Few world leaders in history are as revered as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and nothing rouses the spirits like a list of Winston Churchill quotes or clips of the famed orator speaking. However, with a simple review of the wide variety of dark Winston Churchill facts from the history books, many will see the leader in a new light. For all the good he did, and with a full understanding that wartime necessitates heavier doses of realpolitik, Churchill doesn’t necessarily live up to his reputation.
Born in 1874 in Oxfordshire, England, Winston Churchill served two terms as Prime Minister, from 1940 to 1945, and then again from 1951 to 1955. Famously, Churchill was the leader of the United Kingdom throughout the majority of WWII, and his leadership skills and dogged determination were integral to the Allied victory. For some, Churchill is a hero who defeated a totalitarian tyrant. For others, Churchill is that tyrant. Like much in history, the truth lies somewhere in between.
When Churchill was born in 1874, the British Empire was nearing its imperial peak, and young Churchill definitely bought into the notion of British superiority that supported all that colonizing. As Churchill describes it, he soon went off to take part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples.” His personal writings are full of bragging about slaying “savages,” and how “It was great fun galloping about.” Churchill participated in burning down villages and farms, brutally quelling rebellions, and, at times, wholesale slaying.
The Bengal Famine of 1943 is one of the most devastating disasters in history, and it may have led to up to four million people perishing in India, which was still under British imperial control at the time. According to several historians, Winston Churchill deserves much of the blame for, if not creating the famine, certainly exacerbating its effects. The prime minister decided to divert food shipments away from India and toward British troops, all in the name of the WWII. However, Churchill’s real motivations could be seen in his statements that Indians had caused the famine themselves by “breeding like rabbits.” When officials within his own government wrote him to question his role in the famine, Churchill replied with a cheeky note saying, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”
Winston Churchill wasn’t fond of Joseph Stalin or the USSR, but he wasn’t above collaborating with the Russians to cover up incidents against humanity. The Soviets had slain over 21,000 Polish officers in the 1940 Katyn Massacre, but it had been covered up completely. When the leader of the Polish government-in-exile in London called for an investigation, Churchill quashed it immediately, and supported the Soviet claim that the Third Reich was to blame, despite all the evidence to the contrary. In Churchill’s opinion, investigating the massacre wasn’t worth harming relations with the USSR.
Winston Churchill spent his younger years thoroughly enjoying his imperialistic military campaigns and the killing of “savages,” so it is not exactly surprising that he continued to be less than sympathetic toward British colonies when he became Prime Minister. When the Kurdish people inside modern Iraq rebelled against British rule, Churchill let it be known that, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” because doing so “would spread a lively terror.” That’s what those in-the-know refer to as a straight-up war crime.