Was Winston Churchill “The Greatest Briton”? A Short Claymation Looks at the Darker Side of the Prime Minister’s Life

“In 1962, when British film­mak­er Richard Atten­bor­ough began research­ing what would become his 1982 Gand­hi film,” writes Lau­ren Fray­er at NPR, “he asked Jawa­har­lal Nehru, India’s first prime min­is­ter, how he should por­tray his late col­league.” Gand­hi was revered, treat­ed as a saint in his own life­time, long before Atten­bor­ough arrived in India. But Nehru begged the film­mak­er to treat the man like a mere mor­tal, with all his “weak­ness­es, his moods and his fail­ings.” Gand­hi was “much too human” to be holy.

Do Gandhi’s failings—for exam­ple his ear­ly racism (which he out­grew “quite deci­sive­ly,” his biog­ra­ph­er asserts)—mean he must be can­celed? Nehru didn’t think so. But nor did he think telling the truth about a beloved pub­lic fig­ure was any­thing less than intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est. Gandhi’s fail­ings, how­ev­er, are maybe eas­i­er to stom­ach than those of his polit­i­cal neme­sis Win­ston Churchill, who hat­ed the Indi­an leader pas­sion­ate­ly and also, more or less, hat­ed every­one else who did­n’t belong to his idea of a mas­ter race, a hatred that even extend­ed to the Ger­man peo­ple writ large. (He once described Indi­ans as “the beast­li­est peo­ple in the world next to the Ger­mans.”)

Churchill was thor­ough­ly unapolo­getic about what Vice Pres­i­dent Hen­ry Wal­lace called his the­o­ry of “Anglo-Sax­on supe­ri­or­i­ty.” He has, per­haps, been “the sub­ject of false or exag­ger­at­ed alle­ga­tions,” Richard Toye writes at CNN, but “he said enough hor­ri­fy­ing things”—and backed them with colo­nial policy—”that there is no need to invent more.” Even his “fel­low Con­ser­v­a­tive impe­ri­al­ists” felt his ideas were rather out-of-date “or even down­right shock­ing.” The vic­tims of Churchill’s racism num­bered in the mil­lions, but those colo­nial sub­jects have been erased in polit­i­cal and pop­u­lar cul­ture.

“There’s no West­ern statesman–at least in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world–more rou­tine­ly lion­ized than Win­ston Churchill,” Ishaan Tha­roor writes at The Wash­ing­ton Post, in rit­u­al hagiogra­phies like 2017’s The Dark­est Hour. The film por­trays what is “of course, an impor­tant part of the cel­e­brat­ed British prime minister’s lega­cy,” notes Aeon, but it also “paints an extreme­ly incom­plete pic­ture of his life.” The short clay­ma­tion film above aims, with bit­ing wit, to cor­rect the record and how Churchill epit­o­mized the fail­son tra­di­tion of the aris­toc­ra­cy.

Dur­ing his mil­i­tary career, Churchill “had great fun lay­ing waste to entire vil­lages in the Swat Val­ley in what is now known in Pak­istan.” Clay­ma­tion Churchill informs us that he “also killed sev­er­al sav­ages in the Sudan.” Churchill, the great hero of World War II and staunch ene­my of the Nazis, opposed wom­en’s suf­frage and embraced eugen­ics and “the ster­il­iza­tion of the fee­ble-mind­ed.” (He once wrote an arti­cle claim­ing “it may be that, unwit­ting­ly, [Jews] are invit­ing persecution–that they have been part­ly respon­si­ble for the antag­o­nism from which they suf­fer.”) The cat­a­logue of abus­es con­tin­ues.

The short, by UK film­mak­er Steve Roberts, tells truths about Churchill that “are often glossed over in sur­face-lev­el treat­ments of Churchill’s biog­ra­phy.” They are not, by any stretch, insignif­i­cant truths. If some­one were to find them very upset­ting, I might sug­gest they take it up with Churchill….

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Win­ston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink “Unlim­it­ed” Alco­hol in Pro­hi­bi­tion Amer­i­ca (1932)

Win­ston Churchill’s Paint­ings: Great States­man, Sur­pris­ing­ly Good Artist

Win­ston Churchill Prais­es the Virtue of “Brevi­ty” in Mem­os to His Staff: Con­cise Writ­ing Leads to Clear­er Think­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • James says:

    May I sug­gest you read a biog­ra­phy of Churchill rather than bas­ing your opin­ion of the ‘facts’ con­tained in a 5 minute hit piece from a left wing ani­ma­tor?

    Churchill was a com­plex and fas­ci­nat­ing man, as was Ghan­di. This sim­plis­tic ani­ma­tion is the very def­i­n­i­tion of ‘sur­face lev­el’.

    You demean the whole of human­i­ty – and his­to­ry – with your absurd reduc­tion­ist com­men­tary.

    ‘Edu­cate your­self’, as your friends so fre­quent­ly tell oth­ers.

  • willem says:

    Agreed that this ani­ma­tion is entire­ly too sim­plis­tic and one-sided, but the more I have read about Churchill over the years, the less I find to admire. To me, it now seems that his chief asset was his abil­i­ty to give a good speech.

    “Hero of the Empire,” by Can­dace Mil­lard, is a good exam­ple of young Churchill that paints a less than com­pli­men­ta­ry pic­ture. But I think the final nail in the cof­fin for me was David Irv­ing’s two vol­umes, “Churchill’s War.” Fin­ish­ing up with that com­plet­ed my own pic­ture of Churchill, which is prob­a­bly even more neg­a­tive than the author’s.

  • James says:

    That David Irv­ing biog­ra­phy — that would be the same David Irv­ing who once said: “there were no gas cham­bers in Auschwitz, there were only dum­mies which were built by the Poles in the post­war years, just as the Amer­i­cans build the dum­mies in Dachau … these things in Auschitz, and prob­a­bly also in Maj­danek, Tre­blin­ka, and in oth­er so-called exter­mi­na­tion camps in the East are all just dum­mies”.

    That David Irv­ing?

    And @makedoandmend : I agree. There is no sim­ple good ver­sus evil. My point is that this ani­ma­tion is delib­er­ate­ly sim­pli­fy­ing the life of an extreme­ly com­plex man, with­draw­ing him from the con­text of his own time, and thus seek­ing to pitch him over to the ‘evil’ side. On bal­ance, I’d rather have had Churchill on my side than Hitler or Stal­in or Hiro­hi­to. Or Cham­ber­lain.

  • Cambrinus says:

    Yes, the lit­tle film is rather sim­plis­tic, but it is — most­ly — cor­rect. Those who want to add to their knowl­edge of Churchill’s mis­takes might like to inves­ti­gate the Dode­canese adven­ture of Sep­tem­ber — Novem­ber 1943. Churchill’s plan to open up an ‘Aegean front’ were met with no sup­port from his Amer­i­can allies. He went ahead anyway.…and it was a total fias­co. See:


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