Or, to broaden the question, was the British Empire evil? If your answer to either question is ‘no’, I suggest you keep it to yourself for your own good.
Finding anything positive to say about our wartime leader or the empire he served instantly brands you as, well, a fascist. And that’s putting it mildly.
Count yourself lucky that our lamentably outdated laws still don’t call for banging the likes of you in prison.
That’s going to change soon, so start quaking in your Chelsea boots. Meanwhile, progressive people have to rely on social, rather than legal, punishment.
Ostracism is useful, so is indignant din in social media. The transgressor will be still free to move around, but wouldn’t want to, for fear of loud opprobrium from the baying mob.
Nigel Biggar, Oxford professor of moral philosophy, has found this out the hard way. He dared suggest that Britain’s colonial past was “morally mixed”. In fact, his whole course is dedicated to compiling some sort of a balance sheet.
Excuse me? “Morally mixed” means there were some pluses to offset the minuses. Now who does he think he is? That’s like teaching a course entitled Holocaust: Pros and Cons. Doesn’t everybody know that the British Empire was evil incarnate?
Prof. Biggar’s colleagues certainly do. That’s why 170 of them wrote a petition last year, trying to nip that course, that vile exoneration of evil, in the bud.
That noble undertaking failed, and the course went ahead, much to the chagrin of every progressive man/woman/other. The best they could do was ostracise Prof. Biggar, making him what in the country of my birth was called a non-person.
That fond memory of the workers’ paradise was reinforced even by those of Prof. Biggar’s colleagues who agreed with his views. They too shun him, explaining in private that being seen ‘consorting’ with him would destroy their careers.
In the Soviet Union too, everyone knew when a colleague had fallen into disfavour. He might not have been arrested yet, or even sacked from his job, but he’d be carrying the invisible equivalent of a leper’s bell.
Suddenly his best friends would stop calling or indeed recognising him in the street. Official disfavour was a contagious disease, and it was deadly. A quarantine was the only salvation.
It’s good to see that our top universities are upholding the standards of academic freedom I knew only too well in my youth. Of course in my youth I also knew summary arrests for, say, a political joke, but in Britain that’s still only something to look forward to with distinct longing.
I have a confession to make at this point, shamed into it by realising that, my facetious protestations notwithstanding, I’m really not a lifelong champion of progress.
In fact, and you could see me blush even as we speak, in my first book, How the West Was Lost, I wrote a sentence that belies my claims to virtue: “When applied to places like Burundi, ‘national liberation’ means a transitional stage between colonialism and cannibalism.”
The point is that a balance sheet does exist, and the best way of compiling it is to compare those places before and after they shook the yoke of the British Empire.
With one or two possible exceptions, they were all better off as British colonies. And those who’ve moved on since then have done so largely because of the institutions the British established.
The credit side of the ledger would include British missionaries who risked, and often lost, their lives carrying Christ to pagan animists; British legislators who created civilised institutions in the colonies; British doctors who introduced a semblance of modern medicine; British educators who founded schools; British builders who created cities; British farmers who fed the local populations.
Of course there were excesses – there were even mass murders, in India among other places. For example, in 1919 British troops under the command of Gen. Reginald Dyer fired at a crowd of protesters in Amritsar, Punjab, killing approximately 1,000 people.
That was an awful thing to do, although not without some extenuating circumstances. However, compare that to a million people killed and 14 million displaced after the liberation of India, championed by that great peace lover Gandhi.
Churchill referred to that secular saint as a “seditious half-naked fakir” (careful how you pronounce the last word), which is precisely what he was. However, if Churchill were alive today, uttering such a phrase would have put paid to his political career – and possibly life, what with the mob already displaying strong lynching propensities.
As it is, he’s only suffering posthumously. And those who ‘consort’ with his memory suffer too.
Such as the retired American astronaut Scott Kelly who quoted Churchill in public and – are you ready for this – referred to him as “one of the greatest leaders of modern times”.
Personally, I would have qualified ‘leaders’ with ‘wartime’, not that it would have made any difference. For the response to Kelly’s unfortunate reference was nothing short of ferocious.
The ex-astronaut must have lost much of his original courage for he caved in instantly, issuing a grovelling apology: “Did not mean to offend by quoting Churchill. My apologies. I will go and educate myself further on his atrocities, racist views which I do not support.”
The abject surrender followed an outburst of mud slinging, which has become modernity’s preferred form of debate.
Kelly ought to be ashamed of himself! Apologise! Churchill was a racist! (Appropriate quotations enclosed.) He “was as good as Hitler!” (That suggests that Hitler was good, but the mob is seldom stylistically accomplished. “As bad as Hitler” is what you meant, chaps.) He was solely responsible for the 1943 Bengal famine!
It’s true that, in forming his views on race, or indeed any other subject, Churchill refused to be guided by the heightened moral standards of our time – for the simple reason that they didn’t exist in his time.
And, yes, perhaps he could have done more to relieve the Bengal famine, although he had a few other things on his mind at the time. Such as that the British themselves weren’t eating properly, what with the German U-boats sinking a huge tonnage of supplies. There were also problems with finding enough ships for humanitarian missions, in addition to military ones.
However, even with those provisos, Churchill was a divisive figure even in his own time, and at no point could he be described as an angel. I’d even go so far as to say that he wasn’t an unequivocally good man.
Neither, for that matter, was Charles Martel, who saved Europe from the Islamic blight. People who save countries are seldom angelic, and their personalities too must be assessed with a balance sheet.
However, having toted up the credits and the debits, we’ll find that all those men were heroes who deserve eternal gratitude from their countries and the rest of the world.
But not the gratitude of the baying mob, whose delicate sensibilities are offended. It doesn’t matter to them that Churchill led his country during a deadly fight for her survival.
He might as well have surrendered, as far as they’re concerned. Hitler was no worse. And the British Empire was just as racist and evil as Nazi Germany (though not the Soviet Union, which was neither racist nor evil, if occasionally misguided).
Are you getting the impression we live in a madhouse? I am.