Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 15
Pride and Prejudice - Churchill, Science, the Bengal Famine and the Jewish Holocaust
“The British Empire ... population in 1900 stood at 370 million. Since there were 37 million people in Britain herself in 1901, one can see that every Briton had 10 colonial slaves working for him overseas.”
- V.G. Trukhanovsky in Winston Churchill (1978) 1
“It cannot in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government be classified as slavery in the extreme acceptance of the word without some risk of terminological inexactitude.”
- W.S. Churchill to the House of Commons on Chinese indentured labourers in South Africa (1906) 2
“Traditions! What traditions? Rum, sodomy and the lash!”
- W.S. Churchill on the British Navy (circa 1916) 3
“We shall declare war on Japan.”
- W.S. Churchill, jumping to his feet on being told by his butler of the radio announcement of the Pearl Harbor attack (1941) (he was dining at Chequers with the American Ambassador John Winant and Roosevelt’s special envoy Averell Harriman) 4
“I had, moreover, given it as my considered opinion in October 1941 that Japan’s former desire to avoid war with the United States at almost any cost could no longer be counted upon as a factor in the situation should Japan feel herself to be finally driven into a corner ... there can be no doubt that the absence of any British moderating influence, whether at Washington or Tokyo, increased the chances of that breakdown which eventually occurred.”
- Sir R. Craigie, British Ambassador to Japan in 1941, in his final report to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (1943) 5
The above quotations provide the essence of this Chapter and an indication of the British imperial attitudes that contributed to the genesis and remorseless carnage of two of the most appalling events of human history. The Jewish Holocaust in Europe and the Bengal Famine in Asia were events that overlapped in time and which were tragically connected through British Imperial policy. Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, was critically involved in the Bengal Famine 6 and was also involved in the Allied policy preventing Jews escaping from Nazi Europe.7 There is a huge literature specifically dealing with the life of Churchill of which the biography by Pelling (1974) is particularly comprehensive. However this huge literature overwhelmingly fails to address Churchill’s connection with the demise of these 13 million innocent people during the Second World War. 8
Churchill and Jane Austen
Winston Spencer Churchill (1874-1965) has appeared at various stages of this treatise. His forebear John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, was the patron of Jane Austen’s forbear James Brydges, the Duke of Chandos, and we have already perceived that the two of them started a long tradition in English establishment life of personal enrichment in the “national interest” at the expense of humanity both at home and abroad. The wealth of Marlborough was exhibited at Blenheim Palace and that of Chandos was revealed at his palace Canons that, when it stood, rivalled the palaces of royalty in its magnificence. Winston Churchill was born in 1874 at Blenheim Palace, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill (MP for Woodstock, Oxfordshire and younger son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough) and his American wife Jennie née Jerome (the daughter of a New York businessman and a descendant of Captain Smith and Pocahantas). The actual legal family name was actually Spencer because John Churchill had not had a son and his line was initiated through his daughter Anne who had married Charles Spencer, the Earl of Sunderland. Given the stratification of English society and the relatively small size of the upper class, it would be likely that Winston Spencer Churchill would be directly connected with Jane Austen in a familial sense and indeed this is so. Winston Churchill, Pitt the Elder, Pitt the Younger, Jane Austen and Lady Hester Stanhope (oriental traveller) all can be traced back to Sir Thomas and Dame Alice Leigh née Barker (the great-great-great-great grandparents of Jane Austen (see Chapter 2). The genetic flow is as follows: Sir Thomas Leigh X Alice Barker ® Winifred Leigh X Sir George Bond ® Dionisia Bond X Sir Henry Winston ® Sarah Winston X John Churchill ® Sir Winston Churchill X Elizabeth Drake ® John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough X Sarah Churchill ® ® ® Lord Randolph Churchill X Jennie Jerome ® Sir Winston Churchill. 9
Churchill as a young man
Churchill was reported by various people to have had an unreasoning detestation of Indians. Since his actions led to the death of millions of Indians in World War 2 it is not unreasonable to make some minimal attempt to explore the possible basis of this hatred. Some sort of sexual and associated physical contributing factors might excite our attention through natural curiosity, voyeurism and the widely held perception that such matters can be very powerful behavioural determinants. Thus Freud initially connected childhood sexual abuse with later psychopathy but, according to Masson (1985), he later decided upon a more socially acceptable position that claims of such abuse were more likely to be fantasy. 10 Morris gives dramatic examples of physical sexual experiences and their effects on subsequent behaviour.11 More germane to this sketch, Sartre (1946) and Baldwin (1963) have made the connection between the psychology of sex and anti-semitism and American white anti-black racism, respectively. 12 Perhaps the secret of Churchill’s deep antipathy for Indians lies in his full-blooded life as a youth and as a young man.
During his childhood the Churchill family was in disfavour with the Prince of Wales and his set. In 1876 the Marquess of Blandford (brother of Lord Randolph) had contemplated elopement with Lady Aylesford whose husband was a close friend of the Prince and was indeed accompanying him on a trip to India. Lord Randolph wrote to the Prince urging him to dissuade Aylesford from instituting divorce proceedings and, in what was perceived as close to blackmail, had indicated that if unsatisfied in his request, he would publish the Prince’s own correspondence with Lady Aylesford. It took a number of years and Lord Randolph’s success as a politician to overcome the consequent social exclusion. Lord Randolph administered a relief fund for Ireland set up by his mother in 1879 as a result of food shortages that year. Lord Randolph became Secretary of State for India in 1885 and strengthened the Indian Army under Sir Frederick Roberts (due to worries about the Russians) and annexed Upper Burma (because of similar concerns about the French). After the General Election of 1886 the Conservative Prime Minister made Lord Randolph Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. However he differed with Salisbury on policy matters, Lord Randolph favouring closer ties with Germany and Austria and a decrease in military expenditure. Attempting to force his views by offering his resignation, he was retired to the back benches. Suffering from syphilis, he took a world tour with his wife but died in 1895 at the age of only 46. Marital conjugal satisfaction being precluded, Lady Jennie Churchill found pleasure in the company of other men, including the Prince of Wales, and her most significant romance was with the Austrian Count Charles Kinsky.
Churchill and his brother Jack had a devoted nurse Mrs Elizabeth Everest (“Woom”) who was with them before they moved to Ireland temporarily in 1876 and on whom they were very much dependent as children. Churchill went to Harrow (on a par with Eton as the top public school in England) where he was well known but lonely and he described these years as “the only barren and unhappy period of my life”. One can only speculate on likely exposure to the sorts of sexual experiences for which the Great English Public Schools are famous. It is quite likely that he would have encountered Indians at this stage of his life, both from the pages of history (such as the Nawab Siraj-ud-daulah of notoriety in relation to the Black Hole of Calcutta) and in the flesh as Indian Princes sent to school in England. Churchill went to Sandhurst and while there learned of the fatal illness of his father. 1895 was a critical year for Churchill: it saw the deaths of his father, his maternal grandmother and of his devoted nurse, Mrs. Everest. He graduated from Sandhurst in that year and was posted to the 4th Hussars.
Generous regimental leave arrangements allowed Churchill to go to New York and thence as a war correspondent to Cuba, where he was decorated for his courage. He had great plans on his return for service in the Lancers in South Africa with an explicitly expressed ambition of military adventure, decoration and subsequent political advance expressed as an intention to “beat my sword into an iron despatch box”. However his lobbying efforts were unsuccessful (despite the powerful connections of his mother) and he remained with the 4th Hussars. However at this time the father of a fellow officer brought accusations of homosexuality against Churchill who in turn brought a libel suit that was settled out of court for 400 pounds. Nevertheless the father persisted in his complaints about other subalterns after his son left the regiment and the matter was reported in the radical journal Truth by Henry Labouchere. Churchill was advised against leaving the regiment as this might have indicated a desire to avoid inquiries. He was therefore compelled to go out to India when the regiment was posted there in 1896. 13
Churchill arrived in Bombay and, before he even stepped on Indian soil, on landing at Sassoon Dock he suffered a severe injury that would plague him for the rest of his life. The boat rose and fell 4 or 5 feet with the surges of the waves and when he grasped one of the iron rings provided for hand-holds, the boat swung away and his right shoulder was severely dislocated. The dislocation meant that in future he played polo with his right arm strapped to his side and used a revolver in combat. For the rest of his life his arm would dislocate at odd times such as taking a book from a shelf or making an expansive gesture. 14
In India Churchill’s regiment was based in Bangalore but on leave in London he gained accreditation as a correspondent with the Malakand Field Force making war on tribes on the North-west Frontier. He joined this force after obtaining extra leave from his regiment. He had an exciting and dangerous time and described his experiences (with suitable circumspection in relation to the use of Dum-Dum expanding bullets and the mutual murder of wounded prisoners) in newspaper accounts and in The Story of the Malakand Field Force. 15 He was appointed to the 31st Punjab Infantry but after a few days was returned to the 4th Hussars. On his return to Bangalore he wrote a “rattling” novel Savrola and in the meantime lobbied for a transfer to Kitchener in Egypt. One result of this Indian period was his declaration of love for a particular lady. No doubt other liaisons and adventures contributed to a pot pourri of race, sex and imperialism at this stage of his maturation.
In the event he secured leave from the 4th Hussars, secured a place in the 21st Lancers and made arrangements to act as a correspondent for the Morning Post. He took part in the Battle of Obdurman in the Sudan, being involved in the heroic charge of the 21st Lancers that earned them 3 Victoria Crosses. In this battle the Anglo-Egyptian forces crushed a numerically vastly greater force of 40,000 Dervishes, the critical element of the success being artillery and disciplined rifle fire on the part of the British forces. This battle and the subsequent occupation of Khartoum avenged the death of General Gordon in 1885 when his forces were defeated by those of the Mahdi. Churchill had to return to India to rejoin his regiment but left India in 1899 for the last time. He published his account of the Sudan War as The River War. 16
Churchill resigned his commission in 1899, sailed for South Africa as a correspondent for the Morning Post to cover the Boer War and on his arrival obtained a commission in the Lancashire Hussars. When a train was derailed by the Boers, Churchill was captured. He escaped and made it to Laurenco Marques in Portuguese Mozambique. He resumed coverage of the war with the South Africa Light Horse and, after the capture of Pretoria, returned home in 1900. Apart from a stint as a battalion commander on the Western Front in 1915, this was Churchill’s last “active” involvement as a soldier. It was also the last time he was “on the ground” in a blood, sweat and tears sense in the great British Empire: in the non-metropolitan colonial world of plantations, mines, indigenous non-European subjects, indentured Indian labour and the “white man’s burden”. 17
Churchill’s public life 1899-1945
It is useful at this point to briefly document Churchill’s subsequent career in the fashion of a somewhat biased curriculum vitae so that we can place events relevant to the present disquisition in context (the points at which he dealt with Indian and related matters are indicated below within square brackets):
Pre-World War 1
Unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Oldham (a cotton textile working-class Lancashire constituency near Manchester (1899); successful conservative candidate for Oldham (1900); lecture tour of Britain and America (1900); lecture tour of Canada (1901); supported freedom of trade, opposed restrictive tariff reforms of the Conservatives that could have inhibited the Lancashire cotton trade and reverted to the Liberal Opposition side of the House (1904); successfully opposed Conservative immigration restriction bill to the approbation of his Manchester Jewish constituents and Lord Rothschild (an old friend of his father) (1904); black-balled by the Hurlingham Club as a polo-playing member (1904); Liberal government (1905); Colonial Under-secretary to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Elgin (former Viceroy of India) (1905); successful Liberal and Free Trade candidate for Manchester North-West (1906); supported Boer rights but was cool towards the rights of Chinese “slaves” in South Africa, their flogging and other abuses - repatriation of the Chinese resolved the matter (1907); toured East Africa, wrote articles and a book My African Journey and commented on future negative consequences of Indian migrant labour (1907); joined Asquith’s Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade (1908); defeated in Manchester North-West (1908); successful Liberal candidate for Dundee (1908); married Clementine née Hozier and honeymooned in Italy (1908); his Labour Exchanges Bill was passed (1909); he argued against conflict with Germany and argued for taxes on land to meet naval armament expenses (1909); after the Lords rejected Lloyd George’s budget, he performed well in the subsequent election campaign and was re-elected as a Liberal for Dundee (1910); as Home Secretary (1910-1911) he was responsible for reform legislation in relation to shop hours and mine safety and was responsible for public order especially in relation to the South Wales miners’ strike and disturbances in the Rhondda Valley, the “battle of Sidney Street” (involving East European revolutionaries) and a national railway strike; as First Lord of the Admiralty (1911- 1915) he oversaw pre-war naval preparations including fleet re-organizations and technological innovations such as oil-burning vessels and larger guns.
World War 1
Churchill was one of the more bellicose members of cabinet prior to the outbreak of war (August 4th 1914); the naval Battle of Heligoland Bight was an initial victory, but was followed by the loss of 3 old British cruisers off the Dutch coast; Churchill was critically involved in the delaying defence of Antwerp and when the Belgians capitulated the British fell back to join a firm and unbroken stand at Ypres that saved Dunkirk and a possible general catastrophe; the defeat of the South American squadron under Cradock by von Spee at Coronel off Chile was avenged by subsequent defeat of the Germans off the Falklands by Sturdee’s squadron (1914); the Battle of the Dogger Bank was another British victory (1915); the scheme for a naval and military attack on Gallipoli and the Dardanelles was designed to relieve Turkish pressure on the Russians and was put by Churchill to the War Council (January 1915); the campaign commenced in earnest with the British and French naval bombardment of the Dardanelles forts with attendant losses (February-April 1915); the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs) landed at Gallipoli on April 25 1915 only to encounter withering fire from the well-prepared Turks; the campaign, supported by British and Indian troops, developed into a bloody trench warfare deadlock involving immense casualties before the final withdrawal (1915).
[The total military casualties of the Dardanelles Campaign were several hundred thousand, with disease taking a particularly heavy toll. 18 However the day before the Anzac landing saw the beginning of the rounding up of Armenian community leaders by the threatened and xenophobic Turks. This inexorably led to the Armenian Genocide, a major genocide of the 20th Century. An estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed through executions and mass civilian removal from Anatolia into the Syrian desert.19]
The unpopularity of the Dardanelles campaign led to the Conservative Bonar Law and the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith insisting on his departure; Churchill was appointed to the junior Cabinet post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1915); Churchill quit Cabinet and joined his regiment, the Oxfordshire Hussars (Territorial Army) first as a major and thence as a battalion commander in France (November 1915-May 1916); the naval Battle of Jutland saw massive losses on either side and Churchill agreed to release a suitably convincing story for the public (May 1916); Churchill prepared a Cabinet paper on the folly of the Somme carnage caused by General Haig (July 1916); he testified before the Dardanelles Commission (late 1916) whose report criticised both him and Asquith while nevertheless largely exonerating Churchill (January 1917); he advocated greater recruitment of Africans and Indians (1917); he returned to Cabinet as Minister for Munitions (July 1917); with American intervention the Germans were finished and the War ended on November 11 1918.
Between the Wars
At the post-war general election Churchill was returned by Dundee as a Coalition Liberal (December 1918); Secretary of State for War and the Air Ministry (January 1919); he assisted anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia (1919).
[At this time Churchill excluded General Dyer from further employment in the Army. Dyer had been responsible for the notorious Amritsar massacre (1919) in which unarmed Indian demonstrators were gunned down by British forces in this Punjab city (379 people were killed and 1200 were wounded). An Army inquiry found that Dyer had committed “an error of judgement” but Dyer was condemned by a committee of the House of Commons. Nevertheless Dyer had engendered a certain amount of popular and Conservative support. Churchill made a strong speech that condemned the Amritsar massacre and hence Dyer in no uncertain terms. This was a most unusual occasion on which Churchill argued passionately for friendship binding the British and the Indians (1920).]
The Royal Air Force was employed in a successful and economical intervention in Somaliland (1920) which was to serve as a model for Imperial defence in Mesopotamia (1921) [including the strafing of Kurdish villages in the 1920s]; Churchill brought in the “Black and Tans” to deal brutally with Sinn Fein in Ireland, creating a bitterness that extends to this day (but which hopefully may soon finally evaporate); Churchill was appointed Colonial Secretary while retaining the Air Ministry (1921); Churchill recruited T.E. Lawrence, visited the Middle East, reasserted the British Government’s support for a Jewish National Home in Palestine and agreed to the establishment (on Abdullah’s insistence) of Transjordan as a territory separate from Palestine in which there would be no Jewish settlement (1921).
[Churchill prohibited Indians from purchasing land in the Kenya Highlands to preserve the position of the White settlers and, while recognizing principles of equality, saw the need for restrictions on Indian immigration there and on Indian citizenship: “The democratic principles of Europe are by no means suited to the development of Asiatic and African people.” Montague, the Secretary of State for India, was more liberal than Churchill, criticized his views in Cabinet and initiated subsequent concessions to the Indians which greatly affronted the Kenyan and South African white racists who were implacably opposed to full citizenship for Indian immigrants. It should be noted that in the post-war years there was increasing Indian political activity in South and East Africa and of course in India. The return of Indian soldiers from France saw the appalling spread of the Spanish influenza that killed an estimated 17 million Indians in the immediately post-war years. 20]
As Colonial Secretary Churchill was involved negotiations with Sinn Fein about Irish independence (1922); the Turks under Kemal Ataturk attacked the Greeks in Asia Minor but backed off in the face of tough diplomacy from Churchill (1922); the Coalition collapsed and in the subsequent election Churchill lost his seat (1922); Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labor Prime Minister (1924); Churchill was invited to stand for the Epping constituency as a “Constitutionalist” by the local Conservatives and was elected (1924); when the Labour government fell Stanley Baldwin was dissuaded from offering Churchill India and instead asked him to serve as “Chancellor” - the born-again Conservative Churchill thought he meant “of the Duchy of Lancaster” but it was indeed “of the Exchequer” (1924); differences between mine owners and miners - the latter declaring “not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day” - led ultimately to the General Strike in which Churchill was prepared for military intimidation of the strikers (1926);
[The Statutory Commission of MPs was sent out to India under Sir John Simon to prepare for provincial self-government and was boycotted by Gandhi and the Nehrus.]
Churchill was again in opposition when a Labour government under Ramsay MacDonald was elected (1929); Churchill had to fall in with Stanley Baldwin and the Conservatives and support Empire Preference and Tariff Reform including imposts on food (1931);
[Lord Irwin as Viceroy of India renewed the ultimate commitment made in 1917 by Lloyd George for Indian Dominion status and organized a London Round Table Conference to enable expression of Indian views on the Simon Commission. Churchill was dead opposed to any encouragement of Indian self-rule and provoked Irwin who was concerned to keep a lid on Indian politicians. Churchill addressed the reactionary Indian Empire Society, set up at the time of the Conference, and advocated the crushing of Gandhi-ism (1930). Churchill’s anti-Indian position brought him into conflict with the Conservative leadership who favoured the Labor policy of dialogue with the Indian Congress. When Gandhi and the Nehrus were released from prison in 1931and negotiated with Irwin, Churchill made his notorious comment that it was “alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace.” Churchill became associated with the reactionary India Defence League and opposed the White paper proposing Federal Indian government subject to support from the Indian States. Churchill and his supporters were conscious of the potential losses to Lancashire of cotton exports to India through loss of control of Indian fiscal policy and the Congress boycott of British goods.]
Hitler came to power (1933); throughout the thirties Churchill warned about German re-armament, the threat to Europe from German militarism (including the specific threat to European Jews) and the need for British preparedness; as described later, Churchill was brought into the committee of the Air Minister Lord Swinton to oversee air defence arrangements (1935); Germany invaded Poland and Churchill was invited to join Chamberlain’s War Cabinet (September 1 1939); with the outbreak of war between Britain and Germany, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty (September 3 1939); Churchill was appointed Prime Minister (1940); Pearl Harbor was attacked (Sunday December 7 1941); Singapore surrendered (January 1942);
[rioting and sabotage in India, including Bengal, occurred in 1942 and was dealt with strongly - 940 killed, 1630 injured, 60,000 arrested, 14,000 detained.]
Casablanca Conference (January 1943);
[At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 Churchill substantially cut shipping in the Indian Ocean, a decision that sentenced millions of Indians to death in the Bengal Famine of 1943-1944.]
D-Day (June 4 1944); on May 8 1945 Churchill announced all hostilities would terminate at 0001 on May 9; Churchill and the Conservatives were defeated in the first post-war elections (1945).
Churchill’s Secret War - Singapore and Pearl Harbor
Churchill realised that victory against Germany depended upon the entry of the United States into the conflict as an ally of Britain and that this would occur if Japan could be induced to go to war. J. Rusbridger and E. Nave have published a very detailed account of their perception of how Churchill secured American participation in their book Betrayal at Pearl Harbor. How Churchill Lured Roosevelt into World War II. 22 Nave was a Japanese-speaking Australian naval intelligence officer who was on secondment to the British Navy from the end of World War 1 to the end of World War 2. He was intimately involved in decoding Japanese naval signals and further testament to his credentials and responsibility is given by his period of leadership in the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
According to the account of Rusbridger and Nave (1991), in November 1940 a German raider under Captain Rogge captured the merchant vessel the Automedon in the Indian Ocean and it was found that the ship’s safe contained a Chiefs of Staff report approved by the British War Cabinet and destined for the Commander at Singapore. Recognizing the importance of the document, Rogge immediately sailed for Japan. After authorization from Hitler, the document was given to the Japanese who thus by the beginning of 1941 realized that the British recognized that Singapore was essentially indefensible (I know that you know that I know ... ). Rogge was awarded a samurai sword of honor by the Emperor - this award having only been made to 2 other Germans, namely Erwin Rommel and Hermann Goering.
The successful torpedo attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto in November 1940 demonstrated the potential for what could be done at Pearl Harbor. The British report revealing the indefensibility of Singapore confirmed the feasibility of attacking the American Pacific fleet without concern for British naval forces at Singapore. Rusbridger and Nave concluded that “the incident remains one of the worst intelligence disasters in history”. These researchers assert that the British knew of the loss of this material but that Churchill did not inform Singapore or the Australians. The Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin, was apprised of the general situation after Pearl Harbor and insisted on bringing Australian soldiers back to Australia from the Middle East. Churchill diverted British forces to Singapore and inevitable capture at the fall of Singapore (January 1942).
Churchill and Pearl Harbor
The Americans had been able to break the machine-based code (“Purple”) that the Japanese used for top secret diplomatic purposes and provided 2 such de-crypting machines to the British early in the war. However the British did not respond in kind and kept mum about details of the Japanese naval code which was code book-based and which the Americans were to subsequently break for themselves. With increasing tension between America and Japan and progressive Japanese intervention in French Indochina, it became obvious that conflict was inevitable. The critical question was when and where the conflict would begin.
The first shots against Britain and her allies may possibly have been fired several weeks before Pearl Harbor off the Australian coast. On November 19 1941 the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney sank the German raider Kormoran but was hit by a torpedo (possibly not from the Kormoran) and disappeared with all hands. While three quarters of the Germans survived, no Australians lived to tell the tale, and this singularity has led to persistent speculation of a comprehensive massacre perpetrated by the crew of a Japanese submarine. The jury is still out.
The Japanese fleet bound for Hawaii had gathered initially in the north of the Kuriles in early November 1941 but (according to the account of Rusbridger and Nave) British naval intelligence was in a position to detect, decode and interpret messages associated with this initial movement and with the movement of the fleet when it set sail towards Hawaii. Rusbridger and Nave make it clear that the British would have known 2 weeks before the event that a large Japanese force was in the north Pacific and that “one of the most likely targets was Pearl Harbor.” Churchill did not alert the Americans and indeed, on the contrary, at a time when he evidently would have been aware of this likelihood, he sent a message to Roosevelt (November 26 1941) asserting in relation to Japan that “we certainly do not want an additional war”. Even if one discounts the above expert judgement of Nave, who was intimately involved with British naval intelligence at the time, this statement of Churchill’s is manifestly disingenuous in the light of further events and his reaction to them.
According to the British ambassador in Tokyo, Sir Robert Craigie, in his report to Anthony Eden in February 1943 on conclusion of his mission to Japan, peace was still achievable with the Japanese in December 1941. In Craigie’s view the balance of the War, as perceived from Tokyo, had shifted significantly by late 1941: the British and the Russians were shifting to a more offensive rôle, the Americans were assisting with supplies and with an “undeclared” war against German submarines in the Atlantic. The Japanese had presented a pacifying proposal involving their withdrawal from Indo-China and Craigie had strongly urged British acceptance (with some modifications) of this modus vivendi but evidently without success for this proposal was not acceptable to the Americans (November 26 1941). It is likely that the decision to go to war was taken by the Japanese on November 27. 22
Craigie was conscious of the theory that American participation in the War was so vital for victory that it had to be incurred at the cost of war with Japan. He held a contrary view and felt that American-Japanese conflict could curtail American trans-Atlantic aid. Accordingly Craigie had strongly favoured continuing Japanese neutrality. Churchill had a completely different view in hindsight (and one can also reasonably presume in foresight): he was highly critical of Craigie’s report and asserted: “It was a blessing that Japan attacked the United States and thus brought America wholeheartedly into the war. Greater good fortune has rarely happened to the British empire than this event.” Craigie reflects that the Tripartite Pact between Japan, Germany and Italy may have been regarded in both Washington and London as committing Japan irretrievably to the War as an ally of the Axis powers - a view that he did not personally accept. In relation to the final breakdown of Japanese-American negotiations Craigie makes the critical observation: “there can be no doubt that the absence of any British moderating influence, whether at Washington or at Tokyo, increased the chances of that breakdown which eventually occurred.”
Rusbridger and Nave (1991) refer to a communication of Churchill to Roosevelt on November 26 1941 that is so secret that it cannot be released for the best part of 70 years and one of the American Pearl Harbor inquiries refers to critical (but not revealed) evidence received on November 26 indicating impending Japanese attack against Britain and America. Hawaii was warned in a general, as opposed to a specific sense, of the danger of Japanese attack on the same day that the Americans rejected the final Japanese proposal. 2 weeks later British forces in Malaya were at battle stations when attacked by the Japanese at dawn on December 8 1941, having had prior warning of major Japanese naval movements across the Gulf of Siam several days before. The Americans in Hawaii had no warning of the attack to come, although precise information was available to both British and American naval intelligence people the day before the attack.
A coded message sent to the Japanese Consulate in Melbourne on November 19 was intercepted and decoded. It specified warning messages to be incorporated into Japanese broadcasts in the event of the impending commencement of hostilities. The message indicating an impending outbreak of Japanese-American hostilities was “east wind rain” inserted in the text of a weather report (“west wind clearing” was to mean a Japanese-British crisis). The point of this was to ensure timely destruction of documents in Japanese consulates and embassies. The “east wind rain” radio message - indicating an impending Japanese attack on the Americans - was indeed picked up in Melbourne by the Australian Special Intelligence Organisation officer on December 4 1941. That intelligence was immediately passed on to Nave (who had been seconded to SIO) and thence to higher authority - but not to the Americans. The same message was picked up, correctly interpreted and passed on to higher authority by naval intelligence in Maryland - but according to Rusbridger and Nave, this direct warning of an impending Japanese attack on American forces was not acted upon to ensure the preparedeness of American forces in the Pacific.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7 1941 caused massive damage to the US Navy and Air Force - 5 battleships and 3 cruisers sunk or severely damaged, 177 aircraft destroyed, 2,343 American servicemen dead, 876 missing and 1,272 injured. At that time Churchill was dining with Roosevelt’s special envoy, Averell Harriman, and the American ambassador, John Winant. The butler brought the news and Churchill phoned Roosevelt immediately to inform him that Britain would declare war on Japan. The conclusion of Rusbridger and Nave (1991) is that denial of British naval intelligence information from the Americans allowed the Pearl Harbor attack to happen, turned a potential Japanese disaster into an American one and was “no accident but the deliberate policy of Churchill himself to achieve his aim of dragging America into the war.” While “revisionists” have sought to implicate Roosevelt in a process of forcing Japan into a corner and thence into war, an analysis of this by Goldstein and Dillon (1982) concluded: “But in a thorough search of more than thirty years, including all documents released up to May 1 1981, we have not discovered one document or one word of sworn testimony that substantiates the revisionist position on Roosevelt and Pearl Harbor.” 23
Churchill, Lindeman and the Air War in Europe
We are indebted to C.P Snow’s classic analysis Science and Government (1961) for the next key element of our saga. We have seen that Lord Swinton, the Air Minister, invited Winston Churchill onto his air defence committee in 1935. This was a sensible move to bring Churchill, a very public critic of defective defences, into a committee concerned with defence. He had already in 1934 publicly challenged the Government underestimation of the German air force using accurate estimates provided by his friend and adviser Lindeman, Professor of Physics at Oxford University. Churchill insisted on Lindeman joining the technical “Tizard Committee” chaired by H. Tizard and including the leading scientists Hill and Blackett. Although Tizard and Lindeman had worked together in Berlin many years before and had been friends for years, this relationship fell apart on the Committee. Tizard wanted first priority to be given to development of radar for air defence. Lindeman favoured infrared detection and the use of parachute mines and bombs to destroy attacking aircraft. The aggressive attitude of Lindeman led to Blackett and Hill resigning in 1936. The Committee was subsequently reconstituted with the radio expert E.V. Appleton replacing Lindeman. The radar research and development work overseen by the Tizard Committee, carried out in close cooperation with the Royal Air Force, led to a working radar system in place in time to play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain.
In May 1940 Germany launched its massive assault on France and Churchill became Prime Minister. On June 4 Tizard was summoned to see Lindeman at 10 Downing Street. Placed in an intractably difficult position, within 3 weeks Tizard had resigned from his position as official scientific adviser of the Air Ministry. He was later directed to go to America with J. Cockroft to share British radar advances, including the cavity magnetron, with the Americans and was later put on the Air Council. However, despite his excellent scientific administrative track record in relation to radar defences, Tizard was effectively excluded from key scientific decision making, which was now in the hands of Churchill’s man Lindeman.
Tizard and Blackett were to have a significant argument with Lindeman in 1942 over strategic bombing. They should have won the argument at the time and were thoroughly vindicated in hindsight, but Lindeman was Churchill’s man and won the day. Lindeman (now Lord Cherwell) had proposed a policy of strategic bombing of “working class” areas of German towns, the objective being to kill or render homeless as many Germans as possible. His calculations were based on data from German air raids on British cities and towns. However his analysis evidently did not allow for a significant proportion of bombs landing essentially on the same spot. Blackett and Tizard independently analyzed the data and concluded that Lindeman’s estimates of housing destruction were 6 and 5 times too high, respectively. A survey of bombing after the war revealed that Lindeman’s estimate had been 10 times too high. Lindeman, obsessed by the predicted efficacy of this course, had his way by virtue of his association with Churchill. The policy of massive strategic bombing of German cities was ultimately adopted at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 as a joint US-British policy.
Lindeman’s incorrect judgement in relation to strategic bombing was compounded by his conservative attitude to the introduction of “Window”, a procedure whereby metallized paper strips were dropped from aircraft and interfered with accurate analysis of radar signals. It was estimated that interference with radar-controlled and radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns would have saved 35% of aircraft being shot down over Occupied Europe. Lindeman felt that “Windows” could interfere with British night fighter operations and was successful in delaying its introduction for about 1 year. It was estimated that use of “Window” in April to Mid-July 1943 would have saved 230 Allied bombers but only 16 German bombers would have been saved if the Germans had applied this device.
The cost of the Strategic Bombing campaign was analyzed after the war. 500,000 German civilians were killed at the cost of 160,000 dead Allied airmen. However the objective of the campaign, to demoralize the industrial work-force and thereby reduce war production, was certainly not achieved. German war production kept rising steadily until it reached a peak in August 1944 when Allied forces were well into France and Poland and it was clear that Germany itself would shortly face invasion from both the west and the east. C.P. Snow (1961) quotes Blackett’s assertion that with a more intelligent use of air power for military targets in Germany, in other war zones and in the Battle of the Atlantic the war would have ended a half a year or a year earlier. In addition to the massive air losses, the Allies suffered major shipping losses for want of sufficient air protection.
In the middle of 1943 naval analysts determined that there was a deficiency of 800 aircraft for anti-submarine protection of merchant shipping convoys. Nevertheless the Air Ministry won out in the continuing massive commitment to bombing of Germany. The losses could be counted not only in men and ships but in the cargoes vital for the war effort. C.P. Snow (1961) quotes the judgement of the Naval historian that in 1943 the Allies came close to defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic through the major deficiency in aircraft for convoy protection, a view shared by others. 24 The losses of shipping had a major impact on the crisis that was developing in India.
The shipping crisis and famine in India
At the Casablanca Conference between Churchill and Roosevelt in January 1943, the decision was made in relation to the joint strategic bombing offensive against Germany with the continuing consequences outline above. Shipping losses and the shipping requirements for the North African campaign and the supply of Britain led Roosevelt to promise the transfer of some shipping from the Pacific. During 1942 the needs of the North African campaign and the armament and food needs of Britain had steadily eroded ship sailings in the Indian Ocean. In January 1943 Indian Ocean shipping was cut by about one half. This edict from Churchill cut sailings to the Indian Ocean in the first half of 1943 to 40 ships a month, about 40% of the level obtaining in the first half of 1942. This restriction had a compounding effect since it also reduced the intra-Indian Ocean “cross route” shipping. An eventual horrendous result of this situation, as perceived by Taylor (1965), was mass-starvation in India:
“A million and a half Indians died of starvation for the sake of a white man’s quarrel in North Africa.”
In the first half of 1943 major shortages of food became apparent in Ceylon (labourers were leaving rubber plantations to seek food), East Africa (where labour involved in naval support and agricultural production was in danger), Southern Rhodesia, Mauritius and the Seychelles. Severely compounding this problem had been the promise of 150,000 tons of grain to Turkey made at the Casablanca Conference. (Even though Turkey was a “neutral” country it occupied a very strategic position between the Nazis and Middle East oil). By the middle of 1943 there was severe famine in Bengal and there were also severe shortages in Rajasthan and South India. It is useful to consider estimates of the food needs and to what extent they were actually met.
The population of India at that time was about 400 million and total grain production was 50 to 70 million tons annually. The population was growing at a rate of about 5% per year and there was a requirement of net imports of about 1-2 million tons of grain per annum to make up for deficiencies. The loss of rice from Burma (occupied by the Japanese) and the decrease in shipping (for the reasons outlined above) resulted in a major decrease in net imports of grain into India at this time. The decrease in the Bengal rice crop in the winter of 1942/43 was estimated in hindsight by the post-war Famine Inquiry Commission to have been about 700,000 tons (the normal annual Bengal total being about 9 million tons in those years). In December 1942 the Secretary of State for India estimated the need for delivery of 600,000 tons of grain to India by April 1943. It is useful to reiterate the key points made earlier deriving from the incisive analyses of Sen (1989) and of Greenough (1982): while ultimately there is an absolute need for a particular amount of food over a given period, at any point in time people need to be able to obtain food at a socially feasible price. As we have seen in Chapter 14, a variety of factors (including modest decreases in crop yield, the massive decrease in net food imports and provincial food control autonomy) resulted in uncertainty and fatal food price rises in Bengal. According to the figures of Ghosh (1944), while the net import of all food grains into India by sea in 1939-40 was 2.2 million tons, by the 1942/43 this had become a net export of 0.4 million tons. It should be noted that Ghosh (1944) and Behrens (1955) differ slightly in terms of the amount of grain imported into India in this period, the estimates being 0.02 or at least 0.06 million tons, respectively. These estimates are 2 orders of magnitude lower than the estimated annual import requirement of 1-2 million tons.
The analysis of Behrens (1955) of the role of war-time shipping shortages on the Bengal famine concludes that “the North African campaign doomed almost irrevocably to starvation any deficit area in India where the harvest failed”, a view with which Taylor (1965) concurs. 25
Churchill and the resumption of grain shipments to India
We have seen in Chapter 14 the urgency and persistence with which Wavell pleaded with the British Government for food for India after he took up his appointment as Viceroy of India in October 1943. Churchill repeatedly opposed food for India, his priorities being the North African campaign (legitimate up to a point), the promised Turks (not our allies but having to be kept neutral) and ultimately the famine-wracked Greeks when they were liberated (and fell to civil war, the Allies supporting the “right” against the unequivocally anti-Nazi “left”). Churchill opposed the Canadian offer to ship grain to India and specifically blocked the provision of 10,000 tons of grain offered by Prime Minister King of Canada. The offer of 100,000 tons of rice from Burma made by the collaborationist head of the Indian National Army, Subhas Chandra Bose, was totally ignored. 26 We will recall R.G. Casey’s intelligence at this time of the Argentinians using 2 million tons of surplus wheat in their railway system in lieu of coal. 27
While Churchill rejected Wavell’s urgent and repeated pleading for 1 million tons of grain for India, he did accede to pressure from Wavell to write to Roosevelt at the end of April 1944 requesting American assistance in the actual shipment of the wheat from Australia. However in making this request Churchill qualified it in the most extraordinary terms: “I am no longer justified in not asking for your help.” Jane Austen could hardly have put it better. Not unsurprisingly Churchill’s request, couched in such less than enthusiastic terms, failed to move Roosevelt to a concrete response. Since this is the only substantial written comment made by Churchill that I have found that actually refers to the Bengal famine - Churchill’s genocide - it deserves to be reproduced in full here:
“London, April 29 1944. Prime Minister to President Roosevelt Personal and Top Secret.
1. I am seriously concerned about the food situation in India and its possible reactions on our joint operations. Last year we had a grievous famine in Bengal through which at least 700,000 people died. This year there is a good crop of rice, but we are faced with an acute shortage of wheat, aggravated by unprecedented storms which have inflicted serious damage on the Indian spring crops. India’s shortage cannot be overcome by any possible surplus of rice even if such a surplus could be extracted from the peasants. Our recent losses in the Bombay explosion have accentuated the problem.
2. Wavell is exceedingly anxious about our position and has given me the gravest warnings. His present estimate is that he will require imports of about one million tons this year if he is to hold the situation, and so meet the needs of the United States and British and Indian troops and of the civil population especially in the great cities. I have just heard from Mountbatten that he considers the situation so serious that, unless arrangements are made promptly to import wheat requirements, he will be compelled to release military cargo space of SEAC in favour of wheat and formally advise Stilwell that it will also be necessary for him to arrange to curtail American military demands for this purpose.
3. By cutting down military shipments and other means, I have been able to arrange for 350,000 tons of wheat to be shipped to India from Australia during the first nine months of 1944. This is the shortest haul. I cannot see how to do more.
4. I have had much hesitation in asking you to add to the great assistance you are giving us with shipping but a satisfactory situation in India is of such vital importance to the success of our joint plans against the Japanese that I am impelled to ask you to consider a special allocation of ships to carry wheat from Australia without reducing the assistance you are now providing for us, who are at a positive minimum if war efficiency is to be maintained. We have the wheat in Australia but we lack the ships. I have resisted for some time the Viceroy’s request that I should ask you for your help, but I believe that, with this recent misfortune with the wheat harvest and in the light of Mountbatten’s representations, I am no longer justified in not asking for your help. Wavell is doing all he can by special measures in India. If however he should find it possible to revise his estimates of his needs, I would let you know immediately.” 28
Lord Louis Mountbatten, Commander in Chief of South East Asia Command, attempted assistance by using shipping under his control to get grain to India. Churchill intervened, blocked this avenue and promptly reduced Mountbatten’s available shipping by 10%. Mountbatten continued in his resolve and used 10% of what remained of his shipping resources to convey grain to India. 29
Figures documented by Behrens (1955) of grain shipments to India in 1942-1945 give an idea of the amounts involved and the human implications of the shipments in a biological and social sense. To sharpen the implications of this data, imagine that we are not simply adherents to “all men are created equal” who are considering food for living, feeling, thinking fellow human beings (and, more specifically, for children, the major victims of famine and scarcity). Let us attempt to distance ourselves emotionally to some extent and consider the following figures as applying to an agricultural or industrial “livestock” resource seen from the perspective of an inspector from the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). One supposes that economists would be happy with this approach since historically the Indians were essentially “farmed” by the British colonialists and indeed “farming” was the technical term used to describe the taxing of Bengali farmers under the East India Company.
Behrens’ figures for grain shipments (in tons) for India in 1942-1945 are as follows: 1942 (30,000), 1943 (303,000), 1944 (639,000) and 1945 (871,000). The 1942 shipment involved 2 lots from Australia contracted for at the rate of 15,000 tons per month to supply the Indian Army (the balance of the demand was not shipped that year). 2.4 million men served in the Indian Army during World War 2. This estimate can be “reduced” since not all of these were in the Army at the same time, scores of thousands were in the Mediterranean theatre (250,000 served there), had been captured by the Japanese or had died. Taking the gross Indian annual grain production estimates of about 60 million tons for 400 million people, we see that the average consumption was 0.15 tons per person per year (obviously more for adults and less for children). The annual requirement for about 2 million men in the “reduced” Indian Army was therefore 0.3 million tons. We can arrive at a figure having a similar order of magnitude from the 1942 contracted requirement of 15,000 tons per month i.e. 0.18 million tons for a whole year. If we assume that an Indian Army soldier required 50% more food than the average Indian we would estimate that the annual grain requirement for a 2 million strong Indian Army would be about 0.45 million tons. The average yearly importation in 1942-1945 was 0.46 million tons and thus we can see that the grain actually imported was merely enough to feed the Indian Army. It is interesting to note that Churchill’s letter to Roosevelt quoted earlier indeed specifies US, British and Indian soldiers as well as civilians in the big cities (and therefore directly involved in the war-effort) as the people for whom the urgent food supplies were needed.30
One can perform all kinds of similar numerical exercises, but the fact remains that the grain actually imported into India each year in these dreadful years was sufficient to feed less than 1% of the Indian population at a bare subsistence level. Such was Britain’s reward for India’s major contribution to the war effort that involved 2.4 million serving soldiers and almost complete and comprehensive civil peace. However this “gratitude” on the part of Churchill and his colleagues was to continue after the war. The average market “price” of the 4 million victims can be estimated in various ways but consideration of the annual per capita income of rural Bengalis today provides an estimate of about US$100 per head in today’s money.
Bengal and the Burma Campaign
Bengal and Assam share borders with Burma, the furthest extent of the Japanese advance. The armed insurrection against the British in West Bengal in 1942 was put down with great ferocity. The Indian National Army led by Bose in collaboration with the Japanese was on the frontier with India. Forcing the Japanese back from Burma was crucial for defence of India and for supplying China via the Burma Road to Kunming in Yunnan. Willmott (1989) writes of the critical situation facing the British:
“In April 1942, at a time when two divisions were sent by sea to Rangoon and carrier forces raided Ceylon, a Japanese landing in Bengal could not have been repulsed by the British forces in north-east India, and a British defeat around Calcutta, coming on top of those in Malaya and Burma, would have destroyed the British position throughout the subcontinent.” 31
This situation was complicated by British sensitivities over requisite American involvement in this British Empire theatre. The Americans in turn were conscious of British ambivalence and distasteful colonial impositions. Thus Kitchen (1990) writes:
“American attitudes toward India vividly illustrate this problem [of Allied tensions]. With Gandhi in prison and apparently intent on starving himself to death, and with the appalling famine in Bengal, American anti-colonialists had ample material for their accusations against British imperialism.” 32
The following opinions of the American commander in this theatre, General Stilwell, reflect these tensions:
On British-Chinese interactions: the British couldn’t work with Chinese “because they looked down on them”.
Disgust at swagger sticks: the English officer “is a mess. At least here in Hong Kong. Untidy, grouchy, sloppy, fooling around with canes, a bad example for the men.”
Admiration for English drill sergeants : “[who] for commands, appearance and results beat our average officer 500%.”
On the English commanders: “The more I see of the Limeys, the worse I hate them”; “The bastardly hypocrites do their best to cut our throats on all occasions. The pig fuckers.” 33
On the 43 year-old Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Commander of South East Asia Command : “a fatuous ass”, “childish Louis, publicity crazy”, “piss pot”; “The Glamour Boy is just that. He doesn’t wear well and I begin to wonder if he knows his stuff. Enormous staff, endless walla-walla but damned little fighting.” 34
On the other hand, President Roosevelt felt that “Stilwell obviously hated the Chinese.” The Americans had contempt for the Indians who they referred to as “wogs” and, with other Allied servicemen, enjoyed the pleasures of rest and recuperation in the cities of starving Bengal. This included the violation of destitution- and starvation-driven young girls and mothers surviving on the open market or associated with the Military Labour Corps. The following incident reveals something of such attitudes:
“on the way to Ledo by train some of the men were discovered by a horrified officer to be shooting out the windows at the “wogs” and their cows in the field.” 36
The British evidently shared these attitudes towards the Indians and clearly mistrusted the will of the Indian Army in India to fight for the British Empire. Churchill was keen to dismantle much of the huge Indian Army in India that amounted to about 2 million men:
“There ought to be a continuous reduction in the vast mass of low-grade troops now maintained under arms in India. Nearly two million men are on our pay-lists and ration strength, apart from the British troops in the country and on the frontier.” 37
In the event, Allied forces, notably British and Indians, under the brilliant General Slim, defeated the Japanese in Assam and thence drove them out of Burma, relieving the threat to India and enabling supply of the Chinese campaigns against the Japanese invader.
Famine as a successful strategic weapon
The British decision-making that produced and sustained the man-made Bengal Famine took place over a substantial part of the war years and was deliberate, considered and informed. The magnitude, nature and duration of the Bengal Famine, the resolute and sustained unresponsiveness of the British authorities, the manifold strategic benefits arising from this course and the contempt for Indians from the top to the bottom among the Allies, compel one to the conclusion that the disaster arose from deliberate, considered and informed policy. The reality is that the Bengal Famine happened and that about 4 million people died awful, slow agonizing deaths. A restless, densely populated province bordering the limit of Japanese expansion was contained by the horrendous grip of general starvation. Valuable resources of food, medical supplies and shipping were freed for the primary task of the global defeat of the Axis forces. Provincial autonomy ensured that the strategic problem was contained for a substantial part of the emergency and that the other Indian provinces were suitably pacified under the unspoken threat that there, but for the grace of God and Churchill, might be their fate as well.
Famine, or the threat of famine, has been an effective weapon of pacification and was certainly used by the Germans during World War 2 and by Stalin in the crushing of the Ukraine in 1928-33. 38 In the instance of war-time Bengal - and indeed of India as a whole - huge populations were kept on the edge of survival through deliberate policy extending over 6 years and the outcome was minimal civil disturbance.
There is a further strategic dimension to the British supervision of the Bengal Famine that has direct implications in relation to that other, contemporary Holocaust, the deliberate destruction of the Jews of Europe by the Germans. There was a substantial Muslim majority in Bengal and especially in the eastern half of the province, the region that was closest to the enemy and which suffered the worst privations of the disaster. The British were extraordinarily sensitive to the problem of containing the huge Muslim populations under their control in India and the Middle East. As is described below, a major reason for the refusal of the Allies to allow the Jews of Europe to escape stemmed from an extremely realistic fear of renewed Arab revolt in the Middle East if massive Jewish immigration to Palestine occurred. Seen in that light, any situation involving the need for unrestrained exercise of military force in densely populated, restless and heavily Muslim Bengal would have been extraordinarily dangerous.
India was held through defence of the frontier against the Japanese, the presence of a 2 million strong army, the confinement of political leaders, the arrest of 60,000 other activists and the detention of 14,000 of them, ruthless suppression of disturbances and strategic parsimony in relation to food supplies. War-time Bengal can be seen to have been secured through the quiet, cowardly and utterly evil stratagem of deprivation and consequent mass starvation, just as nearly 2 centuries earlier man-made, devastating famine delivered the crushed Bengali and Bihari survivors into servitude.
Muslim containment and the Jewish Holocaust
Churchill, our bête noir in this account, was nevertheless one of the first major figures to warn of the danger to the Jews of Eastern Europe in a speech made in 1935 in which he predicted that the “odious” treatment of Jews current in Germany would be extended to a general pogrom in the East after conquest by the Germans. 39 While having considerable sympathy with the anti-communist, anti-socialist and economic orientation of the Nazis, Churchill found anti-semitism a sticking point. This position was at variance with that of many of his British Establishment peers and indeed of many others in British society. “Good mannered” anti-semitism surfaces in the literature of the period from the pens of authors such as Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham and H.G. Wells, of which the following extract from H.G. Wells’ Postscript to an Experiment in Autobiography (1936) is a good example:
“And on another occasion about that time we [Wells and his current lover Odette Keun] met the Mathiases and they took us over to lunch with Sir Alfred Mond and Lady Mond at Monte Carlo. Odette was put near Sir Alfred. Two gems of conversation flashed down the table to me. One was Odette saying “When you say “Ve”, Sir Alfred, do you mean “Ve English” or “Ve Jews” ?” Then I lost the thread for a time. Then I heard Sir Alfred, excessively wrath, saying: “In Judaea we would have stoned you - and serve you right!” She had raised that little matter of the Well of Loneliness again [a suppressed novel of female homosexuality by Radclyffe Hall]. It is impossible to dislike a woman who can create such a situation altogether.” 40
Churchill’s sympathy for the Jews may have stemmed in part in a personal sense from his Manchester constituency and friendship with the Rothschilds. Nevertheless the Nazis evidently wanted to do to Eastern Europeans what the British were doing in India. Surely one of the biggest “ifs” in History relates to what would have happened if Churchill and Hitler had struck a deal to carve up the world peacefully before the “phony war” had degenerated into global carnage.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first people to publicly oppose Nazism (in 1929) and were among the first to expose the existence of concentration camps (in 1933). These good people suffered catastrophically under the Nazis and continued to inform the world to the bitter end. An appalling aspect of the extermination of Jews and Gypsies by the Nazis was the failure of the world to accept what was going on. The Jehovah’s Witnesses bore explicit witness every year of the Third Reich, 10,000 of their total of 25,000 adherents in Germany having been incarcerated for at least some time and 2,000 having been sent to concentration camps. 41 They were not listened to and indeed the formerly pro-Fascist conservative government of Australia made them an illegal organization in 1941 (a determination that was struck out by the Australian High Court in 1943). 42 Finally on December 17 1942 Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden, in the name of 11 Allied governments, informed a shocked House of Commons of their receipt of:
“numerous reports from Europe that the German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended the elementary rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler’s oft-repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe. The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.” 43
The Balfour Declaration of November 2 1917 announced that the British Government supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people ... it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. The impact of this short statement, released in the form of a letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, has been so profound that it is reproduced below in full:
“Foreign Office. November 2nd 1917.
Dear Lord Rothschild,
I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Zionist aspirations which have been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation. Yours, Balfour.” 44
Massive Jewish immigration to Palestine and massive alienation of Arab lands had finally led to the communal violence of the Arab revolt in the mid-1930s. This in turn led to the formation of the Jewish Haganah and the Jewish Special Night Squads backed by General Wavell and led by the remarkable British military officer Orde Wingate in the period 1936-1939. [Wingate (1903-1944) later led the “Gideon Force” in the liberation of Ethiopia, the daring Chindit expeditions behind Japanese lines in Burma and died in an air crash in Burma in 1944. His unorthodox but highly successful operations are themselves a matter of surprising historiographic differences as to their effectiveness.] 45 The British finally contained the situation by the issue of a White Paper on May 17 1939 that severely constrained land transfer and limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 over the next 5 years, with final cessation unless the Arabs agreed to continuance. A major factor in the issuance of the Chamberlain White Paper was concern over the danger of unrest in the Middle East and among Muslims in India if Jewish immigration was to continue unabated, a danger heightened by the imminence of war. According to the Colonial Secretary Malcolm MacDonald, the British Government had received “unanimous advice” of this kind from military advisers and from its representatives in India and the Middle East. According to Kedourie (1968):
“It is clear that Great Britain embarked on this policy because she considered the cost of supporting the Zionists against the Arabs too high. By 1939 the Arabs were being increasingly wooed and encouraged by the Axis powers, and, as they occupied lands of strategic importance, it was considered that they had to be conciliated; hence the abandonment of partition, to which the Arabs objected, and hence, too, the White Paper.”
A major part of that “strategic importance” stemmed from the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932 and thence in Saudi Arabia in 1933, leading to intense German and American interest in what had previously been a British patch. This “strategic importance” bolstered American and British Establishment anti-Semitism, massive and critical American and British investment in Nazi Germany, genocidal German anti-Semitism and ultimately sealed the fate of 6 million Jews, martyred innocents in “the wrong place at the wrong time”. 46
It is notable that one of the leading Jewish figures of the Empire was a supporter of the Chamberlain White Paper. Sir Isaac Isaacs, a distinguished jurist, was the Governor-General of Australia (1931-1936) and wrote a series of letters to the press in Australia in the war years in which he opposed further substantial Jewish immigration and the notion of Palestine as a National Home for Jews as contrary to principles of international justice. His position created great controversy in the Jewish community in Australia, the more so because of the realization of what was happening to the Jews of Europe.47
The Second World War began on September 1 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and the declaration of war by Britain. It seems likely that the first shots of that conflict by the British were fired on September 2 1939 in Palestine, killing 2 illegal Jewish immigrants attempting to land from a ship off Tel Aviv beach. 48 Enforcement of the White Paper, made more urgent by the need to placate the Arabs and Indian Muslims during the war, was to kill many more ship-borne Jewish refugees and helped seal the fate of millions of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. While the Germans were happy to see Jews leave Europe during the first few years of the war, the British and the Americans were not happy to receive them. Thus in the event 23,000 Jews entered Palestine in 1943-1944 and only 4,700 entered the U.S.A. in 1943. The total number of Jewish refugees making it to Britain, the United States and the British Dominions during the war can be estimated at about 40,000, 70,000 and 4,000, respectively. 49 [My father, John (Janos) Bela Polya, and his brother Michael (Mihaly) had the opportunity and good sense to leave Hungary before the war and thence went to Australia in 1939. Their sister Susie (Zsuzsanna) left for America before the war].
By late 1941 the Germans had already murdered 1,400,000 Jews in Eastern Europe, this process involving Einsatzgruppen murder squads and mass shootings. In 1941 use of mobile gas chambers accelerated the process and from 1942 extermination camps equipped with permanent gas chambers were set up at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblincka, Maidanek and at the Birkenau section of Auschwitz. By the end of the war 6 million (possibly 7 million) Jews and 0.5 million (possibly 1 million) Gypsies had been murdered by the Germans.50
While Churchill was pro-Jewish and anti-Arab, most of his Cabinet colleagues were pro-Arab and anti-Jewish. Anthony Eden was firmly in the latter camp (and indeed many years later had managed to excite great anger in Israel through his pro-Arab position a year before the collusive invasion of Egypt in 1956.) 51 Thus while Churchill argued for arming and training the Jews in Palestine, this was resolutely opposed by the dominant lobby concerned to keep the Arabs and the Indian Muslims on-side. Thus when Chaim Weizmann wrote to Churchill in 1940 offering him 50,000 Jewish soldiers, Churchill declined for fear of an Islamic backlash and General Wavell estimated that he would need a further division to hold down Palestine alone if the Arabs became disaffected. 52
The major lobbyists for saving Jewish refugees in the latter half of the war were Palestine and U.S. Jews. However practical assistance to the Jews of Europe was not forthcoming. Attempts to save the last surviving Jewish community in Europe, that of Hungary, failed. In 1944 Joel Brand negotiated with the Nazis and the Allies for the lives of surviving Hungarian Jews and any surviving regional remnants. The survivors were to go anywhere other than Palestine after release through Turkey. The value placed on 1 million people was 10,000 lorries (for the eastern front only), 2 million bars of soap, 8000 tons of coffee, 200 tons of cocoa and 800 tons of tea (in money terms about 10 pounds per head). [What price then for each of those saved by my martyred grandfather who performed some 50,000 surgical interventions in his abbreviated lifetime? Confident in humanity, he declined offers to remain in America in 1939, returned to his hospital duties in Budapest and was eventually killed in 1944/45. His last words in Polya (1941) The Story of Medical Science: “This is the end of the narrative but not of the story. It will never end as long as humane people inhabit the Earth. The struggle for the life and health of man will only cease with the last man.”] Soviet fears about separate German deals with the Western Allies helped scotch the deal. Churchill rejected the proposal, and after the story leaked, the British Press endorsed his decision. 200,000 out of 700,000 of the Jews of Hungary perished in the Holocaust.53
The Bengal Famine and the Jewish Holocaust occurred at about the same time but at different ends of the earth and involved different perpetrators and victims. They are tragically linked by the strategic imperatives of the British Empire and have common causes in greed, racism, militarism and the denial and unresponsiveness of the world.
Food supplies and the UNRRA
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was set up by an international agreement signed by 44 nations at the White House in Washington on November 9 1943. The first contribution of funds came from the Government of Iceland. The aims of the UNRRA were to:
“Plan, coordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services.”
The United States made immense contributions to the UNRRA that totalled $5.4 billion in the period 1944-1946. This continuing act of immense humanity and generosity is in stark contrast to the callous indifference of Churchill to the sufferings of his 0.4 billion Indian subjects. India was initially not a recipient of benefits although it was clearly in desperate need in the latter half of the War and indeed in the immediately postwar years. Indians and others engaged in considerable lobbying in the US (notably to Eleanor Roosevelt) with the result that in March 1944 a so-called “India clause” was inserted into US legislation that (while not naming India explicitly) permitted India to receive support in the following fashion:
“in so far as funds and facilities permit, any area (except within enemy territory and while occupied by the enemy) important to the military operation of the United Nations which is stricken by famine or disease may be included in the benefits to be made available through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.”
Unfortunately the British did not request such assistance and Churchill rejected Wavell’s suggestion that it should. India received no support from the UNRRA. Indeed the British ensured that India became the 6th largest contributor to the UNRRA funds, providing the equivalent of over $24 million. When India was asked to increase this contribution at the Third Council Meeting in 1947, its representative declined because it was only averting wholesale famine by massive food imports. 54
India was similarly treated differentially after the war in relation to compensation for war-associated damage and the cost of the war to the Indian people. India was a subject dominion of 400 million people which had contributed 2.4 million men to the Army, 250,000 men to the Mediterranean theatre, 100,000 men to the defence of Malaya and Singapore and a similar number to the defence of Assam and the liberation of Burma. India had suffered some bombing damage, scores of thousands of military casualties, scores of thousands of men captured by the enemy and millions of civilian famine deaths (mostly in Bengal and adjoining provinces but also in South India and Rajasthan). Yet India received less in compensation than Canada and only about twice the amount given to New Zealand plus Australia. 55
Food shortages continued after the War. Thus a letter from Churchill’s successor, the Labor Prime Minister Attlee, to Ben Chifley, Prime Minister of Australia, detailed grave concerns about food shortages in India, the need for food supplies from Australia and the dangers of famine-induced disorders in India:
“.... India must thus have an import of at least two million tons of rice, wheat or millet, during 1946, if famine of a dimension and intensity greater than the Bengal famine of 1943 (is) to be avoided. This is an increase of 500,000 tons on their earlier request and I should not be surprised if in point of fact they do not need more. In the circumstances of political crisis which are approaching, a famine in India would be bound to lead to disorders and would be likely to remove the last hope of an orderly solution of the Indian problem ... As regards the use of wheat for feed, I am very grateful for the action you have taken to withhold it from dairy stock. As regards poultry and pigs, while in the new circumstances we shall be more than ever dependent on Australia for our supplies of bacon and eggs, and while we should very much regret any reduction in them, we feel that so long as human beings are exposed to famine and starvation as a result of the present wheat shortage, human needs must have a priority.” 56 [We will see from Chapter 16 that humanity in general will not be eating meat by the end of the 21st Century.]
Churchill’s final legacy to India
Churchill had a steadfast position over several decades of opposing constitutional reform in India, spoke with contempt of Gandhi and the other Indian leaders, opposed their release from prison and only permitted token Indian participation in the essential war-time government of India. The Stafford Cripps mission to involve the Indian leadership in the war effort in return for constitutional reforms was stymied by Churchill who expressed concern about any deals a Congress-based national government of India might concoct with the Japanese. The Cripps mission failed but ultimately postwar Britain had to leave India and Churchill’s resolute imperialism was brought to nought. 57 However one aspect of Churchill’s policies towards India did survive to cause immense post-war carnage and suffering and indeed exists to this very day with the added threat of nuclear devastation. Churchill was dead opposed to wartime suggestions of increasing amity between the Muslims and Hindus, maintaining that the Muslim-Hindu antipathy was crucial to maintaining British rule in India. That ugly antipathy, the converse of the humane course advocated by wise and good men such as Rabindranath Tagore and Gandhi, led to Partition and its attendant horrors, the India-Pakistan stand-off that continues to this day and the barely suppressed fanatical communalism (in utter contradiction of the humane wisdom of Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore) that is a growing menace in India. 58
The re-writing of history
It is now useful to pick up the historiographical thread of our disquisition and pose the question: to what extent has Churchill’s involvement in the Bengal Famine of 1943-1944 been Austenized by historians? We can apply the same sort of analysis that we have applied to the other matters raised in this book. As in the matters of Jane Austen’s connections, the Bengal Famine of 1769-1770 and the Bengal Famine of 1943-1944, our survey is made much easier by the paucity of data. The sources to be considered are of various kinds including writings of Churchill himself, biographies of Churchill, histories of the Second World War and specific books dealing with the Bengal Famine that we considered in Chapter 14.
Churchill’s writing and the Bengal Famine
It is utterly extraordinary that someone can dispose of 4 million people in relatively recent times without just about anybody noticing including the perpetrator himself. As Henry Tilney says in Northanger Abbey: “Does our education prepare ourselves for such atrocities? [NO] Do our laws connive at them? [YES] Could they be perpetrated in a country like this, where social and literary discourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? [YES]. 59
Churchill’s 6-volume History of the Second World War is a great tour de force by the “man on the spot” which resulted in the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Churchill in 1953. Astonishingly there is not a word about the Bengal Famine in this mammoth work. The closest we get to a reference to a major disaster in India is a rather inexplicit letter from Viceroy Linlithgow to Churchill (dated August 20 1942) referring to some major problem in India that will hopefully be overcome:
“I am much encouraged by your kind message. We are confronted by an awkward situation, and I am by no means confident that we have yet seen the worst. But I have good hope that we may clear up position before either Jap or German is well placed to put direct pressure on us.” We can reasonably infer that the reference is to the civil disturbances that were firmly put down in August 1942. 60
In this context it is appropriate to recall the extraordinary assertion of Churchill (1952) in relation to the war effort:
“No great portion of the world population was so effectively protected from the horrors and perils of the World War as were the people of Hindustan. They were carried through the struggle on the shoulders of our small Island.” 61
Churchill certainly knew about the Bengal Famine as we have seen from his detailed account given to Roosevelt that contains his “700,000” estimate of the casualties. His omission of this immense event from The History of the Second World War demands some explanation beyond his contempt and hatred for Indians expressed in his notorious assertion: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” 62 The absence of the Bengal Famine from Churchill’s immense body of “public” writings surely represents a powerful statement of guilt.
Notwithstanding Churchill’s dismissal of India’s contribution and sacrifice, the factual record has it that 2.4 million Indians served in the war-time army, about 15,000 died in combat and scores of thousands perished as prisoners of the Japanese. 63 The reward of India was deliberately imposed, massive civilian privation of which the death of some 4 million Bengalis was the most appalling result. Of the total civilian plus military war-caused deaths in the British Empire in World War 2, over 90% were famine victims in Bengal.
It is notable in this context that about 1.4 million Jews saw active service in the Allied forces during World War 2 with deaths in combat of at least 170,000. The breakdown by country (with deaths in combat in parentheses) is as follows: USA 555,000 (11,000), Palestine 26,000 (500), Canada 16,550 (386), South Africa 10,000 (283), Australia plus New Zealand 4,222 (150), USSR 500,000 (120,000), Poland 150,000 (33,000), UK 60,000 (1,150), France 80,000, Yugoslavia 5,000, Greece 5,000 and Belgium 500. 64 Their reward was the almost total failure of the world to respond to the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews.
The record of the historians
Churchill historians: Of a sample of 25 historical works specifically dealing with Winston Churchill in only 2 is mention made of the Bengal Famine, namely in Jog (1944) and in the analysis of S. Gopal in the collection of essays edited by Blake and Louis (1994). The remaining 23 works manage to totally ignore this horrendous disaster for which Churchill must bear a substantial responsibility. 65 Given this immense capacity for Austenizing, one can understand how the war-time treason of Edward Duke of Windsor has been kept out of public perception until very recently.66
The record of the World War II historians: Historians of World War II or of the Twentieth Century in general do a little better than the Churchill historians when it comes to mentioning the Bengal Famine. Of a selection of 38 histories dealing specifically with World War II, only 9 mention this major event, namely Behrens (1955), Calvocoressi et al. (1972), Encyclopaedia Britannica (1961), Dear & Foot (1995), Kitchen (1990), Renouvin (1969), Romanus & Sunderland (1956), Taylor (1965) and Weinberg (1994).67
Histories dealing with the 20th century: Of a sample of 30 more general histories dealing with Twentieth Century history, only 8 mention the Bengal Famine, namely Cook (1991), Embree (1988), Encyclopaedia Brittanica (1961), Grun (1975), Howat & Taylor (1973), Rosenberger & Tobin (1945) [Keesing’s Contemporary Archives (1943-1945)], Spear (1968), Taylor (1965) and Trager (1979) .68
While denial of the Jewish Holocaust is an offence in both France and Germany (attracting a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison in the latter country), 69 denial (or to be more exact, non-reportage) of the World War 2 Bengal Famine is evidently de rigeur for historians in the English- speaking world. Further, the closer one gets to the heart of the matter, namely to the conduct of the Second World War and thence the conduct of Churchill, the amnesia becomes progressively more severe. Remembering that famine had not actually been declared in the Bengal Famine of 1943-1944 (ostensibly for financial and bureaucratic reasons), 70 the commentary of Edwardes (1967) is an astonishing testament to the Austenizing of this part of British history:
“Although famines continued - the last under British rule was that of Bengal in 1943 - the Famine Code remains the earliest and, despite all qualifications, one of the greatest examples of the acceptance by the state of responsibility for the welfare of those it rules.” 71
In Chapters 10 and 14 we have already seen the deficiencies of The Cambridge History of India in relation to reporting the Bengal Famines of both 1769-1770 and of 1943-1944, this deficiency being reversed in the various volumes of The New Cambridge History of India. 72 We find a similar remarkable divergence between the first and second editions of The New Cambridge Modern History Volume XII. In the first edition, The Era of Violence, Lewis (1964), in dealing with the Middle East, ignores the 1939 White Paper that slammed the door on millions of European Jews who would subsequently die in the Holocaust. In the second edition, The Shifting Balance of World Forces 1898-1945, Kedourie (1968) pin-points the basis for this crucial change in policy. In the first edition, Phillips (1964), in dealing with India, fails to notice the Bengal Famine of 1943-44, whereas in the second edition, Spear (1968) does deal with this major event of the War and indeed of human history. 73
From this sad catalogue of deficient historiography we will turn to the “business end” of our disquisition: the scientific prediction of environmental change and the prospect of major changes in the food/population balance of the world. The ultimate problem perceived by Malthus (1798) 74 of population outrunning food supply is likely to become a reality in the next half century as described in Chapter 16. The steadfast failure of a remorselessly Austenizing world to accept the realities of the past does not auger well for a timely and humane global response to the coming crisis that is set to consume hundreds of millions of men, women and children.
A number of additional sources identified variously report the Bengal Famine 75 or fail to report this horrendous, man-made, British war-time atrocity. 76