Why Winston Churchill is not really a war hero
Britain’s wartime PM would have been a truly great leader if he had atoned for his warmongering, says Peregrine Worsthorne
All wars, even necessary ones, are evil in some degree, not excluding the Second World War which may well go down in history as the most evil of all, if only because it resulted in the production and use of nuclear bombs. True, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not strictly war crimes but if not war crimes, then certainly legalised murder on a massive scale.
From which it follows that warmongering is also evil, and seldom has there been a statesman as good at glorifying war, and as indecently eager to wage war as Winston Churchill. All his works demonstrate his love of war, glamourise its glories and minimise its horrors.
Yet year after year shoals of books about Churchill appear - Andrew Roberts's Masters and Commanders is the latest one - which totally ignore how low under Churchill's leadership Britain had to stoop to conquer.
Churchill’s refusal to shoulder his burden of guilt is a huge disqualification for his place in this country’s pantheon
When the war was on, and for some decades thereafter, veneration of Churchill was absolutely understandable; part of the legitimate self-justification of a righteous nation fighting a necessary war. As a soldier in it I was as much uplifted by his upbeat rhetoric as everybody else; and as reluctant as everybody else after the war to see the ugly reality which the eloquence disguised.
But now my reaction is very different. Churchill's refusal ever to recognise the mote in his own country's eye or to shoulder the burden of his own individual guilt strike me as a major disqualification for his prime place in this Christian country's pantheon. Abraham Lincoln, who didn't hesitate to do public penance on both scores after the Civil War, puts Churchill to shame.
Truth to tell, warmongering is a far more damaging and infantile folly than is pacifism, and it is only by dimming Churchill's fame that this truth can ever again shine forth. ·
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