His­tor­i­cal fig­ures can’t be judged by to­day’s val­ues

Irish Daily Mirror - - STATESIDE -

MORE than 60 years af­ter sav­ing the world from Nazi rule, Sir Win­ston Churchill was this week in­volved in yet an­other war.

The for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter was quoted by for­mer Nasa as­tro­naut Scott Kelly who had called for ci­vil­ity dur­ing Brett Ka­vanaugh’s di­vi­sive ap­point­ment to the US Supreme Court.

He wrote: “One of the great­est lead­ers of mod­ern times, Sir Win­ston Churchill said, in vic­tory, mag­na­nim­ity. I guess those days are over.

The tweet sparked out­rage among ac­tivists as they at­tacked Kelly for dar­ing to quote the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter who some la­belled a racist and a “mass mur­derer”.

One went as far to say Churchill was “just as good as Hitler” while an­other tweeted: “Check out the records of the Ben­gal famine of In­dia where his poli­cies and de­ci­sions lead to the death of mil­lions due to star­va­tion and disease.

They were re­fer­ring to Churchill re­fus­ing to send food to those starv­ing dur­ing the Ben­gal famine, which led to a short­age that claimed around three mil­lion lives in 1943-44.

The crit­ics failed to point out how his­to­ri­ans ar­gue the Prime Min­is­ter did as much as he could given the cir­cum­stances of World War Two. The at­tacks, in the US and the UK, were a far cry from 2002 BBC poll that voted Churchill the “great­est Bri­ton of all time” and last year’s de­pic­tion of him in the Os­car-win­ning film Dark­est Hour.

The at­tacks were so great it led Kelly to is­sue a grov­el­ling apol­ogy.

“Did not mean to of­fend by quot­ing Churchill,” he later tweeted.

“My apolo­gies. I will go and ed­u­cate my­self fur­ther on his atroc­i­ties, racist views which I do not sup­port.”

It’s a sad state of af­fairs when you have to vol­un­teer for re-ed­u­ca­tion for quot­ing one of the great­est lead­ers of the last cen­tury.

Kelly couldn’t just tell the crit­ics to get real without be­com­ing a tar­get.

As UN am­bas­sador for space, he’s tweeted on the hor­rors of Pres­i­dent Trump pulling out of the Paris Ac­cord and set­ting up a Space Force.

But to quote the man who saved the western world from Nazi rule was a step too far.

Churchill could be ill-man­nered and ob­sti­nate, with a ten­dency to see things in black and white terms, and there were times when he got things tremen­dously wrong – for in­stance, his colo­nial­ist in­cli­na­tions poi­soned his opin­ions on In­dia.

But un­like most of us – he pos­sessed gen­uine great­ness.

With in­va­sion look­ing likely, Churchill was un­der great po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to do a deal with Ger­many – some­thing he re­sisted, vow­ing to the House of Com­mons “I have noth­ing to of­fer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”.

So it is no sur­prise Kelly praised him as one of the “great­est lead­ers”.

We should be wary of “pre­sen­tism” - the judg­ing peo­ple of an­other time by the stan­dards of to­day.

There are many US he­roes who had views that to­day seem thor­oughly ob­jec­tion­able.

Three of the first four US pres­i­dents – George Wash­ing­ton, Thomas Jef­fer­son and James Madi­son – owned more than 1,000 slaves be­tween them. But they were prod­ucts of their times, and times change.

If we con­tinue with ridicu­lous at­tacks on his­tory and those who shaped it we will not learn from the lessons of the past. We may, in fact, run the risk of re­peat­ing them.

They were prod­ucts of their times and times change

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