Churchill understood the threat to the West.
by David Hamilton
Sir Winston Churchill is the only major British politician who had the courage to try to stop open-door immigration. He had strong views about race and was a keen supporter of eugenics. Late in his career, as post-war prime minister from 1951 to 1955, he might have succeeded in barring the door had it not been for failing health. Most biographers and historians now downplay his racial views and thereby give a false picture of the great man.
Churchill was different from academics and mushy liberals who theorize about multi-racial utopia. He was a brave and practical man who did not go to university but to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and later won a commission in the Fourth Hussars. As a young man he was with Lord Kitchener at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, when the British avenged the 1885 murder in Khartoum of General Charles “Chinese” Gordon. He was a war correspondent during the Boer War, was captured, held prisoner and escaped. As Home secretary in 1911, he personally took charge of the Siege of Sidney Street, when a small gang of Latvian anarchists holed up at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney, and fired on police. He called in the Scots Guards, and when a fire broke out at 100 Sidney Street, he made the decision to let the anarchists burn rather than have the fire brigade douse the flames. During the First World War, he commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers as a Colonel.
Churchill was not taken in by liberal orthodoxy. He knew that different races compete for power and territory, and he had seen sub-Saharan slavery first-hand. In 1899, he wrote a book about Kitchener’s Sudan campaign called The River War, in which he expressed views that in today’s Britain would have him up on charges of inciting racial hatred:
“The qualities of mongrels are rarely admirable, and the mixture of the Arab and Negro types has produced a debased and cruel breed, more shocking because they are more intelligent than primitive savages. The stronger race soon began to prey upon the simple [black] aboriginals … To the great slave-market at Jeddah a continual stream of Negro captives has flowed for hundreds of years. The invention of gunpowder and the adoption by the Arabs of firearms facilitated the traffic by placing the ignorant Negroes at a further disadvantage. Thus the situation in the Sudan for several centuries may be summed up as follows: The dominant race of Arab invaders was unceasingly spreading its blood, religion, customs, and language among the black aboriginal population, and at the same time it harried and enslaved them.”
As for Islam, in the first edition of the book he wrote passages well worth pondering today:
“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities — but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”
Churchill was an enthusiastic eugenicist, and was a sponsoring vice president — as were the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Bishop of Ripon — of the first International Eugenics Conference, which took place in London in 1912. Arthur Balfour delivered the opening address with Leonard Darwin — Charles Darwin’s son — presiding.
Churchill’s papers from this period show that he worried that “moral degenerates” and people of low intelligence were outbreeding the educated classes. He proposed that “mental defectives” be incarcerated and that the “feeble-minded” be forcibly sterilized. As Home Secretary, Churchill reportedly told his government colleagues that:
“The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded classes, coupled with a steady restriction among all the thrifty, energetic and superior stocks constitutes a race danger. I feel the source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed.”
Churchill was deeply suspicious of intellectuals and their utopian theories. In his St. George’s Day address of 1933, he said:
“The unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded classes … constitutes a race danger.”
“The worst difficulties from which we suffer do not come from without. They come from within. They do not come from the cottages of the wage earners. They come from a peculiar type of brainy people always found in our country who, if they add something to the culture, take much from its strength. Our difficulties come from the mood of unwarrantable self-abasement into which we have been cast by a powerful section of our own intellectuals. They come from the acceptance of defeatist doctrines by a large portion of our politicians. But what have they to offer but a vague internationalism, a squalid materialism, and the promise of impossible utopias?”
Many of Churchill’s views have gone out of fashion. He was convinced, for example, of Britain’s right to rule the lesser breeds. In a 1931 address at the Royal Albert Hall he said, “We gave India a civilization, far above anything they could possibly have achieved themselves, or could possibly maintain.” In his tribute to the Royal Marines in 1936, he explained that Britain was a gift passed from one generation to the next: “Those who do not think of the future are unworthy of their ancestors.”
Churchill went on to became the embodiment of the struggle against Nazism. He would never have been an appeaser. In October 1930, before Hitler had even taken power, he expressed his views of Nazis: “If a dog makes a dash for my trousers, I shoot him down before he can bite.” The fight against Germany did not change his racial views. During the war, a black official at the Colonial Office had to stop eating at a London club when American officers took it over and enforced segregation. When Churchill heard of this, he replied, “That’s alright. Tell him to take a banjo; they will think he is one of the band.”
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin at Yalta
At Yalta with Roosevelt and Stalin.
When he resumed power after the war, he opposed non-white immigration, but he was 76 years old. His instincts were sound but he no longer had the energy of a young man. Records of a cabinet discussion on Nov. 25, 1952 show that he asked if “the Post Office was employing large numbers of coloured workers. If so, there was some risk that difficult social problems would be created.” He then “raised the whole issue … of whether coloured subjects of the Commonwealth and Empire should be admitted to the country from now on.”
“We gave India a civilization, far above anything they could possibly have achieved themselves, or could possibly maintain.”
In 1953 Churchill suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on the left side. He went into decline and was not capable of decisive action, but his cabinet continued to debate immigration. In March 1954, his Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe, told the cabinet “that large numbers of coloured people are living on National Assistance” and that “coloured landlords by their conduct are making life difficult for white people living in the same building or area … [T]he result is that white people leave and the accommodation is then converted to furnished lettings for coloured people, with serious overcrowding and exploitation.” In October 1954, Churchill warned Maxwell-Fyfe, “that the problems arising from the immigration of coloured people required urgent and serious consideration.” Maxwell-Fyfe replied that they could not be kept out under then-current law.
Britain allowed all Commonwealth citizens automatic entry but Maxwell Fyfe “did not believe that the problem had yet assumed sufficient proportions to justify legislation, which … would antagonize liberal opinion.” Churchill foresaw, however, that “the rapid improvement in communications was likely to lead to the continuing increase in the number of coloured people coming to this country, and their presence here would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people.” He, too, was not sure, however, that “the problem had assumed sufficient proportions to enable the Government to take adequate counter-measures.”
Faces from the Empire Windrush, which arrived in 1948
with the first load of Commonwealth immigrants.
Churchill once explained to Governor of Jamaica Hugh Foot why he opposed non-white immigration: “It would be a Magpie society: that would never do.” Ian Gilmour, then owner and editor of the Spectator, relates that just before he stood down because of his health in April 1955, Churchill told him “It [immigration] is the most important subject facing this country, but I can not get any of my ministers to take any notice.”
In fact, many of his advisers were appeasers, though this time it was Indians and Pakistanis they wanted to placate. The Commonwealth Relations Office feared that if Britain kept out non-whites “there might well be a chance of the governments of India and Pakistan introducing retaliatory restrictions against the entry or residence of members of the British business community.” Commonwealth Secretary Earl Home also warned of possible retaliation.
In Eminent Churchillians, Andrew Roberts quotes people who worked closely with Churchill, and who probably had the sentiments typical of the period. One of Mr. Churchill’s private secretaries remembered that “at that time it seemed a very good idea to get [coloured] bus conductors and stuff.” A junior minister complained that “it was becoming hard to find somebody to carry your bags at the station.” As one minister put it later, “we were just stalling and hoping for the best.” After Churchill resigned, the internationalist Anthony Eden took over, and any hope of serious immigration control was lost.
In today’s climate what Churchill really thought is considered so unpalatable that at least one modern biographer chose deliberately to censor him. As Gretchen Rubin wrote in her 2003 book, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill:
“To shield his reputation, this account has downplayed Churchill’s deplorable attitudes toward race. Churchill used opprobrious terms like blackamoor, chink, wop, and baboo and distinguished between the white race and others. [emphasis in the original] For example, he wrote that at a September 1944 conference, he was “glad to record” that “the British Empire … was still keeping its position, with a total population, including the Dominions and Colonies, of only seventy million white people.” He never outgrew his views. His doctor recalled that in 1955, Churchill asked whether “blacks got measles … When he was told that there was a very high mortality among negroes from measles, he growled, ‘Well, there are plenty left. They’ve a high rate of production.’”
Today’s Tories are backing away from Churchill in other ways, claiming that his concept of the welfare state is “out of date.” Tory leader David Cameron recently asked an advisor, Greg Clark, to rethink “conservative” policy on poverty, and this was his conclusion: “The traditional Conservative vision of welfare as a safety net encompasses another outdated Tory nostrum — that poverty is absolute, not relative. Churchill’s safety net is at the bottom: holding people at subsistence level, just above the abyss of hunger and homelessness.” What does this mean? Seaside vacations and cell phones for the poor?
Good sense may run in the Churchill family. Winston’s grandson, also named Winston, was a Conservative member of Parliament from 1970 to 1997. In 1993 he got in trouble for saying that the British way of life was threatened by a “relentless flow of immigrants” from the Indian subcontinent. Then-Prime Minister John Major piled on in the ensuing criticism, but Mr. Churchill was unrepentant, claiming that despite widespread public condemnation, many colleagues, including government ministers, privately expressed their agreement. He left politics when the seat he held was abolished.
It is tempting to imagine what Britain would be like if the grandfather had maintained his vigor and combativeness through the crucial period during which immigration policy was set. Perhaps his force of personality could have pushed through sensible policies. At any rate, it is unlikely he would ever have had to face shouts of “Fascist!” or “Nazi!” no matter how strongly he defended Britain’s right to a European heritage and destiny. AR
Mr. Hamilton is a British free-lance writer