By Mason Quah
THE WINSTON Churchill statue debate has reopened wider discussions on the morality of British Imperialism.
Churchill, like many leaders of the colonial empire, held strong beliefs in the racial supremacy of the British people that cannot be disentangled from how they approached the administration of the empire.
The earliest milestone in Winston’s career was his involvement as war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. He wrote on the need for the Pashtun tribes Afghanistan to “recognise the superiority of race”.
British colonialism in the region was not simply an effort to plant flags and build public infrastructure for the locals. It was a deliberate act of eradication, documented glowingly by the war correspondent, who wanted the area “purged from the pernicious vermin that infest them”.
Violence was not simply a necessary tool to achieve the Empire’s goals but seen as the goal itself.
Churchill and others like him had nothing but contempt for the meddling of those who aspired to achieve the Empire’s goals through political channels, even if it were more effective.
In one especially rambling article, Churchill describes such a politician: “Just when we were looking forward to having a splendid fight and all the guns were loaded and everyone keyed up, this Major Deane (and why was he a major anyhow? So we said in truth being nothing better than an ordinary politician) would come along and put a stop to it all.”
Such attitudes were not exclusive to Afghanistan, nor to Winston Churchill. The Goal of the British Empire was not the advancement of the British State but the advancement of the British Race.
This is why the Bengal Famine was neglected in favour of stockpiling food reserves in Europe.
This is why the Irish Potato Famine was allowed to happen with uninterrupted exports to the rest of the British Isles. The argument used against the Irish was the same used against the Indians: “They breed like rabbits”.
A generous interpretation of this logic will call it Malthusian, easily debunked by anyone versed in agricultural science. A more realistic interpretation recognises that this is the language of eugenicists, the racial science used by the Nazis to justify the supremacy of Aryan people.
The “Greatest Briton of all Time” was not unfamiliar or hostile towards eugenics, holding the position of honorary vice president to the British Eugenics Society.
Eugenic science not only advocated for the supremacy of the race, but sought ways to maintain that supposed supremacy.
This was the belief behind the British movement for government backed sterilisation of the disabled and mentally ill. In a letter excluded from his official biography, Churchill wrote as Home Secretary on the belief that the British race would be endangered if the government did not step in to control breeding,
“The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the Feeble Minded and insane classes, coupled as it is with a steady restriction among the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks, constitutes a national and race danger which it is impossible to engage.”
This type of Social Darwinist belief has emerged at semi-regular intervals, targeting various groups that were seen as being The Other.
Whether the culprit is portrayed to be race mixing, homosexuality, poverty, mental illness, or physical disabilities none of the prophesied cataclysms have occurred. The science is unfounded and was recognised to be so by Churchill’s own advisers.
When Churchill’s advocated for the sterilisation and imprisonment of the “feeble minded”, his proposal and the Indiana case study on which it was based (the state law at the time allowing for the “sterilisation of degenerates”) was torn apart by Medical Advisor and criminologist Horatio Donkin.
Responding to Churchill he explained that “no one who tries to propagate doctrine or stimulate action in the matter of sterilisation has informed his or herself of the elementary grammar of heredity.” Modern science continues to agree with Donkin’s assessment.
The concept of Empire cannot be disentangled from Social Darwinism. It requires a belief not only that certain groups are innately better, but that any such disparity is just and moral.
This belief, when held, will be used as a lens for validating racism, justifying social inequality, and downplaying the harm of imperialism. Churchill was simply the last and greatest in a long line of British Leaders to hold such positions openly rather than tacitly.
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