Was Churchill an­tisemitic?

Amer­i­can au­thor Ni­chol­son Baker claims in a new book that the Bri­tish wartime leader was no friend of the Jews and did not help their cause against Hitler. But his­to­rian Sir Martin Gil­bert strongly dis­agrees

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - NI­CHOL­SON BAKER

YES The suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can­nov­el­ist Ni­chol­son Baker has writ­ten a con­tro­ver­sial anal­y­sis of the events lead­ing up to the Sec­ond World War. Hu­man Smoke (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £20) claims that Bri­tain’s wartime Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill was al­most as blood­thirsty as Hitler, hell­bent on wag­ing a war. He also as­serts that Churchill was no friend to the Jews. JEWISH CHRON­I­CLE: Churchill is por­trayed in your book as wildly an­tisemitic, blood­thirsty, war­mon­ger­ing, in­ca­pac­i­tated with al­co­hol… NI­CHOL­SON BAKER: “Those things are true. Churchill went through a whole para­noid phase where he was ob­sessed with the Bol­she­vik men­ace.” JC: But be­ing ob­sessed with Bol­she­vism and be­ing an­tisemitic are quite dis­tinct. Plenty of peo­ple were rightly con­cerned with Bol­she­vism. NB: “The word ‘Bol­she­vism’ — I mean, there was a tremen­dousamount of gen­teel an­tisemitism float­ing around. The im­por­tant thing in talk­ing about that is not that it’s the same as the state-sup­ported hor­ror of the Nazi gov­ern­ment, but that it’s cru­cially im­por­tant to the trap­ping of the Jews. Be­cause if there’s a ter­ror­ist gov­ern­ment that’s say­ing ‘leave’ and all the other gov­ern­ments are say­ing, ‘but don’t come here’, then you’ve got a group trapped in the place where they’re most at peril.” JC: Churchill’s de­ci­sion to go to war wasn’t based on a de­sire to ex­clude Jews from the coun­try. NB:“ I present Hitler as a para­noid fa­natic, and it’s easy to ac­cept that he’s the real bad guy. The harder thing seems to be to ac­cept, even though there’s moun­tains of ev­i­dence, that Churchill was also a bad guy… You have to let in the un­com­fort­able truths as well as those that are self-ev­i­dent.” JC: Why do you think Churchill was so in­tent on hav­ing a war with Nazi Ger­many? NB: “Well, be­cause he is the quin­tes­sen­tial, old-fash­ioned Bri­tish Em­pire war­rior. All the way through the First World War, his role [as First Lord of the Ad­mi­ralty] was to tighten the noose around Ger­many, to im­pose this ex- tremely strict Bri­tish block­ade and to starve men, women and chil­dren. That’s the kind of guy he was. He then cre­ated the Royal Air Force and their job was to po­lice the Bri­tish Em­pire and bomb tribes to force them to do what he wanted them to do.” JC: Is there re­ally a con­nec­tion be­tween air polic­ing of the Em­pire and, for ex­am­ple, the Al­lied bomb­ing of Ger­many dur­ing the war? NB: “It’s not a di­rect con­nec­tion, but the RAF, the peo­ple who planned those bomb­ing cam­paigns, were all peo­ple who had been part of the polic­ing of the Bri­tish Em­pire. It was the doc­trine of air con­trol, get­ting peo­ple to do what you want by blow­ing things up.” JC: So what would be the al­ter­na­tive, in a state of war? NB: “Well, it’s a prob­lem. One of the quotes in the book is that the Bri­tish air at­tacks united the Ger­man na­tion be­hind Hitler.” JC: But then you’re fol­low­ing the logic that it was Churchill’s air strikes that led to — what? The death camps? NB: “Of course, you have to lay blame on the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally do some­thing. So you never want to say that Win­ston Churchill is re­spon­si­ble for the “Churchill was the worst pos­si­ble per­son to put up against Hitler, ” says Ni­chol­son Baker ( left) JC: But aren’t you link­ing things in a causal chain that would sug­gest that, were there not to have been air strikes there would not have been the more hor­rific later de­vel­op­ments of the war. NB: “I’m say­ing that you have to hold the Ger­mans, who did the killing, re­spon­si­ble. But I think that there are rad­i­cal­is­ing con­di­tions that in­crease the like­li­hood that crim­i­nal ac­tions would take place. Let’s say you were con­cerned about Hitler and let’s say you were Prime Min­is­ter, would you ever dream in your wildest, most se­verely mil­i­taris­tic scene paint­ings that try­ing to set alight the forests of Ger­many would help any­thing? To drop fire bombs on the Black For­est? It’s in­sane. I think the specifics of the Al­lied pol­icy were ter­ri­bly mis­guided.

“And so there’s that, but I also have to say that it’s at least worth ask­ing whether against such an un­sta­ble per­son, any act of vi­o­lent re­sis­tance would in­deed help him keep power or would lessen his power? I think it’s just as likely that the state of be­ing in a war was a gift to Hitler, in the sense that we know from,

killing of the Jews.”



any time a na­tion is at­tacked, the most ex­treme sabre-rat­tlers are the ones that are put in power.” JC: But Hitler was al­ready in power. Churchill was ‘the worst Churchill didn’t get him elected. pos­si­ble per­son to put NB: With the book, I was try­ing to add up against Hitler’, but en­rich­ing com­plex­ity to a very fraught he may well have been the best. NO

“Ni­chol­sonBak­er­thinks pe­riod. I mean, Hitler is the be­gin­ning “He cre­ated a gov­ern­ment based of it, Churchill is an ut­terly dif­fer­ent on all three po­lit­i­cal par­ties; re­fused hu­man be­ing, they have no over­lap. But to al­low pre-war po­lit­i­cal an­i­mosi­ties also, Churchill is a dis­turbingly vi­o­lent, to keep out the best-qual­i­fied peo­ple very right-wing guy. He was against the for the top jobs; gave the na­tion cour­vote for women, he didn’t have any in­age that it could sur­vive the Ger­man ter­est in In­dian in­de­pen­dence, Ir­ish in­on­slaught; and worked with his War de­pen­dence, he was sabre-rat­tling any Cabi­net (in­clud­ing the Labour lead­ers) chance he got, and he was on a manic and with his chiefs of staff to work out high in this pe­riod. the best ways for Bri­tain to sur­vive, for

“I think he was the worst pos­si­ble Bri­tain to re­cu­per­ate from the bombper­son to put up against Hitler. Not the ing and sub­ma­rine on­slaught, and to best, the worst.” find the means to break Ger­many’s cruel grip on so many of the states of Europe.

“Baker is crit­i­cal of bomb­ing Ger­many when Hitler was im­pos­ing his cruel tyranny on a dozen cap­tive peo­ples. But this bomb­ing — at the cost of 55,000 Bomber Com­mand air crew — made an es­sen­tial con­tri­bu­tion to the ul­ti­mate and es­sen­tial vic­tory by se­ri­ously dis­rupt­ing Ger­man war­mak­ing ca­pac­ity, Ger­man oil sup­plies, Ger­man rail and road com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and weak­en­ing the Ger­man air force so it could not it­self de­stroy the al­lied forces land­ing in Nor­mandy for the lib­er­a­tion of Europe.

“Baker says Churchill was ‘dis­turbingly vi­o­lent’. But he warned all his life of the hor­rors of war, and de­voted the pre-war years to try­ing to avert war. Af­ter 1945 he worked to rec­on­cile Ger­many and France, and bring about a uni­fied Europe that would not go to war with it­self again.

“Baker calls Churchill ‘very right wing’ and with­out ‘any in­ter­est’ in the Ir­ish or in­de­pen­dence. But in 1922, Churchill pi­loted through Par­lia­ment the Ir­ish Free State Bill that gave south­ern Ire­land its in­de­pen­dence. And in 1947 he re­fused to al­low the Con­ser­va­tive party to op­pose the In­dian in­de­pen­dence Bill. Churchill was an up­holder of par­lia­men­tary gov­ern­ment, the rule of law, and in­di­vid­ual lib­erty, as well as a pi­o­neer of the wel­fare state.

“De­spite what Baker as­serts about Churchill want­ing to starve the Ger­mans to death in the First World War, the naval block­ade of Ger­many was in­sti­tuted af­ter he left the Ad­mi­ralty in 1915. He writes of the bomb­ing of ‘tribes’ when Churchill was Sec­re­tary of State for Air (1919-1920). Th­ese were tribes mak­ing war against the Iraqi ad­min­is­tra­tion, ad­min­is­tered by Bri­tain (with Iraqi politi­cians) un­der a League of Na­tions man­date. Churchill specif­i­cally sug­gested us­ing non-poi­sonous gas bombs that would not cause death.” Sir Martin Gil­bert’s book Churchill and the Jews is pub­lished by Pocket Books, at £9.99


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