, motivated by resource limitations.

> The real thing that put Hitler in power to begin with was the horrendous war reparations Germany was saddled with from WW1 because it was "last man standing" on the losing side.

I live in the Netherlands and I remember being thought that in school as one of the reasons of Hitlers rise to power.

The Dutch wikipage [1] of the Versailles treaty also reflects this in a section called "consequences of the treaty" (De gevolgen van het verdrag).

[1] https://nl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verdrag_van_Versailles_(1919...

Same, in the US (Louisiana and then California).

This was also part of my UK education on why Hitler rose to power.

I was also taught in French schools that the Versailles "diktat" was a good reason why Hitler rose to power.

Thank you. The English translation of that section ends with:

On October 3, 2010 were the last debt repaid by the Germans.

> The real thing that put Hitler in power to begin with was the horrendous war reparations Germany was saddled with from WW1 because it was "last man standing" on the losing side

I'm not sure why this is socially unacceptable - I thought it was widely accepted that Hitler rode the economic woes into office, and used them to blame the Jews (amongst others). Now, if you start using that to justify what the Nazi party did, I can see why you might be called a Nazi sympathiser, but I don't see why that statement on its own is particularly controversial (if perhaps only presenting one factor).

The question does remain though - would the Great Depression on its own (without reparations), or had Germany been in a better economy situation, been sufficient to result in Hitler's rise to power?

My mother is German. She once said to me something like "Hitler was doing good things for the country -- until he went nuts."

I brought that up on a forum. It isn't justification for Nazi atrocities. It is insight into how the people on the ground suffering hardship saw him in his early years. He was perceived to be a good leader doing good things for the people, at least at first.

But, hey, my previous comment is already deep in the negatives, so I'm guessing HN won't be much more reasonable than Reddit was when I tried to make that point.

People also seem to forget that the entire point of Milgram's experiments was to prove that something like that absolutely could not happen in the US. The theory was that there was something peculiar to the German people. His experiments proved the exact opposite, which was quite shocking at the time and likely part of why they are so very well known, though most people appear oblivious to the origin story.

There is a massive difference between saying that the treatment of Germany after WWI set the stage for Hitler, and saying that Hitler did good things for Germany until he went nuts. The former will find wide agreement, while the latter is just apology for Nazis, who were evil from the start, and just took a while to really ramp it up.

No, it is not apology for Nazis.

FYI: My initial comment was well into the negatives for a time.

A lot of people simply cannot look objectively at anything related to WW2. They know how it ultimately turned out, so they basically ret-con it as "they were pure evil from the start."

The problem is such mental models foster convenient explanations and justifications, not solutions for making sure such things don't happen again.

Most people's perception of WWII has devolved into 1950's type Hollywood western 'white hat' 'black hat', good versus evil story telling with little understanding of substance. Presumably this is because the generations that experienced it have died or are too senile to discuss it publicly these days. We will never learn

Following WW2, an awful lot of our fictional villains were German. That's changed relatively recently. Germans were the "trope" evil bad guy.

WW2 is actually even inspiration for, say, Star Wars. Darth Vader and his troops are something of a cross between Japanese samurai uniforms and WW2 German uniforms.

It's so deeply embedded, we don't even notice the connection. We don't question where those images come from. We just accept it as "Yup. Totes The Bad Guy! Looks Bad to me!"

There's a rather awkward question about when one thinks Hitler went nuts. To think the early years of the Nazi regime were acceptable requires overlooking the thuggery they used to get power in the first place, the brutal (and not secret) things they were doing to 'undesirables' already, and what Hitler had revealed of himself in 'Mein Kampf'.

On the other hand, I agree that no nation or ethnic group can assume itself intrinsically immune to such things.

My mother was a young child in Germany during WW2. I imagine she had no firsthand sophisticated understanding of politics at the time and was essentially repeating opinions of adults she knew.

But she was also remarking on one of the programs that provided servants to families. I don't recall the details. She could remember her family benefiting in some way from such a program.

Regardless of all those details, Germany was in dire straits and this was due in part to a global depression and in part due to how other nations were treating Germany post WW1. It was the people of Germany suffering because of all that and they likely did not have all the details we now know about Nazi tactics.

This was well before our highly connected modern communications. They used to play news at movie theaters during WW2. TVs were not yet widespread.

My mother's remark is firsthand testimony concerning the perceptions of ordinary people on the ground at the time. That isn't apologist. It doesn't mean any of the ugly political things people are reading into it.

It is interesting to me for that reason. It is rare insight into how and why Hitler could rise to power to begin with. At least some of the people at the time perceived him as doing good things for a country being crushed by outside forces.

Hindsight is 20/20. People pretty routinely are shocked to find where their path has led them. I don't see any reason to question the idea that the ordinary people of Germany could believe he was doing good for the country until things went very wrong and then suddenly feeling like "He's lost his mind and we didn't sign up for this!"

They weren't on Twitter watching political inquiries go down in real time. Things were different back then.

“As a small child, it seemed like Hitler did good things for Germany until he went nuts” would be a perfectly reasonable thing to say. They way you put it makes it sound like she never looked at what happened later and came to an adult understanding of the situation.

Yeah, let's not put my mother on trial here. She's not participating in this discussion. She's not here to defend herself from such nastiness.

I was a minor when the discussion occurred. That no doubt influenced the wording.

It was a private conversation at home between mother and daughter. She had zero reason to think she needed to defend the remark as if it were a PhD thesis or testimony in a war crimes trial.

You posted it to a public forum at least twice. Here, you’re using it as a jumping off point to argue that the perception of Nazis as evil from the start is a “retcon.”

If you don’t want to discuss it, don’t post it. If you don’t want to defend it, don’t base an argument on it.

That's a serious mischaracterization of my point. It's also justification for being nasty to someone who isn't here.

I'm not saying I'm not accountable for choosing to make the comments I've made.

It’s a mischaracterization of your point? You said:

> A lot of people simply cannot look objectively at anything related to WW2. They know how it ultimately turned out, so they basically ret-con it as "they were pure evil from the start."

I don’t know how else to read that other than as an argument that Nazis weren’t pure evil from the start.

Then let me suggest you just walk away from this one. Your tactics are ugly. Your understanding of my point is lacking. This isn't likely to go good places.

I plan to drop it. It's been surprisingly well received so far, by which I mean it didn't turn into a shit show. I see no reason to go there at this late stage in the discussion.

How am I supposed to read it? A retcon is going back and changing the original story. Applied to real history, it means the retcon isn’t true. If Nazis being pure evil from the start is a retcon, then that means Nazis weren’t pure evil from the start. Not so?

I don’t want to walk away from pointing out that Nazis were, in fact, as bad as everyone thinks and were that way from the start. The fact that it’s been well received just adds further motivation to point this out.

Nazi were violent from the start. If you read any detailed history book about what Nazi actually did and how they came to power pretty from around when Hitler joined, you find them being violent and hateful.

They were not only violent group around, that is absolutely true. But they were pretty bad even if you ignore Holocaust itself.

The victors always write the history, but only a few wealthy people actually 'win' a war.

'You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake'. Jeannette Rankin

I think I am among the winners. I would not exist had nazi won and implemented their plan.

How is “Hitler was doing good things for the country” not apology for Nazis? It’s not even subtle!

Nazis being evil from the start isn’t a retcon. Just look at their internal party purges, or how the Enabling Act got passed.

Half my family grew up in the Soviet Union and tend to love Putin, so, though not the above commenter, I can definitely answer this if you're willing to take an analogy.

Yes, a leader can be corrupt and dictatorial, and yes, they can strong-arm many people. To somebody with strong morals and heavily deontological beliefs, they can look at that leader and say "How could anyone support such a person?". The answer is to look at a concept like Maslow's hierarchy of needs [1] and realize that the supporters are likely pursuing an entirely different stage of needs than you. When your kids are hungry and you have to work from sun-up until sun-down to keep the family fed, and somebody makes it easier for you and your family to survive and maybe even have extra money at the end of the week, none of the moral ideologies against corruption or dictatorship really matter to you. That's why Russians give Putin such a high approval rating; they don't deny that he's corrupt, they just don't care, because their lives have improved.

The same can be said of hopeful Trump supporters to a lesser extent, in fact, and linked is a fantastic analysis on that topic (the most fair and analytical one I've read) [2].

My point is: the above poster's mother wasn't apologizing for Nazis. She was likely saying that, as far as she could tell at that point in time, similar to my Russian family, her family's life had improved. I don't see how that becomes false in light of future events.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

[2] http://inference-review.com/article/trump-and-the-trumpists

I totally get how people can support these leaders, and how they can look good from the inside. What I don’t get is taking a really bad one and, long after it became obvious he was horrible in every way, saying that he was good until he went crazy. (Edit: more accurately, I understand how a person can do that, but not without being a sympathizer or at the very least an apologist.) What I really don’t get is taking that and saying that the notion that he and his party were pure evil from the start was a retcon by the victors.

Hitler followed the same politics beginning to end. His failed putch was a preview of how he treated enemies once he got into power.

Also, economic only explanation ignores how much militarized Germany was, how much lost itself was impossible to stomach to them leading to "Jews stab us in back" myth.

There is whole lot more.to it then just suffering economy. Hitler support was not.among poorest either, it was among artisans, owners of small businesses and such.

most of the German army (80%) was horse drawn and they also used bicycles extensively. They developed some impressive technology which they showcased for the blitzkreig propaganda but in reality it was clueless farmworkers given a belt with 'in God we trust' and uniform and ordered to march into Poland etc. Most of the perceptions of WWII, including the holocaust, have been shaped by post war US media.

As an example the term 'holocaust' was widely publicized by ABC TV for their miniseries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_(miniseries) Prior to that the term 'holocaust' was used to describe the Armenian genocide and you can still find Armenians who are deeply offended by this.

This is not a defense of the Nazi party - I grew up in Coventry UK, one of the most heavily bombed cities in England in WWII (my mother was there under the kitchen table) - this is an attempt to address the reality that in 2018 we are largely influenced by the media in our perceptions of a war that was more than a generation ago, and that politicians were as labile and devious then as they are now, on both sides.

I have no idea what of what you wrote could come across as defending Nazi. None of it sounds like defense at all (neither soldier farmers nor origin of word nor us media). I am not from US and had little access to postwar US media. Instead I read multiple books written by Historians about WWII, Germany and Hitler. I am not sure what does origin of the term Holocaust have to use with the thread. We can use Shoah and will not change a thing.

The wehrmacht was national army with long tradition. They took over most of Europe including significant part of Russian territory. Not clueless farmers and clueless farmers were not in leadership. Moreover, Germany was preparing for war for years and that included school system trying to help raise soldier material. As for bicycles, bicycles don't require gas which is why popularity among both army and civilians. Add to it restrictions imposed on German army by WWI victors (which Germans broke, but had to be careful not to do it too openly) and it all becomes logical.

Polish army was still using primary horses and did not anticipated modern war. Germans actually came with better technology.

Lastly, the idea that bad things started with war and later Holocaust is not correct. The state performed repressions of political opposition and violent social control started at earliest, the moment nazi took power. Plans were ready in advance. The nazi themselves were like that even before they took state power into control and violence etc played role already during democratic state, including during elections.

I was attempting to make the point that our perception of past realities is mostly shaped by the media. Estimates vary but from 75 to 120 million people perished in WWII with many more gravely injured physically and mentally. Now that generation has died and TV and film have taken over 'dramatizing' events...


You're right that somehow pre-war Wehrmacht has got a reputation as being something they were very much not - efficient and high tech. It was only 80% of German artillery that was horse drawn or more accurately only partially motorised at the outbreak of war. German infantry was entirely on foot (and frequently commandeered or stole bicycles). More importantly, Wehrmacht supply and logistics were woefully lacking mechanisation. The highly mechanised blitzkrieg was certainly partially PR, but was also a reaction the fact that the army was so poorly equipped in 39. They focused mechanisation on achieving full mechanisation rather than spreading it "fairly" across regiments. The had a small number of completely mechanised regiments, with fully modern equipment, and "the rest".

Still, you can't escape the fact blitzkrieg was also effective. It was effective as tactics had not evolved far from WW1 trench warfare. It was but a very small part of the military whole.

There were lots of shortcomings in the German war machine - for example, they never developed a successful 4 engine bomber severely limiting the bomb loads they could send, and range.

As to holocaust, my UK history lessons, before this mini series was made, and books referred to "the holocaust" as the main term, occasionally referring to the Nazi term "the final solution".

What do you mean horrendous war reparations? Germany remained independent, lost barely any territory and were allowed to delay paying war reparations. Germany's other allies were far worse of losing far more territory and descending into anarchy all the way up to the second world war.

Hitler got into power because of the great depression and the German populations attraction at the time to authoritarian nationalist political party's not because Germany's war reparations were so horrendous.

I'm finding myself at a loss for how to engage your remark. I don't think I'm wrong, but it possibly isn't phrased that well.

In a nutshell, the seeds of WW2 were planted in WW1. This is a longstanding human tradition and is in part related to the historical practice of extracting war reparations, but there was other stuff as well that wouldn't, strictly speaking, be classified that way, yet still had a negative impact.

I've read a fair amount of history. I was a history major for a time. My ex was career military and particularly interested in military history and had an extensive book collection. We sometimes looked up the actual battles while watching movies.

The American Civil War is notable for being singular and not the beginning of a series of civil wars. Grant was an alcoholic and ne'er-do-well and this has been credited with his unprecedented choice to set very merciful terms of surrender. Not only were war reparations not extracted, he insisted that the South accept help for rebuilding.

This has been credited with being the roots of similar tactics post WW2 where America occupied and helped rebuild both Japan and Germany.

I hope that's a little clearer. I don't know that it is. I have a raging headache.

You get called a Nazi sympathizer and things like that for trying to provide that context

Where? I learnt WWI & WWII history while at school in England, and that was exactly the version we were taught. Although modern historians somewhat dispute the simplicity of that narrative.

Gladwell's Revisionist History podcast had an episode called "The Prime Minister and the Prof" [1]. The episode goes into Churchill's relationship with India and a friend named Frederick Lindemann. Gladwell discusses evidence from a book called, "Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II".

[1] http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/15-the-prime-minister...

Many historical figures are like that. Both great & terrible. Ghandi, too, had his major flaws completely unbefitting his image.

Yep. In particular Gandhi promoted the caste system and disagreed with those who said it should be eliminated.

Gandhi promoted caste apartheid and actively went on a hunger strike to prevent 'lower castes'/'untouchables' from getting representation in Parliament. This event was whitewashed in our school books as Gandhi did it to prevent English from breaking Hindu unity as not anyone reduce Gandhi's bargaining power. Gandhi also suppressed India's linguistic diversity and promoted Indians to have only one language. Here again, he used the crutch of Britishers forcing English on Indians. He wanted to assimilate and absorb diverse religions of India into Hinduism too. More I learn about him, more I hate him.

That is just plain bullshit. He called them harijans which from today's cultural standpoint looks patronizing, but he had nothing but altruistic intentions for them and wanted the caste system gone.

Ok, change my view. Quoting him directly, “I believe that caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration. One of my correspondents suggests that we should abolish the caste system but adopt the class system of Europe, meaning that the idea of hereditary castes should be rejected. I am inclined to think that the law of heredity is an eternal law and any attempt to alter it must lead to utter confusion. Hindus believe in transmigration of the soul and Nature will adjust the balance by degrading a Brahmin if he misbehaves to a lower caste, and upgrading one who lives the life of a Brahmin to a Brahmin in his next life.”

He believes in hereditary inherited caste apartheid. Any wiggle room in his words there?

I guess you are right. But that isn't going to reduce the role he played in India's Independence movement or the momentum he gave to the formation process of independent India. I will argue that the strength he gave to the peaceful formation of the republic later on facilitated the anti caste movements by later politicians in independent India.

> Gandhi promoted caste apartheid and actively went on a hunger strike to prevent 'lower castes'/'untouchables' from getting representation in Parliament.

Any source where I can read more about this ? Never heard this part about Gandhi.

And yet, were it not for Churchill, the unprecedented horrors of Hitler may have gone completely unchecked, or else only been stopped by the even greater horrors of Stalin.

Churchill was the cornerstone of Britain's continued resistance, and the primary reason they didn't sue for peace after the fall of France. Hitler would have let Britain and her empire survive had they left him unmolested; Churchill instead led the country down the road of stopping Hitler, ultimately at the cost of her empire.

> Up to 3 million people starved to death while British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region. He bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits".

This is an extremely common criticism of foreign aid and even private philanthropy to this day, to the point where the Gates Foundation lists it as one of the "10 tough questions" they get asked: https://www.gatesnotes.com/2018-Annual-Letter#ALChapter5

I'm not trying to whitewash or excuse Churchill, but like many other historical figures whose actions and attitudes would be repugnant to us today (including even Abraham Lincoln), his failings are not as important as his heroism, at least to those of us living in a Western world that may have fallen to totalitarianism but for Churchill's resilience. Though I certainly don't blame your Indian colleague for his own perspective.

The western front was relatively small part of the WWII.

It was the Eastern Front and the U.S material support to USSR that really decided the war.

It's interesting to think what would have happened after Pearl Harbor if Britain would have not been so strongly involved. The US could have still sided with the USSR and defeated Germany. Without the Western Front the war between USSR and the US would have been more likely aftermath. Maybe we would remember in horror the bombings of Hiroshima Nagasaki, Leningrad and Moscow as the end of the WWII and US victory. (After Germans were defeated and surrendered, they immediately wanted to fight with US against USSR).

Without any Western Front at all, the Soviets would most likely have eventually prevailed and come to rule the entire continent of Europe. Britain's support for the resistance and governments-in-exile of the various European democracies also effectively prevented a power vacuum that Stalin would have exploited.

Churchill was far more distrustful of Stalin than FDR was. Even if the US sided with the USSR, they would have likely conceded to Stalin more of his goals. Also, without French, Belgian, Dutch, etc. resistance movements and governments-in-exile surviving under British support, the US would have an extremely limited capacity to occupy and rebuild continental Europe, and very little motivation to. Without the Free French movement and Charles de Gaulle, the only seemingly legitimate French leadership after the war would have been the very same government that collaborated with the Nazis, and the Soviets would have just summarily killed all of them and replaced them with their own collaborators.

It's also not entirely clear to me that the US would have joined the war against Germany at all without Britain already being in it. If Britain sued for peace with Germany, they would be unhindered in protecting their empire against Japanese aggression, while the Germans would be unlikely to cooperate with the Japanese against the British. Without Japan attacking either Britain or Russia, there's no reason for a Japanese attack against the United States to provoke American intervention against Germany. Britain's continued belligerency and the escalating American efforts to aid Britain without formally joining the war were necessary parts of joining the two wars into one.

Speaking of which, it also shouldn't be underestimated how deftly Churchill was able to convince the Americans--who had just been attacked by the Japanese, not the Germans--that Germany, rather than Japan, should be their first war priority.

"his failings are not as important as his heroism"

We should be willing to see both sides of people like him and accept them both. A lot of people have the tendency once they think someone did something great in one area to deny that person's flaws in other areas. So yes, Churchill did well in WW2 but he did very stupid things in WW1 costing lot of soldiers their lives and was a complete racist.

There was no shortage of British politicians and cabinet members who were unapologetic imperialists or who were responsible for fatal blunders. There was a shortage of men who had the foresight to understand the Nazi threat and the power and will to oppose it. Churchill is unexceptional in his evil but extremely exceptional in his heroism.

Much of the horror at Churchill, in isolation, is completely normal and justified. The thing is, there isn’t really any single heroic historical figure who is uncomplicatedly heroic. Abraham Lincoln was a de facto dictator who violated the Constitution in order to save it, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist who killed people and refused to renounce violence, FDR interned the Japanese and had plenty of his own dictatorial impulses, Martin Luther King was a serial philanderer who plagiarized his doctoral thesis, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, Isaac Newton was a complete asshole with eccentric and fanatical religious views, and so forth.

So yeah, true, let’s acknowledge the awful things about Churchill. But let’s not over exaggerate them or use them to draw a moral equivalency with Adolf fucking Hitler.

"So yeah, true, let’s acknowledge the awful things about Churchill. But let’s not over exaggerate them or use them to draw a moral equivalency with Adolf fucking Hitler."

Exactly. Let's see him as a flawed person who sometimes was very wrong and sometimes very right. For current and past leaders this means we should carefully evaluate what they do and say instead of blindly following them only because they did something good in the past.

Thats been my independent perspective too.

Although Germany had a good understanding of the treaties in force and cascading consequences for breaking them - and were ready to strike on all fronts following their Poland invasion - I didn't get the impression that they would actually attempt administration of all of Europe, unless their hand was forced which it was.

I didn't get the impression they wanted it. There were gripes with the Polish people, and a bunch of treaties that would have let that continue.

I'm sure its possible to find quips regarding a 20th century Global German Empire, but I don't think that was really a goal. In the European Theatre I just I think the whole thing spiraled out of control. From the extremist things I've read from the Nazi generals to the Nuremberg trials, I see people acting irrationally in a group doing things they wouldn't have individually considered. This opinion doesn't have a consequence, there's no forgiveness for what happened, its just a perspective I hadn't seen people really talk about.

Britain didn't have to back Poland.

Wait, why is this comment being down-voted?

It's written in a respectful manner, cites a strong source, and is very much relevant to the link posted.

> The things churchill said and did were no different than what hitler said and did.

Most likely, this.

If these quotes are correct:

> He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population.

Then the "said" part is accurate. The "did" part may be hyperbolic, but not enough to overpower an otherwise excellent post. It really does seem like people are just knee-jerk reacting to criticism of a popular figure.

> The things churchill said and did were no different than what hitler said and did.

That is an obscene statement and likely the cause of your downvotes.


We've banned this account for trolling, and will ban your main account as well if you do it again.

I thought his mum was the one that squandered his inheritance

but Winston you are old enough to see how serious this is to you—& how the next year or two & the use you make of them, will affect your whole life

She sounds like a terrible mother, but those lines aren’t wrong. I squandered a lot of my youth, and I’m paying the price now. I can’t change it, and even if I could I doubt my younger self would take it serious, but how you spend your twenties really determine how you spend the next 40 years of your life. That’s not to say you can’t change or catch up, Churchill is a testimony to that, but the hard work won’t do itself.

I don't think she sounds like a terrible mother at all. Sometimes a wayward son needs some tough love--and I don't think that idea was the slightest bit uncomfortable to a British mother in the Victorian era.

It is unclear to me from the context whether this is an excerpt of a fictitious letter from Churchill's mother to him as a child or if this is a real historical letter.

Edit: to answer my own question, it seems to be an excerpt from a book of actual letters between Churchill and his mother: https://www.amazon.com/My-Darling-Winston-Letters-Churchill/....

Interesting tidbit about Winston Churchill. He was the only person in any of the major warring powers to have held high office in both WW 1 and WW 2. In WW 1 he was in charge of the British navy (though he did resign after Gallipoli). In WW 2 he, of course, rose to Prime Minister.

What is more surprising, perhaps, is that this is a claim that nobody else can make. But when you examine it, it is in the nature of democracy that there is regular turnover of those at the top. This happened in Britain, France and the USA. And the various non-democracies involved all had changes of government between the start of WW 1 and WW 2, which again results in turnover of those at the top.

So he became very successful. Whether this was because of, or in spite of, his mother's disappointment is another question. (I would be inclined on general principle to guess "because of", but I don't know enough for an educated opinion.)

Petain was Commander and Chief of the French forces in WWI, prime-minister of France during WWII and leader of Vichy France. So not only a major leader in both wars, but in the second war he held high office on both sides!

(and FDR was Asst Sec of the Navy in WWI if you count that as a high office)

This is all the more remarkable as Churchill, whatever his other qualities, demonstrated terrible military judgment in WWI (and, some argue, in WW II as well).

Thanks for pointing this out. I knew it, but the uniqueness had not been clear. He is an intriguing character and an anomaly in so many ways, and I would say that is because, in large part, of his relationship with his mother, whom he befuddled (like so many others in his life), but she nonetheless adored him.

A strong-willed mother can be found behind many famous people. Or at least that was one of the findings in https://www.amazon.com/Cradles-Eminence-Childhoods-Famous-Wo.... (A book I'm familiar with because my mother read it and applied its lessons in odd ways to her parenting..)

That is why on general principle I would expect his mother to likely be a cause for his success.

Stalin was a leader in the Russian (Soviet) Government late in World War I:

"Stalin became part of an informal foursome leading the government, alongside Lenin, Trotsky, and Sverdlov;[183] of these, Sverdlov was regularly absent, and died in March 1919.[184] Stalin's office was based near to Lenin's in the Smolny Institute,[185] and he and Trotsky were the only individuals allowed access to Lenin's study without an appointment." ... Stalin was appointed the People's Commissar for Nationalities. [ date? ]

[ from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Consolidating_po... ]

Franklin Roosevelt also held a relatively high office: Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

That was after Russia had departed from the war.

Although the rest of the Allies hastily invaded Russia in an attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks--perhaps a bit of a side war to WWI, akin to the Russian invasions of Finland.


In November, 1917, Vladimir Lenin rewarded Joseph Stalin for his support of the October Revolution by appointing him Commissar of Nationalities. [ source : https://spartacus-educational.com/RUSnationalities.htm ]

The Germans agreed to let the Russians negotiate a peace treaty. Lenin, leader of the Russian revolution, sent Trotsky, his second in command, to the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk to make the negotiations. Trotsky refused the terms of the treaty initially, but had to sign in March 1918 when the German army responded to his delaying tactics by resuming an invasion of Russia. [ source : https://classroom.synonym.com/significance-russian-withdrawa... ]

Another tidbit about the war. World War goes better when drunk. Churchill and Stalin were alcoholics.

Hitler might or might not have Blitzed with coke/opiates and meth.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2021

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact