You can’t judge Churchill by the standards of
MORE than 60 years after he saved 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 the divisive appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.
“One of the greatest leaders of modern times, Sir Winston Churchill said, ‘in victory, magnanimity’. I guess those days are over,” the former space shuttle commander wrote.
The American’s tweet sparked outrage among activists as they attacked Kelly for daring to quote the former Prime Minister who they 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 the BBC poll that voted Churchill the “greatest Briton of all time” in 2002 and last year’s depiction of him in the Oscarwinning film Darkest Hour.
The fury was so great it led to Kelly issuing 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.
“My point was we need to come together as one nation. We are all Americans.
“That should transcend partisan politics.”
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 making a perfectly fine point.
Kelly couldn’t just tell the critics to get real without becoming a target himself.
As UN ambassador for space, he’s tweeted on President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord and setting up a Space Force.
But apparently to quote the man who saved the western world from Nazi rule was a step too far.
This sorry tale provides us with an opportunity to revisit the controversy about the celebration of historical figures in modern times.
Churchill had a great and illustrious political career. He 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”.
His will and determination inspired a nation and was crucial to the defeat of the Third Reich.
So it is no surprise that Kelly praised him as one of the “greatest leaders of modern times”.
Churchill’s legacy should not be tarnished for something we didn’t even have a name for back then.
We should be wary of “presentism” – the judging people of another time by the standards of today.
The country laughed at Alf Garnett for decades – up until 1998 – but those millions who tuned into his sitcoms each week would now cringe at the humour they once thought funny.
Times change, as do opinions and thoughts. If we continue with these ridiculous attacks on history, and those that shaped it, we will not learn from the lessons of the past.
We may, in fact, run the risk of repeating them.