Churchill’s Headmaster: The ‘Sadist’ who Nearly Saved the British Empire
By Edward Dutton
Melbourne: Manticore Press, 2019
There will never be enough men of outstanding virtue to satisfy the human need for heroes, and one fertile source of the counterfeits necessary to make up the difference, as Ed Dutton points out, is wartime leaders:
There is a tendency to make sense of a devastated world by hero-worshipping the leader and also by finding some means of justifying all of the suffering, meaning that it was essential that the prosecutor of the war was beyond reproach. It has been found that the more people invest in something, the more they need to convince themselves that they have done the right thing. This is why people can react in such an irrational way if it is demonstrated to them that someone whom they admire — who is central, to some degree, to the way in which they structure the world — is simply not who they thought they were. They cannot cope with the fact that they have been duped.
In my youth, Winston Churchill regularly alternated with Jesus Christ as winner of an annual poll concerning the ‘greatest man who ever lived.’ We had a bust of him in our home. He is England’s national hero, and as Ed Dutton writes, many of the countless biographies of him ‘are nothing more than hagiographies that rehash and exaggerate the adulation for him in earlier hagiographies.’
Yet for those willing to listen, it is not hard to collect damning evidence against Churchill. As First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, he was in charge of the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, which led to 140,000 unnecessary allied deaths. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, he kept Britain on the Gold Standard, making industry uncompetitive and prolonging the Depression. Most seriously, he did not ‘stand up to Nazi aggression’ in 1940 as the usual story goes, but did all he could to force Hitler into a war with Britain that Hitler wished to avoid. It was Churchill who ordered the bombing of nonmilitary targets in Germany—including Dresden—merely to kill as many German civilians as possible and demoralize the survivors. At war’s end, he agreed not only to hand Eastern Europe over to Stalin but also to the forcible repatriation of all Soviet citizens who managed to escape to the West: the shameful episode known as ‘Operation Keelhaul.’
Much of Churchill’s voluminous writing amounted to attempts to justify or downplay his mistakes, something he acknowledged himself with the famous quip: ‘History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.’ His personal shortcomings were also considerable, including alcoholism, chronic gambling and a constant tendency to live beyond his means and scrounge off others. Dutton writes of Churchill as having
a fantastic sense of entitlement, dishonesty, untrustworthiness, and not caring about the suffering of others. [He] took his country into an avoidable war, bankrupted it, and so lost that country its Empire and left it too exhausted to defend itself. This commenced the process of mass immigration from developing countries which … led to many difficulties, such as rising distrust, Islamic terrorism, and the destruction of other traditions vital to holding the country together.
In the present work, Dutton focuses on one relatively minor biographical myth about Churchill, but the result is a useful illustration of how such myths begin, spread, and are gradually embellished until they entirely overwhelm the historical reality. Read more