The visage of a bulldog and the psychological profile of a sociopath. This has been my impression of Winston Churchill since the early 1970s. A Turkish friend of mine whose father worked in the Turkish consulate in Frankfurt am Main had a picture of Winston on his wall. For entertainment, we used it as a dartboard while drinking arak. It was through that friend where my opinion of Churchill was formed. Tariq Ali’s newest book provides almost four hundred pages of lively and detailed text verifying the nature of Churchill’s mind I described to open this review. One look at a photograph should verify the first part of that statement.
Ali’s book, titled Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, is both a biography of one of humanity’s greatest criminals and a history of that criminal’s times. Like most humans with power both granted to them and taken by them, Churchill’s personal biography is tied up in the story of the times he lived in. As he rightly should, Ali spends most of his narrative detailing and discussing Churchill’s military, political and diplomatic actions as a member of the British Empire’s ruling class. In this discussion, Churchill’s racism and misanthropy is revealed. Obviously, those aspects of his personality informed his actions as a military man and politician. In addition, they informed the nature of Britain’s ruling elites as surely as their arrogance and sense of genetic superiority informed Churchill’s estimation of himself.
The litany of crimes here is long. Churchill seems to have never missed an opportunity to stroke his ego. If he could do so while attacking a perceived enemy of the Empire—whether that enemy was a miner in Britain’s pits, an Irish Republican, a citizen of India, a Soviet revolutionary or another of the Empire’s enemies—so much the better. In Ali’s telling, it becomes clear that Churchill preferred fascism to any kind of communism and considered those who opposed his dear and glorious empire to be his personal enemies. All that said, this is a political biography above all else. Churchill’s particular psychopathies underlie the narrative but are not the basis of it. Likewise, his personal life is mentioned primarily in terms of his political actions. In a manner similar to others whose political personas are rightly or wrongly larger than life, Churchill comes across as a man whose politics were the foundation of his person and whose person defined his politics; politics of arrogance and prejudice that they were.
As one reads Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes, it becomes clear that part of the author’s intention is to destroy the myth of Churchill; to take the cigar out of his ugly mouth and smash it in his face. In destroying that myth, Ali is simultaneously destroying the myth of a benevolent empire. Indeed, the litany of crimes against humanity revealed in this book should make it clear that the British Empire was nothing of the sort. From Ireland to India, South Africa to China, the essence of London’s kingdom was force—brutal and without remorse. Winston Churchill championed this methodology and usually found fault with those preferring a more humane approach, especially if the targets of the Empire’s wrath were dark-skinned.
Although Churchill saw himself as a statesman and military genius, that perception was not shared by all of his compatriots. Ali details several instances where Churchill’s supposed military prowess led soldiers of the Empire to their deaths. Despite resistance to his egotistical interventions in governmental and military matters by other members of his circle, Churchill blundered on, rejecting their criticisms and writing books that read like advertising copy for the man known familiarly as Winnie. In other words, his prolific writing about himself was essential to creating the myth he became to those who still long for the days when the sun never set on the British Empire. Like Washington’s over-hyped mass-murdering statesman Henry Kissinger, Winston Churchill and his sycophants have been able to divert attention away from the true results of his deeds in favor of an imperial mythology that raises him far above the disturbing reality that is his actual history. Ali’s text brings Winston back to earth, closer to the hell where his soul surely resides.
The publication of this book will hopefully anger the mainstream British media and, in doing so, begin a reevaluation of the myths and lies Britain’s ruling class perpetuates. Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes is a re-evaluation that is needed no matter what time in history it is, but seems even more essential today as London arms the Kyiv military in the Russia-Ukraine war and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee nears. Like most imperial nations, Britain’s population could use some honest, harsh truth to temper the self-congratulatory puffery of its celebrations. This book provides the perfect provocation.