Sunday, April 30, 2017

Was Churchill a Hitler? Part 3. Bengal Famine and the Blame Game. Bose and the Nazi Regime. Justice Pal and Tokyo Trials.

This is the concluding part of a trilogy of blogs surrounding the kerfuffle over an Indian politician accusing Churchill of acting like Hitler and the Colonial regime as acting like the Nazi regime. The Bengal famine is often referred as 'man made famine'. True, but who were the men who caused it?

Famine Code and Causes of Famines

The Britannica article on famine quotes India's ancient political treatise Arthasastra as saying famines were an act of God and suggesting, besides propitiating Brahmins and gods (one must never forget the Brahmin), the king should distribute seeds at a lower price and undertake 'food for work programs'. The British when they "occupied India", Britannica's words, developed the first famine codes to classify severity of food availability and the steps the administration ought to take depending on the scarcity.

The chief cause of famines, Britannica says, is war. War disrupts food supplies and inflationary economic trends exacerbate access to food thus resulting in famine. Despite the famine code famines persisted because the causes were misunderstood. Indian Nobel Laureate in Economics was the most influential in re-orienting the understanding of famines when he argued that "Food Availability Decline" is more often not the cause but changes in "entitlements". Called 'entitle failure', Sen's theory now practically governs understanding of famines.

The famine code, the earliest such code in the world, was established in the aftermath of the Great Famine of 1876-78 that ravaged in Southern India. Sir Richard Temple, criticized for liberal assistance during an earlier famine in Bengal, operated on a 'laissez faire' principle and strict guidelines on providing assistance to aggrieved citizens. The policy was heavily criticized by British officials themselves and one of them, William Digby wrote a detailed book, used by historians even today, on the famine.

The curious feature of the colonial regime was that it had detractors amongst its own ranks who wrote detailed, evidence based, books or reports which are used by others today to criticize the regime. While we can justifiably scold the regime for its omissions it is this redemptive aspect that crucially distinguishes it from the murderous Nazi regime. The Nazi regime had no conscience. That the colonial regime had had a conscience was why Gandhi could become the Mahatma he became.

Proximate causes of Bengal Famine and the many theories

Whenever the phrase 'man made famine' is used with regard to the Bengal famine it is often used to pillory the colonial regime, with great justification indeed, of not having done enough to stem the ravages of the famine despite available opportunities. However, it is rarely remembered that one of the chief causes of the famine was the capture of Burma by Japan. Japan which was engaged in a race for supremacy in East Asia had unleashed its share of rapacious invasions and found swift victories in Singapore, Malaya and Burma where the British forces were badly mauled. In Burma the Japanese were welcomed, says Max Hastings in 'All Hell Let Loose'.

The capture of 'Irrawady delta, the most productive estuary in the British empire' by the Japanese inflicted a huge dent in food availability. Compounding that was the 'denial policy' of destroying boats and fishing equipment lest the Japanese, if they crossed to India, would use it. This disrupted the livelihood of many, especially the poor. In 1942 a cyclone destroyed standing crops. Added to all that were wartime priorities of requisitioning food for the army which took precedence over supply to civilians. This was and is common feature of wars.

Khan lists a "range of causes" besides supply, "cover-ups and tardy responses by British, poor leadership, press censorship and propaganda which consistently masked the scale of the problem". "Administrative bungling and inadvertent stockpiling compounded the horrors". Khan is unsparing in indicting the colonial regime, "Some peoples lives were not seen as worthy of preserving. The state was geared in every way to the war and prioritized this at all costs".

Conservative historian Arthur Herman argued that substituting the pusillanimous Linlithgow with battle scarred Wavell eventually turned the tide in the famine and for that reason alone the colonial regime cannot be equated with a Nazi regime. Khan corroborates, "The no-nonsense and taciturn Wavell injected some new vigor into the administration. He brough the famine situation in Bengal under clearer control". Wavell, Kan substantiates, saw clearly that the famine was causing irreparable damage to how the Empire was being perceived.

Raghavan tackles the Churchill-Hitler comparison head on and writes "however appalling Churchill's attitude and devastating the consequence for Bengal, the taproot of the problem was the inflationary financing of the war". The 'General Index of wholesale prices", Raghavan tabulates, was 125 in 1938-39 and it reach 244.1 by August 1945. Interestingly Raghavan notes that RBI was headed by an Indian at that time. 20 Indian economists led by C.N. Vakil wrote a stinging report titled "The Falling Rupee" which called the inflation "most disastrous type of inflation". When Gandhi economist J.C. Kumarappa wrote articles based on that report he was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Both Khan and Raghavan underscore a little known or little written about subject until their recent books, the contribution of India to the war effort. Nearly 2.5 million men, 'the largest volunteer army in history' (note, the US, UK and USSR all had draft policies and so their armies cannot be accurately called 'volunteer army' though many in US and UK were indeed volunteers). India was a "major military-industrial logical base" for the Empire. The Indian soldiers received letters from home depicting a hellish famine. The correspondences, cited by Khan, show that the volunteers were aware of what was happening. Interestingly despite the Mahatma's call to 'quit India' no organized en-masse exit or strike by Indian soldiers, in response to conditions back home, happened. One wonders. Army unit leaders sensing a seething discontentment ensured pay raises were given so that soldiers could send more money back home.

Winston Churchill - From Time.

Cormac O Grada's "Famine: A short history" is an important book in this context. While Churchill and his government have drawn their fair share of criticism little is said of the provincial government which had Suhrawardy, from the Muslim League, as the minister for civil supplies. In India, especially in the communal cauldron of Bengal, the strife between Hindus and Muslims were never too far. Hindus owned most of the rice shops whereas Muslims were the laborers. Suhrawardy told Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, of the Hindu Mahasabha, "there is plenty of food stuff". Imagine Churchill reading these reports and extrapolate his reactions. Essentially, intra-party squabbling, colored by religious strife, could've played into Churchill's already viciously prejudiced mind.

While the theory of hoarders causing the famine was heavily contested at that time even Indians conceded that hoarding at some level continued to happen. "In the sectarian bear pit of Bengali politics, the hoarding hypothesis suited the Muslim league, since major 'hoarders' were more likely" to be Hindus. Moneylenders, too, were predominantly Hindus.

Sen's hypothesis was largely based on the "Report on Famine" that was commissioned by the Colonial regime. The report, O'Grada, chastises was toeing the official line that there was no alarming decline of food supply. The statistics that later Sen relied to shape his theory were unreliable says O' Grada. He too blames inflation and prices skyrocketing in addition to actual decline in food availability.

The staid British business magazine 'The Economist' wrote that "the best way to end the famine is speedy victory and, however hard the decision, food ships must come secondary to victory ships". Churchill was in good company, if one can call it that.

Picture of Tragedy and Apathy (more photos at

Indian attitudes to the famine and Gandhi at Aga Khan Palace

Nirad C. Chaudhuri, Indian literary giant and a Bengali, wrote in his autobiography 'Thy hand great anarch', published in 1987, "The unscrupulous moneymaking was the major cause of the terrible famine which swept Bengal the following year". That was the only reference he makes to what was even then considered a tragedy of biblical proportions. If a Bengali writer can be callous in his reminiscences one can only contextualize the attitude of Churchill amidst a war in which "victory at all costs" was the goal and defeat meant annihilation.

What about Gandhi, the voice of the nation? D.G. Tendulkar's massively detailed biography of Gandhi in 8 volumes gives important details. Ever since Gandhi announced the 'Quit India' movement he was corresponding regularly with the Viceroy and subsequent to his arrest and internment, along with his retinue that include his assistants and wife, in Aga Khan Palace the correspondences continue. The correspondences make for tiresome reading about minutiae over charges and insinuations leveled against Gandhi and Congress by the government. Finally Gandhi announces a 21day fast and refuses the government's offer to get released. For 21 days the country is riveted on the Mahatma's fate. The government had allowed a special medical team to attend to Gandhi, unthinkable under a Hitler regime. Note, in all this fracas there's not a single mention of Bengal or the fact that millions were dying. Both 'Quit India' and the fast were complete failures.

It should be noted that the colonial regime imprisoned Gandhi only in name in Aga Khan palace. When Kasturba fell ill the government provided penicillin, a rarity in war time then and allowed any medical treatment she or Gandhi wanted to avail of. For the umpteenth time one has to remember that this is treatment that Hitler would not have provided, at all. Nor Stalin.

Bose meanwhile was shaking hands with Adolf Hitler and had expressed admiration for Mussolini. Bose compared Mussolini's march to Rome with Gandhi's legendary Dandi march. To Bose fascism was merely "an aggressive form of nationalism". Traveling in Vienna as Nazi anti-Semitism was reaching a feverish pitch Bose, a biographer underscores, did not see anything to object in the Nazi program of "elimination of Jewish influence". Nehru, on the other hand, moved a resolution in Congress to to allow Jewish refugees into India. In Bose's mind, much like those running around today making a case that Churchill was no different from Hitler, the colonial and Nazi regimes were interchangeable.

Bose's later alliance with Japan and his grandiose ideas of entering India as a liberator ended up a farce and thankfully so. While Nazi war crimes and especially the holocaust are now widely known the extent of criminality of Japan is less known or comprehended. Iris Chang's very moving 'The Rape of Nanking' only gives a glimpse of the atrocities of the Japanese empire. Ask any Korean about Japan and you'd get an earful. A Japanese liberation of India would have been like how Stalin liberated Poland. Enslavement and annihilation by another name.

Compared to Bose Nehru was painfully aware of the nature of the Nazi and Japanese regimes. Rudrangshu Mukherjee quotes in "Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives", a remark by Nehru in April 1942 "Hitler and Japan must go to hell. I shall fight them to the end and this is my policy. I shall also fight Mr Subhas Bose and his party along with Japan if he comes to India. Mr Bose acted very wrongly though in good faith. Hitler and Japan represented the reactionary forces".

Nehru's writings in the lead up to the war are clear and even stunningly clairvoyant. Writing in 1939 Nehru predicts that if Germany plunges the world into war its likely allies would be Japan and Italy. No historian or strategist, to my knowledge, said that in 1939. In all his writings Nehru bemoans the fact that Britain could enlist a free India in defending democracy and not appear hypocritical in its defense of democracy while holding down India as a subject state.

Also, unlike Gandhi and Bose, Nehru wrote with great anguish about the famine that gripped Bengal. In his 'Discovery of India' that he wrote while imprisoned at Ahmadnagar fort, "there was amazing indifference, incompetence and complacency shown by all the authorities concerned"."In any democratic or semi-democratic country such a calamity would have swept away all the governments concerned with it.""While all this was happening and the streets of Calcutta were strewn with corpses the social life of the upper ten thousand of Calcutta underwent no change". Nehru cites statistics of venal profiteering and statistics about nourishment, or lack thereof.

Governments have always been loath to accept the existence of famines or droughts. Whether it is Lenin or Churchill or Modi accepting that a government cannot feed its own citizens is a shame that no one wants to confess to.

Visiting a drought struck region Jawaharlal Nehru cried and he wrote letters to US president literally pleading for help. An independent India, especially thanks to efforts spear headed by Indira Gandhi, tamed the horrors of famines that plagued India from time to time. This is the difference between a representative democracy and the regime of a titular occupier.

The world at War:

As famine unfolded in Bengal in 1942 Hitler's armies stood athwart all of Europe. From France to within 50 miles of Moscow the Nazi jackboot held the continent under sway. Famines and food blockades, by both Allies and Axis powers, were the norm.

Churchill had blockaded Greece while Hitler blockaded Leningrad. "Food would go to Britain at the expense of the American armed services, whose demands, Roosevelt believed, were inflated". "Churchill to make hulls, available for transatlantic shipments, reduced sailings to India by half, a measure that, in combination with the Japanese occupation of Burma and an ongoing drought, brought Bengal to the verge of famine". Food supplies and prioritizing who gets what was also subject to political calculations. When a shipment couldn't be made to USSR FDR wanted Churchill to deliver the bad news to Stalin. Both FDR and Churchill at that time feared Stalin would separately negotiate peace with Hitler. Stalin meanwhile prioritized evacuating factories from Leningrad than citizens.

It took Hitler less than 60 days to smash through Belgium, Netherlands and capture France. In less than a month, from the start of Operation Barbarossa, German army was within sight of Kremlin. Yet, from D-Day, June 1944, it took the allies, in a pincer movement from East and West, a year to reach the bunker in which Hitler was ensconced. Even after Hitler was dead and the war in Europe was over Japan inflicted very heavy losses to American army in Iwo Jima. Between 1941-44 when Bengal was being ravaged by famine the unsavory fact is the allies could very well have lost the war to Hitler and Hirohito. It was this fact that still makes even Indian historians like Yasmin Khan and Srinath Raghavan not to join a mindless chorus in calling Churchill a Hitler.

Wartime realities

Could Churchill have done more to save Bengal? Yes, but the certainty is a bit muddled too. The military situation was indeed precarious and very complex. The War had many such situations and posed in later years many "if only" questions. Of all the questions that the war later threw  up one that still agonizes many is could the Allies have bombed transit lines  to Auschwitz earlier. There are even those who allege that FDR was not keen on it. Again, historical evidence suggests otherwise. Another big 'if only' question was could Stalin have saved the Warsaw Jews or did he deliberately deny help. Historian Alexander Werth and others offer evidence that contrary to popular opinion Red Army was not really in a position to save the Warsaw uprising.

"A beastly people and a beastly religion"

Churchill's words characterizing Indians, specifically Hindus, burns the sensibilities of any Indian today. Of course any Hindu today could cite with great justification the blood soaked history of Christianity and return the compliment paid by Churchill. Papal armies killed Jews with shouts of "Deus Vult", 'God wills it'. In York, England nearly 2000 Jews were burnt alive for the sin of being Jews. Then there is the gory slave trade, annihilation of natives in the Americas. But, all that was in the distant 16th,17th and 18th or even 19th century and England and, notably, United States of America, had progressed towards becoming liberal democracies where the citizens had rights and even separation of church and state.

In 1923 a group of Hindus approached the court to rule that lower caste Hindus, in fact they were so low in the hierarchy that they were not even considered Hindus or treated as human beings, should not use earthenware to collect water and should use only palmyra pots and such pots should not be cushioned upon the heads with cloth but only with a bunch of straw. Pariah men working in the fields could wear only a loincloth. Another notorious case concerned the rights of women to wear a cloth to cover their breasts. Such were the cases that went before colonial judges. One could utmost say that Churchill's remark was like the pot calling the kettle black but Churchill's comment was actually in line with remarks by India's own Ambedkar and other reformers like the firebrand agitator from south E.V. Ramasamy. It is specious to hold Churchill to a different standard.

Incidentally the Colonial regime actually showed more sensitivity towards local customs and in framing laws that were in consonance with prevailing customs. Warren Hasting and William Jones played a signal role in codifying Hindu law by enlisting Brahmin pandits in Bengal to translate Hindu scriptures that they then used to write the Hindu laws governing property.

The colonial regime was a very mixed bag of blessings and curses when it came to its style of governing and relating to the country. While one can have an informed debate about that it is sheer intellectual dishonesty to equate, nonchalantly, the colonial regime with the Nazi regime.

India has retained so much of the colonial era, laws, colleges, educational methods, the parliamentary system and even asked the last British viceroy to remain as independent India's first governor general. No country that suffered occupation under Hitler had any modicum of affection for the Nazis let alone imbibe anything of note from Nazis.

Justice Pal and the game of moral equivalence

The game of moral equivalence in equating colonial regimes with Nazis is an old one. The victorious allies conducted the famous Nuremberg trials in which many Nazi generals were tried, convicted and executed for war crimes.

Were the Nuremberg trials 'victor's justice'? Yes, to some extent. When Yugoslav leader Milan Djilas complained to Stalin about the atrocities committed by Red Army, including rape, Stalin cooly asked him to read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky to understand the motives of the soldiers who sought revenge and were trudging thousands of miles fighting a merciless enemy. The soldiers of western allies too were guilty of rape, albeit at a far lesser rate. Tragically amongst those accused of rape only black soldiers were convicted and executed. While there are no saints in this sordid saga it is facetious to dismiss all of them as interchangeable sinners. The Nazis perpetrated unique horrors. Not even the Red Army was guilty of crimes that Dr Mengele committed in concentration camps, medical experiments on children.

Justice, too was not always dispensed in similar measures. While the Nuremberg trials are well known a little known similar trial is the "Tokyo Trials" and particularly unknown is the role of an Indian judge.

At Nuremberg all the Nazi top brass were convicted and many were hanged. In the Tokyo Trials, thanks mostly to Douglas MacArthur, the Japanese emperor Hirohito was declared free of guilt though he was indeed the head of a very militaristic regime that had unleashed equal horrors like the Nazis in South East Asia. Realpolitik dictated that decision. Any attempt to try and convict the Emperor would've rendered the American occupation and the attempt to reform Japan not just impossible but even led to grotesque end.

Judge Radhabinod Pal was invited by the allies to be part of a team of justices to do in Tokyo what was done in Nuremberg. Justice Pal refused to not just condemn or convict any Japanese accused he, in later years, even visited those sentenced to imprisonment. He thus earned the admiration of Japanese who commemorated him with a monument in the notorious Yasukuni shrine. Justice Pal labeled the American bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as 'war crimes'. To the Chinese, Filippinos and Koreans Justice Pal would appear as a despicable hair splitting legalist more intent in burnishing his place in history than in understanding or dispensing justice.

People like Justice Pal and Sashi Tharoor can serve to warm the cockles of ill informed intellectually lazy Indians but they are pathetic examples of self-righteous and pompous grandstanding.

Justice Pal (From Wikipedia)

Lessons Indian school children don't learn but should

Sashi Tharoor was generous in suggesting that British school children should learn about colonialism while he forgot that one could say, with far greater justification, that Indian school children learn very little of the dark chapters of their own history.

I grew up in a town where 44 women and children were burnt to death in a caste clash and all the accused were acquitted by courts of law. It is an incident that is burned into the memory of the populace in that area but it is not found in any book let alone school textbook. Tharoor's own party orchestrated a genocidal killing of 4000 Sikhs in the nation's capital in the aftermath of the assassination of the Prime Minister. The incumbent Prime Minister, son of the previously assassinated leader, crassly said that when a large tree falls the earth is bound to shake and he placed the accused ring leaders of the massacre in key positions in the cabinet. This ghastly incident is not in any Indian school textbook.

Ask any Indian whether India had slavery akin to what the US had and he/she would say, "not at all". Yet, the truth is otherwise. A section of India's population was treated as less than slaves, as mere objects. Colonial regime refused to use the word 'slavery' in its descriptions because they wanted to pretend that slavery was abolished in all the colonies. Of course prior to the colonial regime there were simply no record keeping let alone any such identification. However, now historical evidence of living conditions of the pariahs points to slavery.

One could go on. The list is long. At least one can find good books on colonialism, by authors of all political and ideological hues but many atrocities and dark pages of Indian history are documented mostly by western historians or Indians under the aegis of western institutions.

Churchill's place in history

Historian Richard Evans draws an important distinction between Churchill and Hitler. Hitler and the Nazis were hell bent of imposing Nazi ideology in conquered lands. Watching a documentary on the construction of Auschwitz I wondered if only Hitler had concentrated on the war he might have won. The concentration camps, the shipping of millions of prisoners from one end of Europe to another and shuttling them between camps and all the while accounting for each prisoner was an unimaginable drain on the war effort. At a Gestapo prison in Cologne I saw scribblings on the wall by a Russian prisoner brought from deep within Russia. Cologne is practically the western border of Germany and to bring a prisoner from Russia to there is no small joke. Anne Frank was arrested in Amsterdam and transported to Auschwitz in Poland and from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in the outskirts of Berlin. Such an effort if focused on the war would've made it almost impossible for the allies to win.

Churchill, Evans points out, was least interested in any social program even within England for the duration of the war. When Churchill said "you ask what is our aim? I say, 'Victory'. Victory at all costs. For without victory there is no survival" he was not speaking for the sake of rhetoric.

Nobody makes the case that Churchill was an egalitarian or a reformer or an emancipator. Men, sometimes women too, rise up to a moment in history for a specific purpose and everything else they do in life is but a sideshow. Gandhi's raison-de-etre was liberation of a nation. Nehru's mission was to lay the foundations on which a republic could be created and nurtured. Lincoln, no egalitarian himself, was meant only to end a grotesque evil that even the great founding fathers could not find the will to end. FDR, though his methods arguably failed to resurrect the economy, rose to comfort a nation that found itself in the abyss and later to be its leader facing a world at war.

Churchill has earned his place in history not only for being, as his biographer called the last volume of a trilogy, "defender of the realm" but for being clairvoyant, not once but twice. First, nobody but Churchill saw the danger that Hitler and Nazism posed. Second, nobody but Churchill saw the danger that Communism posed. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent". Very rarely in history does a man identify evil with such unerring eye, twice.

The British, notably the servicemen and women in the military, voted Churchill out of power recognizing that while he saved Britain in wartime he was ill-equipped to lead the country in peacetime. He was heckled as a 'war monger'. The servicemen and women who served in theaters of war across the world probably felt the incongruence of defending freedom only to come back and see their leader still deny the colonies their right to self government.

So why did a recent poll of Britons find them choosing Churchill as the greatest Briton? Simple, British empire came to its darkest moment in the war and only one man was fit enough to be their leader and only man persevered in defending the realm and everything they hold dear. Even as Hitler was crushing the world Lord Halifax was making the case to Churchill and the cabinet for a negotiated settlement with Hitler. Only the indomitable Churchill refused and for that the British and the world at large owe Churchill a thanks.

The colonial regime, as I've endeavored to show and possibly succeeded, is NOT interchangeable with the Nazi regime. The regime took much from India and gave too. An honest discussion of the nature of the regime can only say, as I've often said, it was a mixed bag.

As this controversy flared another drama unfolded in New Delhi. A group of farmers from Tamil Nadu encamped in Delhi and demanded to meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to voice their grievances regarding a draught and the dire economic conditions they are in. Failing to be able to meet the PM they group has resorted to dramatic protests, including running naked in the streets of Delhi. In free India an aggrieved citizen could not get to meet the leader of the country. It is a cliche that "Good government is no substitute for self government" but these farmers would give anything to get a Lord Ripon or a Nehru. Alexander Pope said 'for forms of government let fools rush. what is best administered is best'.

Sadly Indian democracy barely lives to the promise that it should have lived up to. And that's a shame.


My earlier blogs:

1. Part 1
2. Racism of Indian leaders


  1. The Last Lion - William Manchester (Vol 1 and 3 chiefly)
  2. All Hell Let Loose - Max Hastings
  3. The Reich trilogy by Richard Evans
  4. Gandhi and Churchill - Arthur Herman
  5. Mahatma - D.G. Tendulkar (Volume 6)
  6. Mein Kampf - Adolf Hitler
  7. Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives -- Rudrangshu Mukherjee
  8. Discovery of India -- Jawaharlal Nehru
  9. The Saint in the Banyan Tree: Christianity and caste society in India -- David Mosse
  10. The Pariah problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India -- Rupa Viswanathan
  11. India's War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia - Srinath Raghavan
  12. India at War-- Yasmin KHan
  13. Famine: A short history - Cormac O Grada
  14. Lenigrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-44 -- Anna Reid
  15. Conversations with Stalin - Milan Djilas
  16. Appropriation and Invention of Tradition: The East India Company and Hindu Law in Early Colonial Bengal -- Nandini Bhattacharya-Panda
  17. British Policy in India - S.Gopal
  18. Viceroyalty of Lord Ripon - S. Gopal
  19. Thy hand great anarch - Nirad C. Chaudhuri 
  20. Justice Pal - New York Times article
  21. Justice Pal
  22. Indian famine codes
  23. History of famine scales
  24. Famine -- Encyclopedia Britannica
  25. Great Famine of 1876-78–78
  26. Gandhi breaks 21 day fast -- Indian Express clipping,4555643

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Was Churchill a Hitler? - Part 2. Were India's leaders Racists? Tilak, Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar and Racial Attitudes

"This one time Inner Temple lawyer and now seditious half-naked fakir, a type well known in the East, striding up the steps of the Viceregal palace to parley on equal terms with the King Emperor's representative" said Churchill of Gandhi going to meet Lord Irwin. The phrase 'half-naked fakir' stuck and it continues to sting the hearts of many an Indian, including those who loath Gandhi, even today. But, little do Indians knows how their beloved saintly Mahatma referred to blacks in South Africa. Or as for that matter what Ambedkar wrote of Manias, Gandhi's fellow caste members. Or what Patel thought of commoners and Muslims. Or Rajaji about Dalits getting educated? Or Tilak's views on universal education? Read and learn.

Indians suffer not only from selective amnesia but from hypocrisy too, conveniently forgetting that their own icons were not all too different from Churchill when it comes to racial attitudes.

Gandhi spent one night in a South African prison, amongst his many, with African and Chinese prisoners and wrote:
"The reason why I felt so uneasy was that the Kaffir and Chinese prisoners appeared to be wild, murderous and given to immoral ways"
On being classed with Natives in prison Gandhi bristled,
"We could understand not being classed with the whites but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much"
Gandhi had to ritually purify himself for having left the shores of India to pursue education. A practice that showcases what Indians thought of foreigners. Unlike the habitual Gandhi haters I, for one, have written how, like Abraham Lincoln who did not think highly of African-Americans, Gandhi's views are to be contextualized and understood in the broader context of his later life that was spent in emancipation. This was a man who slapped his wife for refusing to clean the toilets of a lower caste member of the ashram. The lesson from the Gandhi quotes is the human instinct to view with not just suspicion alien cultures but to look down upon anything or anyone foreign. Till today I hear Indians mocking Western women for suspected licentiousness and mocking westerners for what they think as weak institutions of family life.

Gandhi (from Wikipedia)
Subramania Bharathi, firebrand poet, journalist and pamphleteer from Tamil Nadu referred to British as 'mlecchas', a derogatory term used to refer to the lower caste Hindus. Vanchinathan, an assassin,  wrote a note that uprooting the 'mleccha' from his holy soil India was his religious calling in the name of his religion, Hinduism. Both Bharathi and Vanchinathan were Brahmins, is noteworthy. Bharati's poem prophesying Independence for all, including the "evil pulaya", a lowly caste raised hackles even then. Bharathi did dedicate one of his poems to them and wrote of eradicating caste differences. Nevertheless he presented as ideal the 'Aryan'. To Brahmin Bharathi, it was the Aryan that was worthy of aspiring to and protecting. Was Churchill, by today's standards, racist towards Indians? Absolutely. But then Indians then and now quite often show smug racism towards the West and as African students recently learned in India, much worse towards Africans.

Gandhi said that Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari, called Rajaji, was his 'conscience keeper'. Rajaji, a Brahmin, disavowed casteism but as free-marketer he was not above arguing that Hinduism's much reviled Varnashrama had something to recommend as a system of organizing labor in villages. He argued if a barber's son goes off to the city to study who would do the barber's job. Little did it strike him that someone else desirous of the job or what it pays could fill in. Too often economic theories were used dress up societal iniquities.

India's poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore toured the world and raised funds for a school he established in Calcutta. Until a visit by Gandhi happened food at Shantiniketan was served separately on caste basis. A similar arrangement was done in V.V.S. Iyer's school in Tamil Nadu. Lesser known is how Pachaiyappa's college, funded by a non-Brahmin, prohibited Dalits from admissions.

If the above examples are of people who either lived a life that was more nuanced or a repudiation of their early years there are others whose ideas on race and caste went with them to the grave.

A much lamented and idolized beyond reproach leader is Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a man who rose from the lowliest of stations in life to which he was born to the high office in Independent India, including being the architect of its constitution. Having been stung by the nettles of discrimination one would expect him to be sympathetic of others but no such luck. Here is what Ambedkar thought of Banias, a community of traders to which, incidentally, his arch nemesis in politics Gandhi belonged to.
"The Bania is the worst parasitic class known to history.In him the vice of money-making is unredeemed by culture or conscience.He is like an undertaker who prospers when there is an epidemic.The only difference between the undertaker and the Bania is that the undertaker does not create an epidemic while the bania does.He does not use his money for production.He uses it to create poverty and more poverty by lending money for unproductive purposes.He lives on interest as He is told by his religion that money lending is the occupation prescribed to him by Manu,he looks upon it as both right and righteous.
 The whole of poor,starving,illiterate India is mortgaged to the Bania. To sum up,the Brahmin enslave the mind and the Bania enslave the body.Between them,they divide the spoil which belongs to the governing classes.Can anyone who realizes what the outlook,tradition and social philosophy of the governing class in India,is believe that under the congress regime,a sovereign and independent India will be different from the India we have today?"
Ambedkar's writings on Muslims in 'Thoughts on Pakistan' continues to warm the cockles of the hearts of today's Hindutva brigade, a group of Hindu fundamentalists who hold neo-Nazi beliefs about non-Hindus. That said, how did Ambedkar's attitudes shape his policies?

B.R. Ambedkar (from Wikipedia)
Of the many things that the Hindutva brigade celebrate Ambedkar for is that he was instrumental in denying independent India's most far reaching measure on providing education and jobs to only Hindu Dalits and denying it Dalit in Christianity and Islam. Among 25 million Indian-Christians 20 million are Dalits, says a website. Imagine the denial of opportunity for millions for over half-century. Dying is better than living in a society where opportunity is denied on account what religion a person is born into. I don't know how much fight, if at all, Ambedkar put up on account of Dalits in other religions.

Vallabhai Patel, considered, by those who blame Nehru for not making India a Hindu-Pakistan, the best Prime Minister India never had. Here is Ambedkar quoting a speech by 'Sardar' Patel:
"The Viceroy sent for the leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, he sent for the leaders of the Muslim League and he sent for the Ghanchis (oil pressers), Mochis (cobblers) and the rest"
Following the quote, Ambedkar writes, "Although Mr. Vallabhai Patel in his malicious and stinging words referred only to Ghanchis and Mochis, his speech is indicative of the general contempt in which the governing class and the members of the Congress High Command hold the servile classes of this country"

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, called 'Lokmanya', holds a special place in the memory of every Indian who is taught in school that he issued the call for 'Self-Rule'. No school textbooks teaches Indians of a less than laudable side of Tilak, a Brahmin.

Tilak's biographers, A.K. Bhagwat and G.P. Pradhan, note, without irony or remorse that Tilak pressured the colonial regime, at the height of a plague that was sweeping across Poona, to give separate quarters in hospitals, not just for ladies, for 'upper class' men too.

Historian Stanley Wolpert charts the ebb and flow of Tilak's ideas on India being a "Hindu state" and of various people in various states cannot "have one nationality". When a colonial official wanted to open a school for girls Tilak railed against it and waxed eloquent on the duties of girls as per Hindu Dharma. Commenting on the case of Rakhamabai, an educated woman who refused to go to her much older husband after her father's death, Tilak wrote "if a woman does not go to her husband she should be punished by the king, and if she disobeys the king's order she should be imprisoned" and then helpfully compared her to a eunuch from India's epic story Mahabharata, Shikandi.

Faced with opposition from reactionary Hindus to raising the 'age of consent' for marriage and sex from 10 to 12 (yes that was the age) the Colonial government balked until a 11 year Phulmani Bhai died of lacerations during intercourse in 1890. Tilak, Wolpert notes, did not see "any need of reforming the law at present". Arguing on behalf of Phulmani's husband Tilak wrote:
"Hari Mohun could not be responsible for intercourse with his wife, 11 years old - an intercourse which neither he nor almost the whole of India, nor even her legislators, had reason to think to be dangerous to life". 
Unlike Wolpert the Indian biographers praise Tilak for "his accurate knowledge of Hindu scriptures and his legal acumen...He took up cudgels on behalf of tradition and attacked all those who wanted to defy it. His retorts were crushing, his language biting and his tone was offensive throughout the controversy". Some cudgels, some acumen indeed. It was this India that Churchill had left just a few years ago as a young army officer. Now contextualize Churchill's ideas on India. If one visited America before the Civil War or before the Civil Rights Act and came away wondering at the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence can one blame the visitor?

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (from Wikipedia)
Tilak ridiculed the Poona government's efforts to combat plague by dumping voluminous quantities of disinfectatnts into the sewers that lined the city because he had, Wolpert says, no faith in science. Thankfully Tilak did not occupy as pivotal a position of power as Churchill or Nehru did else god only knows what kind of atavism he'd have imposed on a hapless population.

'Sardar' Patel's attitude towards Muslims caused great anguish to Gandhi who said "you're not the Sardar I once knew". Maulana Azad in his autobiography records how Patel, though not a demagogue, was not in the league of Nehru when it came to secular credentials. Patel, Azad alleges, was not too perturbed by the killings of Muslims in Delhi. A more contemporary example comes from military historian Srinath Raghavan's 'War and peace in modern India'.

While the Hindutva brigade take vicarious pleasure in recounting how Muslim Razakars unleashed a terror campaign in Hyderabad with the consent of the Nizam not much is spoken of revenge killings, by HIndus, after the swift and successful annexation of the state to India. 40-50,000 Muslims were killed. Reports of revenge killings reached Nehru who sought an official report from Deputy Prime Minister and Home minister Patel. Patel, Raghavan notes, was dismissive of such events and Nehru had to order his own investigation. Raghavan castigates it as failure of secularism in India. Too often, atrocities against minorities often go unrecorded and worse, unpunished in independent India. Against the advice of intelligence agencies Indira Gandhi ordered an election in Assam and Muslims were killed by the hundreds in the village of Nellie. The official government investigation remains classified and of course no record of punishments. Likewise with the perpetrators of anti-sikh pogrom and more recently with the Hashimpura massacre.

Nellie Massacre News (from Wikimedia)Alberuni
A murderer like General Dyer was at least relieved from service, an open hearing, including Indians on the panel, was held and Churchill condemned the butchery in the House of Commons. Churchill showed better humanity than Rajiv Gandhi did. Unlike Dyer, Bal Thackeray, whom the Sri Krishna committee report said 'acted like a general' during the Mumbai riots, was buried with state honors.

While Indians are too eager to crucify Churchill one can find them performing acrobatics in logic and language to dissociate Patel or Tilak or Ambedkar from the policies they enunciated and affected hundreds or thousands or millions and in Ambedkar's case, for generations. I've not included quotes, for want of going too far and too much, from sheer neo-Nazis like Guru Golwalkar who openly admired Hitler and the Nazi ideology.

Indian heritage a long history of considering foreigners as 'impure'. Alberuni cites Varahamihira "the Greeks though impure, must be honored, since they were trained in sciences". Alberuni provides that quote to substantiate that Indians, of an earlier era and unlike those he met, were eager to learn from various sources. Preceding the Varahamihira quote Alberuni gives a withering description of the India he saw:

"the Hindus believe there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty,foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khusrau and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar".

It is sheer intellectual laziness to pretend that the Colonial regime in India was thuggery and interchangeable with a Nazi regime or, as for that matter a Japanese invader. Both of the latter regimes annihilated and left behind a scorched earth wherever they went. No nation that suffered the Nazi regime has any fond memory of those days let alone anything of note left behind by the regime except terror and murder. Unlike the Nazi regime that was to kill Russians by telling them vaccination was unnecessary the Colonial regime  opened hospitals and medical schools in India that catered, for the first time as a principle, to all sections of Indians.

Sir Ronald Ross who won the Nobel Prize for identifying the parasite that causes malaria did his work in India while managing a Cholera epidemic. British universities incubated practically all of India's anti-colonial movement leadership. But for a G.H. Hardy the Indian mathematician Ramanujan would've died an unrecognized lowly clerk.

I was stunned to hear a friend say that the Germans, like the British, would've propagated German culture and that would be the only difference. No, my friend, not at all. The Nazi regime rose to power by burning German books let alone books by Indians or English. Contrast that with the foreword that Warren Hastings wrote for a translation of the Bhagavad Gita in 1784 (see link in references). Hastings had actually studied Gita. Were would 'Shakunthala' be without William Jones? Should Indians not worship Cunnigham for 'Archeology Survey of India'? Hitler wanted his retreating army to burn down Paris with all its treasures. He asked his general every hour "Is Paris burning?" Is that a regime that would have left behind the Taj Mahal? No. Never. Sadly, Indians have shown how little regard they've for their own treasures today.

The central charge about Churchill is that his racial attitude inured him to the plight of millions of Bengalis dying in famine and shaped his policies, wartime exigencies notwithstanding, in combating the famine in which eventually 2-3 million perished. That Churchill was an imperialist and racist, by today's standards, to boot is undeniable. That he was insensitive to India's needs was all to evident. However on the key question of whether he could've done better under the circumstances is to be scrutinized dispassionately and I'll do it in my following blog.

The lesson from all this that the canker of racism towards those not like us and ideas about diversity, inclusivity and secularism are not only very recent but still yet to firmly take root in India. It is important to note that all these great leaders had very distasteful opinions of even their own fellow Indians let alone foreigners or of alien cultures.

India in its checkered history post independence has had its moments of pride in forging a unified identity unlike what Tilak and Ambedkar thought the journey is still in its infancy and recognizing that is not unpatriotic or weak but a sign of maturity. Learning to appreciate history and the forces of history as textured complexity is not a sign of servitude to colonialism but a sign of confident intellectual maturity. Let there be no whitewashing in history but let's not make history a tool for scoring propagandist brownie points either. More to come.....


  1. Lokmanya Tilak -- A.K. Bhagwat and G.P. Pradhan
  2. Tilak and Gokhale - Stanley Wolpert
  3. The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire -- Ashwin Desai and Goolam Wahed
  4. The Essential Writings of B.R. Ambedkar -- Edited by Valerian Rodrigues
  5. Bhagavad Gita with Warren Hastings's foreword
  6. Sir William Jones: A Study in Eighteenth Century British Attitudes to India -- S.N. Mukherjee
  7. British Policy in India: 1858-1905 --- S. Gopal (This and the previous book were sources for some material in this blog and my previous one)
  8. Nellie Massacre
  9. War and Peace in modern India -- Srinath Raghavan. My review of that book with details on the revenge killings in Hyderabad is at 
  10. Ronald Ross
  11. Dalit Christians quota issue
  12. Alberuni's India -- Abridged and Edited by Ainslee Embree. The text can be found at

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Was Churchill a Hitler? The Bengal Famine, the Raj and a Parlor Game -- Part 1

“I’ve nothing to offer but blood and toil, tears and sweat”, with those words Winston Churchill addressed the British parliament for the first time as Prime Minister. He continued “We’ve before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering” and called on the British people to “wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed on the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime”. He ended, defiantly that the aim is “Victory, victory at all costs- Victory, in spite of all the terror, for without victory there is no survival”.

On 13th May 1940 when Churchill addressed his nation and the world all that stood between Adolf Hitler and complete annihilation of modern civilization was Churchill and the British Empire. Poland had fallen the year earlier and triggered the war. US, thanks to the isolationists, was on the sidelines and promised help to Britain only on a cash basis. Stalin, for his own interests and because he felt abandoned by the Western powers, had concluded a treaty with Hitler. On 10th May 1940 Hitler’s war machine invaded France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In 46 days, by 25th June Western Europe, save England, lay prostrate at the feet of the Nazi Warlord.

In 2017 it is difficult, unless one immerses oneself in a bunch of books, to even understand a glimmer of how perilous the world was in that year. Soviet Union was plundering Eastern Europe. Japan had established a puppet regime in Nanking and flexing its muscles. France and the low countries were smashed by steel of the German war machine. By the end of the year Italy, which had joined Germany, was plundering Africa and Churchill, in a controversial order, had ordered Britain to destroy French navy lest it fall into Hitler’s hands. ‘Victory, at all costs’ was no empty boast. But what of his claim that ‘without victory there is no survival’? To answer that we’ve to understand the brutality of the Nazi regime. The invasion of Soviet Union and the siege of Leningrad, aside from the holocaust, show what a singularly evil empire Hitler presided upon. Descendants of former British colonies often nonchalantly toss moral equivalences that the Colonial regime and Nazi regime were essentially same and figures of economic decline and millions dead are often cited to justify the smug game of equivalence.

The Nazi Regime:

The Holocaust, while extensively documented and spoken about, for all its singular grotesqueness still is only a part of a larger systematic evil, the kind that the world had not witnessed until then. Historian Richard Evans in the concluding volume of his trilogy, ‘The Third Reich at War’, gives a vivid portrayal of the nature of the Nazi war machine. Selections from Evans’s extensively sourced quotes give a detailed grim picture of what the Nazi warlord planned for USSR.

“It’s inconceivable that a higher people should painfully exist on a soil too narrow for it, whilst amorphous masses, which contribute nothing to civilization, occupy infinite tracts of a soil that is one of the richest in the world”.  
“The German colonist ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The german services will be lodged in marvelous buildings, the governors in palaces..Around the city, to a depth of thirty to forty kilometres, we shall have a belt of handsome villages connected by the best roads. What exists beyond that will be another world, in which we mean to let the Russians live as they like. It is merely necessary that we should rule them. In the event of a revolution, we shall only have to drop a few bombs on their cities, and their affair will be liquidated”
“In a hundred years our language (German) will be the language of Europe”
“ ‘We’re not going to play at children’s nurses; we’re absolutely without obligations as far as these people are concerned’. 
"They would not be provided with medical or educational facilities; not only would they be denied inoculation and other preventive measures, but they should be persuaded that vaccinations were positively dangerous to their health” Herman Goring declared in 1941, 'This year 20-30 million people in Russia will starve’."
A ‘hunger plan’ was developed whereby “practically the entire food production of the conquered areas was to be used to feed the invading German armies and maintain nourishment standards at home”. 

Evans, concludes that Hitler’s plans for USSR emulated what was already practiced in Poland but on a grander scale: “ethnic deportation and resettlement, population transfer, Gemanization, cultural genocide and the reduction of the Slavic population by expropriation, starvation and disease”

Hitler’s plans were for the “annihilation of the Bolshevik commissars and the Communist intelligentsia…The conflict will be very different from the conflict in the West”

Hitler, to be fair, drew his inspiration from British colonialism for he reasoned that if the British can subjugate and keep as a vassal state a land mass like that of India why could he not do the same to USSR or Europe. Hitler’s attitude toward eliminating intelligentsia was not too far removed from how Lenin and Pol Pot dealt with intellectuals and the intelligentsia. The terror of Hitler was in that he was the war lord of the greatest war machine that ever was assembled and he threatened the entire globe unlike Churchill or Lenin or Pol Pot.

The Colonial Regime:

The British colonial regime was by no means a liberal democratic representative government and surely one could argue that features of what Hitler spoke of inflicting on USSR could be seen as features of the colonial regime. If that was all there was to it then it would be a open and shut case but the history of British rule in India was a very mixed bag. 
India asked Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy, to be its first governor general and after becoming a republic it continues to be a member of the British commonwealth. Almost all of modern India’s institutions, notably in education, judiciary, administrative and legislature, are all essentially creations of the Raj era. It is a fact that irks the cockles of the current nationalist sentiment that idolizes a distant memory as being unsullied and great, of course with little or no empirical proof.

Only the most superficial student of history would argue, like Subhash Bose thought, that the Colonial and Nazi regimes were interchangeable commodities. Where Hitler wanted to eradicate the Russians with false propaganda about vaccines the British established India’s modern health care system. 

The subject of Macaulay’s “Minute on Indian Education” is notorious for his uncharitable remark on the quality of India’s literary heritage but if a student of history looks beyond the churlishness one could see that for the first time India had a ruler who was seriously concerned about mass literacy and education for all. The debt that Indians owe to Sir William Jones and Monier Williams is inestimable. 

Lord Ripon, for example, was so popular amongst Indians that in the Madras state he was celebrated as “Ripon, our father”, in Tamil it rhymes, “ரிப்பன் எங்கள் அப்பன்”. It was thanks to Warren Hastings’s efforts that the Hindu scripture ‘Bhagavad Gita’ was translated into English and practically resurrected to life again. A Indian historian notes that “a history of Oriental studies is incomplete without a mention of Hastings….in his letters to his wife he used o quote from the Gita”. It is this Warren Hastings who was eviscerated by Edmund Burke in shining prose in his impeachment trial as being a man who “sullied the honor of India”. 

Historian S.Gopal’s in “British Policy in India:1858-1905” portrayal of the viceroyalty of Curzon shows the mixed bag that the Colonial regime was. Gopal records how Curzon was motivated to provide the best administration and focused on development and at the same time with his plan to partition Bengal practically gave birth to India’s Freedom movement. Curzon, Gopal says, invested heavily in railways, including bringing a British expert and extending the reach of railways, to provide famine relief. 

Curzon, thanks to a private donation, established a research institute for agriculture in Pusa. “Proposals were also made for the development of colleges and research institutes of agriculture in the provinces”. A far cry from the Nazi regime which was devising “hunger plan” to kill tens of millions of Soviets.

Two signal works on Indian philosophy, one by Dr S.Radhakrishnan and another by Deshpande, were undertaken under the aegis of Cambridge university. For all their faults the works in history by the likes of V.A. Smith were yeoman contributions. Sure, they all carried the faults of their time and handicaps of peeling back millennia of history that was layered but it is on their shoulders that any modern Indian academician can build upon. It is sheer idiocy and knavery to nonchalantly equate the Colonial Regime and Nazi Regime.

Without a doubt it’d be equally idiotic to argue that the Colonial regime administered India out of a milk of kindness. Exploitation and plundering of India happened like that of any previous invader, or, as for that matter, India’s own princes, most of whom were far from saints. British soldiers had ‘shooting passes’ which allowed them to shoot in populated areas. When Curzon tried to curb the grants of these passes a member of his council responded “that it would detract from ‘the respect for the white skin on which our hold on India so largely depends’”

Winston Churchill and India

It is time now to approach the central figure of the controversy, Winston Churchill and his attitude towards India as a colonial imperialist. 

Churchill was stationed in India as a young army officer between 1896-97. An indolent and unremarkable student Churchill underwent a Pygmalion transformation in those years as he devoured books by Gibbon, Macaulay, Plato and nearly 20 volumes of British parliamentary history. While Churchill discovered himself he showed little inclination to discover his host country that was considered the brightest gem in the British crown. Churchill was the perfect embodiment of Kipling’s verse which celebrated imperialism as “white man’s burden” to civilize the Orient. Indian’s would do well to remember that some of their most celebrated kings had no lesser paternalistic attitude towards lands conquered by them. The only difference between Raja Raja Chola and Churchill was their skin color. 

Churchill’s imperialism is best understood by his remarks on Jallianwallah Bagh massacre in the House of Commons. 

Edwin Montagu, then Secretary of state for India, and a Jew, sought to address the issue in the parliament and was cowed down by anti-semitic taunts. Churchill then rose and dismantled Dyer’s claims of having fired at a rebellious crowd. Refuting Dyer’s notion of having to install fear “Churchill knifed Dyer: ‘Frightfulness is not a remedy known to the British pharmacopoeia”. Then Churchill contrasted the British empire with Russian Bolshevik empire. Bolsheviks, he said, maintained their empire with “bloody and devastating terrorism which they practice”. He asserted that the British empire “never stood on the basis of physical force alone, and it would be fatal to the British empire” if they tried to do so.

Almost pleading for a contextual appreciation of Churchill’s racial attitudes his biographer William Manchester points out that racial intolerance, even until the 1940s, was “not only acceptable in polite society; it was fashionable, even assumed”. Manchester cites Churchill referring to a black man as ‘kafir’ and ‘mulatto’. Churchill’s attitudes towards were not only frozen but reinforced by a book like Katherine Mayo’s “Mother India”, a book that Gandhi called a “drain inspector’s report”. When told by a doctor that measles affected blacks Churchill retorted “Well, there are plenty left. They’ve got a high rate of production”.

The world in 1942:

What was the world like in 1942 when famine began ravaging across Bengal? 

On 22nd June 1941 Hitler’s war machine launched Operation Barbarossa and raced towards Moscow thus stunning the world, the Soviets and above all Stalin. Hitler, in chilling words, had written in Mein Kampf his precise opinions on Soviet Russia, the Bolshevik regime — “common blood stained criminals; that they are the scum of humanity” — and of Communism - a Jewish conspiracy. 

Max Hastings called the invading German army, “the largest invading force assembled in the whole of human history to this point”. The Nazi war machine proceeded inexorably to within 50 miles of Moscow. Evacuation of Stalin and his government was seriously considered. When the war was over Soviet Russia, more than any country, had bled by the tens of millions prompting Churchill to “pay a particular tribute” to their heroism in his VE-Day speech announcing the surrender of Germany. But, in 1941 that date was not even hopefully visible.

On December 7th 1941, “a date which “will live in infamy”, Japan, attacked the US at Pearl Harbor and crippled its naval power. The US, we should note, had an armed preparedness that ranked below that of Netherlands. With the US entering the war and the Soviets hanging onto their Fatherland by their teeth the War between Germany and Western Europe, particularly England, had become a World War.

As 1942 dawned it is impossible to state today the bleakness that enveloped the allies and how Germany stood at the verge of triumph. It was a state of affairs that continued well into 1944 even after D-day when the world largest amphibious invading force landed in the beaches of Normandy while the Red Army punishingly marched toward Berlin scorching every city in its path.

Until June 1941 England and Churchill faced the brutal onslaught of Germany all alone. Charles Lindbergh, legendary hero of the transatlantic flight, became a champion of isolationism in America as the spokesman of “America First committee”. Lindbergh campaigned actively against the FDR-Churchill Lend-lease pact. Lindberg reasoned that the US might aid the defeat of Hitler and thus open Europe to “rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of Western civilization”. He openly was in awe of the Luftwaffe. 

Historian Richard Evans underscores how vital Soviet support was to the survival of the Nazi regime until Hitler decided to invade it. As late as 10th January 1941 “the Soviet union signed a new trade agreement which doubled the quantity of grain exports from Ukraine to the Third Reich”. “The Soviet union was supplying nearly three-quarters of Germany’s requirement of phosphates, over two-thirds of its imported asbestos….more crucially, more than a third of its imported oil”

Reflect on the fact that the Nazi war machine, having subjugated continental western Europe, supplied by Soviet Russia, was raining hell on London. A war machine that sliced its way to Moscow at lightning speed bore down on England. For nearly two years all that stood between Hitler and world domination was the British empire and its indomitable leader.


Note: References and citations of material used will be provided in the concluding part.