24 April 2004  
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Churchill for dummies
Winston S. Churchill is the hero of George W. Bush and the neocons. But, says Michael Lind, they know very little about the great wartime leader. If they did, they’d be horrified Soon after the installation by the Republican-majority Supreme Court of George the Second of the House of Bush, the American people learned that they had a new Founding Father: Winston Churchill. President George W. Bush let it be known that he had placed a bust of the British statesman in the White House Oval Office he had inherited from his dad. After the attack on the World Trade Center, the President’s speeches became self-consciously Churchillian. Earlier this year, marking the opening of a Churchill exhibition at the Library of Congress, Bush observed that Churchill was not just ‘the rallying voice of the second world war’ but also ‘a prophet of the Cold War’.

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Like his grand strategy, with its combination of unilateral American world domination with nearly indiscriminate support for Israel’s Ariel Sharon, the cult of Churchill has been adopted by Bush from American neoconservatives. Churchill looms far larger in the mythology of neoconservatives than in the minds of mainstream Americans, who think of him as the brave and witty ally of President Franklin Roosevelt in the war against Hitler.

The Weekly Standard, the neoconservative magazine funded by Rupert Murdoch and edited by William Kristol, has become the centre of the neocon Churchill cult. A Nexus search of the Weekly Standard of the past five years alone reveals 122 articles that mention Churchill. Typical is an essay of 4 March 1999 entitled ‘How Winston Churchill Can Save Us — Again’ by one Larry Arn, a frequent contributor who is an academic adviser to something called the International Churchill Society.

On 10 January 2000, the Weekly Standard declared that Winston Churchill was ‘Man of the Century’. This view is the consensus among the neocons. Charles Krauthammer, the Canadian émigré pundit, has written, ‘After having single-handedly saved Western civilisation from Nazi barbarism — Churchill was, of course, not sufficient in bringing victory, but he was uniquely necessary — he then immediately rose to warn prophetically against its sister barbarism, Soviet communism.’ Krauthammer’s fellow Canadian émigré, David Frum, denounced Bill Clinton for declaring that Franklin Roosevelt was the ‘Man of the Century’. According to Frum, who was still a subject of Her Majesty when he was hired as a speechwriter by George W. Bush’s White House, ‘FDR has to be found wanting. Of the three great killers of this century, one (Mao) was aided by Communist sympathisers within the Roosevelt administration ...Another (Stalin) benefited from Roosevelt’s almost wilful naiveté about the Soviet Union ...Roosevelt’s record even on the third killer, Hitler, is spotty. Roosevelt recognised Hitler’s danger early, but he hesitated to jeopardise his hopes for an unprecedented third term by riling isolationist opinion...’. Reading Krauthammer and Frum, you have to wonder whether Winston Churchill might not have ‘single-handedly’ won the second world war and saved civilisation even sooner, if he had not been handicapped by his alliance with the United States.

Only a Canadian like Frum could claim that FDR was an appeaser, compared with Churchill. It was Churchill who, in 1937, wrote in his book Great Contemporaries, ‘One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.’ Churchill’s posthumous reputation as an uncompromising anti-Soviet hardliner is another neocon myth. True, Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech of 1946 was seen as too strident by the Truman administration and much of the American public. But during the war it was Churchill, not FDR, who haggled with Stalin over ‘percentages’ of postwar influence in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. And in the mid-Fifties Churchill thought that Eisenhower was too hard on the Soviets and kept pushing the naive idea that a big-power summit could end the Cold War. The neocons never quote Churchill’s statement of 1954, ‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’ The neocon goal of promoting democracy worldwide was shared by FDR and Woodrow Wilson, but not by the Tory Prime Minister who called Gandhi a ‘fakir’ and announced that he would not preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.

The peculiar neocon cult of Churchill has several sources. One is the veneration by the neocons of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish émigré philosopher who taught at the University of Chicago and indoctrinated many leading neocon thinkers, including the late Allan Bloom. In declaring Churchill the ‘Man of the Century’, the Weekly Standard piously reprinted remarks that Strauss made at the time of Churchill’s death in 1965. Strauss’s Churchill was Hitler’s nemesis: ‘The contrast between the indomitable and magnanimous statesman and the insane tyrant — this spectacle in its clear simplicity was one of the greatest lessons which men can learn, at any time.’

Straussians like Leon Kass, the president of Bush’s bioethics panel, are opposed not only to reproductive cloning, but also to therapeutic cloning, embryonic stem-cell research and the well established practice of in vitro fertilisation. In an essay entitled ‘Can There Be Another Winston Churchill?’, published in 1981, the Straussian scholar Harry V. Jaffa claimed that Churchill would have opposed modern biotechnology: ‘Churchill’s most formative years were spent during the heyday of what we might call the evolutionary enlightenment. This was the period when the progress of Science, and in particular biological Science, gave rise to widespread hopes that the human species itself might deliberately be evolved ...The fittest might be planned in laboratories, and the test of their fitness would be their faculty for the harmonious and simultaneous enjoyment of all the objects of their desires.’ Churchill, Jaffa tells us, ‘implied that this state of perfect freedom, were it possible, would be a state of perfect misery’.

Jaffa doesn’t quote Churchill on this subject — possibly because, contrary to his implication, Churchill, unlike today’s American neocons, was an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics, who told Asquith in 1910, ‘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 exaggerate ... I feel that the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.’ Hitler’s ultimately genocidal programme of ‘racial hygiene’ began with the kind of compulsory sterilisation of ‘the feeble-minded and insane classes’ that Churchill urged on the British government (and which was carried out in many states in the US in the early 20th century).

Two other factors influencing neocon Churchill mania are ‘the Anglosphere’ and Israel. As Jeet Heer pointed out in the National Post of Canada on 29 March 2003, ‘Today’s advocates of empire share one surprising trait: very few of them were born in the United States. [Dinesh] D’Souza was born in India, and [Paul] Johnson in Britain — where he still lives. [Mark] Steyn, [Charles] Krauthammer and [Michael] Ignatieff all hail from Canada ...’ Heer quotes Max Boot, a Russian-born neocon: ‘I think there’s more openness among children of the British Empire to the benefits of imperialism.’ Like Churchill, whose mother was American and who chronicled the history of the English-speaking peoples, the neocons and allied British conservatives like Conrad Black and John O’Sullivan, now editor of the Washington-based journal the National Interest, are enthusiastic about the idea that the world should be led by the ‘Anglosphere’. Outside these circles, however, the idea of an English-speaking union is ignored today as in the past by most Americans, who don’t see why Australia’s south-east Asian borders should be America’s.

As for the Israeli connection — a familiar feature of neocon ideology — Churchill, a lifelong supporter of Zionism, was a social Darwinist who preferred Jews to Arabs. On one occasion he wrote of the legitimacy of displacing ‘the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and taken their place.’ Churchill’s Zionism coexisted with a fear that the Jews, deprived of a homeland, might make trouble for the world. In an essay that he wrote for the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920 entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’, which the neocons never quote, Churchill ranted that Jews were behind world revolutions everywhere: ‘This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky [Russia], Bela Kun [Hungary], Rosa Luxemburg [Germany], and Emma Goldman [the United States] ... this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing.’ If Jews, whom Churchill described as denizens of ‘the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America’, could have their homeland, perhaps they would not — to use Churchill’s words — conspire ‘for the overthrow of civilisation’.

Most American neocons know only the sanitised version of Churchill as a philo-semitic Zionist fellow traveller presented by Martin Gilbert. In an essay entitled ‘Israel at 50’, Alan Bock wrote, ‘Sir Martin Gilbert, the incredibly prolific British historian (and secular Jew, as he described himself to me), best known for his multi-volume treatment of the life and times of Winston Churchill, puts it this way in his new book, Israel: A History: “Israel is not only a nation that for the first three decades of its existence was surrounded by sworn enemies, but one that, following a victorious war in 1967, has had to share part of its own land with another people.”’ According to Churchill hagiographer Gilbert, then, even before 1967 the West Bank and Gaza were part of Israel’s ‘own land’.

While most Americans think of Churchill as the foe of the Nazis, many right-wing Jews in the United States and Israel revere him for his role in promoting European-Jewish colonisation of Palestine at the expense of the Arabs. When he was colonial secretary in the early 1920s, Churchill hived off Jordan from the rest of the Palestinian mandate. For years, American neocons, disseminating the propaganda of the Israeli Right, have claimed that Jordan or the ‘Trans-Jordan’ is, or should be, the only ‘Palestinian’ state. This Likud party propaganda line is echoed by non-Jewish neocons including William Bennett, who wrote in an essay entitled ‘Standing with Israel’, ‘There is no reason Jews should not be able to live in the West Bank.’ The fact that the UN partition of Palestine in 1947–48 superseded all previous British decisions is ignored by radical Jewish and Christian Zionists in the US and Israel.

In a speech to the House of Commons on 26 January 1949, Churchill repeated the Israeli lie that the Palestinians had voluntarily fled the country: ‘All this Arab population fled in terror to behind the advancing forces of their own religion.’ The Israeli historian Benny Morris, on the basis of Israeli archives, has shown how the Israeli government carried out a premeditated policy of deliberate ethnic cleansing during the war. When he turned 80 in 1954, the state of Israel sent Churchill a floral arrangement in the shape of a cigar.

It should be no surprise, then, that the neocon cult of Churchill flourishes in Israel as well as in the US. Shortly before he was appointed as senior director for Near Eastern and North African affairs at the National Security Council — a post that gave him responsibility for Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Iran — Elliott Abrams gave a speech comparing Ariel Sharon to Winston Churchill. ‘Sharon’s no Churchill,’ complained Don Feder, another neoconservative, on 15 March 2002. ‘Ariel Sharon has a split personality. He wants to be both Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. His unilateral concessions, his unwillingness to treat Zion’s fight for survival as the war it is and the weakness he exhibits to a remorseless foe have his country on the edge of extinction.’ Yes, that’s right — Israel, in 2002, according to this typical American neocon, was on the edge of extinction! Fortunately, according to Feder, there was a Churchill in Israel: ‘Bibi [Netanyahu] waits in the wings....’ Whether or not Sharon or Netanyahu are Churchill, Yasser Arafat and any enemy of the state of Israel is Hitler — on that all neocons can agree.

The obsession of the neocons with Israel’s regional enemy Saddam Hussein has a Churchill connection, too. On 16 March 2003, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Churchill’s grandson and namesake, Winston S. Churchill, entitled ‘My Grandfather Invented Iraq: And He Has Lessons for Us Today’. He wrote, ‘It was my grandfather, Winston Churchill, who invented Iraq and laid the foundation for much of the modern Middle East.’ This is not an accomplishment of which to be proud, one might think. Churchill went on to draw the conventional comparison between the threat of Saddam and the threat of Hitler: ‘Had the allies held firm and shown the same resolve to uphold the rule of law among nations that President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are demonstrating today, there is little doubt that World War II, with all its horrors, could have been avoided.’ Churchill’s grandson then compared the threat of Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction with the Soviet atomic bomb: ‘As leader of the opposition in the British Parliament [in the 1950s] Churchill was gravely alarmed at the prospect of the Soviet Union acquiring atomic, and eventually nuclear, weapons of its own.’ If the world refused to follow those Churchillian leaders, Bush and Blair, then ‘a marriage of convenience would be consummated between the terrorist forces of al-Qa’eda and the arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities which Saddam possesses’.

Citing Churchill to support Bush’s war to rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction was particularly ironic in light of Churchill’s own record with respect to WMDs in Iraq. As colonial secretary in 1919, Churchill wanted to use gas against the ‘unco-operative Arabs’ in Iraq. He explained, in terms that Saddam might have used to justify his gassing of Iraqi Kurds, ‘I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.’

It is now clear that Saddam possessed no ‘arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities’ and the US government has reluctantly admitted that there are no credible links, prewar or postwar, between Saddam’s regime and al-Qa’eda. Even their harshest critics, therefore, must acknowledge that in one respect the neocons have lived up to the words of Winston Churchill: ‘In wartime ...truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.’

Michael Lind is the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.

© 2004 The Spectator.co.uk