On idolatry and Winston Churchill the anti-semite

Here’s precisely the problem with the cult of personality and idolatry which characterizes our current fetish with the ‘great leaders’ of history:

No person is so saintly that he/she deserves to be idolized

Who’s the latest victim to hoist himself on his own petard?  Why it’s none other than that Tory saint himself, Winston Churchill – the man once voted the Greatest Briton of All Time.

In a previously unpublished essay found buried in Cambridge University’s archives, Winston Churchill wrote that the Jews were “partly responsible” for the holocaust and the other “antagonisms” visited upon them by the Nazis. 

At another point in the essay, Churchill wrote that it was especially important for Jews themselves to contemplate anti-semitism, I presume, because under his logic they are partially responsible for the hatred visited upon them.

You can access the article disclosing this discovery here.

This just goes to show that humanity will not have rest from its ills so long as we continue to view history as the grand narrative of ‘great leaders’ with ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.  Not only does this view of history stymie critical thinking, but the ‘good guys’ are never as good as we imagine and it’s never as savoury to hate the ‘bad guys’ as we are promised. 

5 Responses to “On idolatry and Winston Churchill the anti-semite”


  1. 1 johnib 10 March, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    I totally disagree. Mankind is flawed. The Bible (Genesis) tells us this. This does not mean that there are NO great men. Churchill was one of the reasons Hitler did not dominate England.

    Greatness is all around us. It doesn’t mean PERFECTION.

    Churchill was a great but not a perfect man as many historians agree….

    John E. Carey
    http://johnib.wordpress.com/

  2. 2 Simon 11 March, 2007 at 12:19 am

    Churchill was a product of his time and his class so I’m not surprised. While I agree that nobody should be idolized…I must admit I still find a lot in him to admire. The bluster of his speeches and the fact that did his WW2 stuff while suffering from depression …which he coped with by always being half drunk. On another historical note….he was also responsible for the Dardanelles disaster in WW1 and after the state of Iraq was formed he actively encouraged the use of poison gas on rebellious Iraqi tribes. While Bomber Harris, who would later lead the bombing campaign against Germany, ordered the levelling of Kurd villages by the fledgling RAF…History is funny isn’t it?

  3. 3 Fern 11 March, 2007 at 6:08 am

    You should know that there is good reason to believe that Churchill did not write the article in question. Rather, it is likely his ghost writer penned the article and the article was substantially different in nature and tone than Churchill’s directions to the ghost writer. For example, see this article in the Guardian: http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2031314,00.html

  4. 4 paulitics 11 March, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Jonib – just a couple of points:

    Firstly, I think you’re missing my point. I too think there are people with aspects worthy of admiration all around us. The point is that nobody ought to be lionized to such an extent as is necessitated by the ‘great leader’ conception of history because it stops critical investigation and, by definition, stops critical, causal thinking and glorifies the leader in question.

    Secondly, you wrote “Churchill was one of the reasons Hitler did not dominate England.” You’re right that Churchill was one of the reasons that Hitler did not conquer Europe but we in the West GREATLY overestimate his importance in that feat and this a by-product of the ‘great-leader’ conception of history. We ignore the fact that HE wasn’t fighting the war, he was merely the head of a large bureaucratic regime which was fighting the war and that he, occasionally, and alongside with advice from his generals, had some input into it. We also ignore the fact that the Russians poured more soldiers into the Eastern Front than Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and India combined poured into the Western Front.

    ~

    Simon – Your point that Churchill was a product of his time is well taken. My point isn’t to make him out to be some kind of evil man, for clearly that too would miss the mark. My point was just merely to take a bit of the sheen off of him.

    ~

    Fern – I’m glad you posted that. I wasn’t aware of that article in today’s Guardian and it certainly points to the fact that this is a live issue. That said the Guardian’s article chose to interview the most fawning admirerer of Churchill to comment on the original piece while glossing over Churchill’s directives except to say that they were different “in tone”. This isn’t to say that today’s Guardian is wrong and the AFP yesterday was right, it’s just to say that I’m pleased that we’re actually going to have a protracted discussion which will bring one of the ‘great leaders’ of history off his pedistal albeit if only temporarily.

  5. 5 Dan 13 March, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Christopher Hitchens once said that he liked his heroes to have feet of clay. (The problem with his current hero, Bush, is that the head is made of clay in that case ;)


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