Churchill: Let the fakir die
WINSTON Churchill. The man millions of Britons voted 'The Greatest Briton of All Time' at the turn of the millennium, ahead of Newton, Shakespeare, Darwin and Brunel. The man who advocating gassing "recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment".
The man who described Mahatma Gandhi as "a half-naked fakir" who "ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back" [Link]. The man who is in the news again - although there isn't too much coverage.
Hitherto unseen government documents have been released, which detail Churchill's stance on several issues. The notes were recorded by deputy Cabinet secretary, Sir Norman Brook, and give the first detailed glimpse into what was discussed at the War Cabinet between 1942 and 1945. They're open to the public just down the road from me at the Public Records Office in Kew, so I took a look. The rather difficult to read shorthand revealed some fascinating facts.
He wanted to send Nazis to the electric chair, without trial. He wanted Hitler executed "like a gangster". Hey, I'm not going to make a fuss about these two.
He thought Gen. Charles de Gaulle was a barrier to a "trustworthy" relationship with France. When de Gaulle fled to Britain, he subsequently asked if he was free to leave in order to visit French troops (de Gaulle remained a popular figure amongst the Resistance) and Churchill said "arrest him if he tries to leave."
Whilst the British Army prided itself on treating black and Asian soldiers with respect (at least in comparison to the Americans), Churchill insisted, "the views of the US must be considered." Black soldiers were told to show respect for the American army's segregation policies.
Churchill went on, expressing a desire to wipe out German villages as revenge for the Ludice massacre.
Perhaps least surprisingly, given Churchill's intense hatred of Gandhi (which is largely ignored by Western historians), is the fact that Churchill was willing to let Gandhi die. Whatever criticisms Gandhi has attracted, his devotion to pacifism stands out dramatically from the history of the world. It was this commitment to non-violence that inspired Martin Luther King to adopt the same approach.
Churchill said he was prepared to let him die if he went on hunger strike whilst imprisoned at the Aga Khan prison in Puné. Gandhi was interned during WWII as a result of the Quit India movement. He denounced Indian soldiers fighting in the war and his called for civil disobedience. At this time his wife and his secretary and close friend, Mahadev Desai, both died. Churchill was also keen to make sure Gandhi was treated "like any other prisoner".
India's viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had recently sent a telegram claiming he was "strongly in favour of letting Gandhi starve to death" but it has become clear that the British Cabinet were the ones who decided that allowing Gandhi to continue on a strike would simply cause too big a backlash in India, as former viceroy Lord Halifax (then ambassador to America) explained, "Whatever the disadvantages of letting him out, his death in detention would be worse."
But hey, things change. Current Tory leader Dave Cameron quoted Bapu in his new year message:
"As Gandhi said, ‘we must be the change we want to see in the world." [Link]
"A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back -- but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you."
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