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Book Review Churchill without the aura

CHRIS MENON recommends Tariq Ali’s debunking the myth of Churchill

Churchill: His Times, His Crimes
by Tariq Ali
Verso £20

IN THIS 400-page biography of Winston Churchill, Tariq Ali masterfully unmasks the man behind the myth. Using a wide-ranging history of his times to provide context Ali analyses Churchill’s pivotal role in many crimes against both working-class people at home and those overseas who he viewed as a potential threat to the British empire.

It’s a timely book, given the willingness of both the Tories and Labour to embark on post-imperial adventures while invoking the myth of Churchill as ideological cover for such moves.

In this iconoclastic work Ali forcefully challenges the Churchill cult — an ideology that has led England further down a political and cultural cul-de-sac since his death.

Ali utters the truths that few others dare to. Let’s not forget he was one of the few to explain the political origins of the anti-semitism smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

Many will now fume at the exposure of Churchill as an inveterate bungler, racist and war criminal, who advocated the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the 1920s, allowed five million Indians to die of starvation during WWII, and approved the use of nuclear weapons against Japan.

Ali clearly realises that Britain needs to confront its past and understand the ugly legacy of imperialism. An appreciation of Churchill’s mistakes and motivation is obviously key to that. Thus, he carefully explains the crimes he committed in Ireland, the Middle East, Russia, Greece and India, his actions invariably motivated by a desire to maintain the British empire.

Ali convincingly debunks the myth of Churchill as an anti-Nazi since, until the moment when he realised the British empire was threatened, he admired Mussolini and Hitler. Indeed, in unleashing a civil war in Greece in December 1944 Churchill and the British army destroyed the most successful anti-Nazi resistance movement in Europe: “the British army and its Greek auxiliaries were guilty of serious war crimes, some bordering on genocide.”

As a source from which to establish a more objective view of world history from Churchill’s time to our own Ali’s book deserves to be compulsory reading in every school across the country.

Ali’s practical, ceaseless political energy enthuses the reader. His writing is infused with his characteristically dry wit and sense of historical irony. The result is a guide to better understand modern history and Churchill’s role in it and to challenge the dominant ideology that has made a racist imperialist a cult figure.

Ali has performed a valuable service in debunking the myth of Churchill, far more effectively even than those who daubed paint on his statue. The hope is that it will reignite an informed debate as to Britain’s present role as a willing sidekick to the US imperial project.

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