You may know Arthur Herman as author of the best selling and scholarly How the Scots Invented the Modern World, an account of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Another of Herman’s books, Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, was nominated for a Pulitzer.
In today's NY Post Herman writes about “How Churchill Dealt With Thugs.”
Here’s some of what he says, after which I've placed an endnote.
President Obama's forays into history, especially European history, are interesting but not always accurate.
Who can forget his description during the presidential campaign of African-American GIs liberating Auschwitz? (It was the Russians.) Or his admission during his recent European trip that he didn't know how to translate a certain word into Austrian? (There is no "Austrian"; Austrians speak German.)
His evocation of Winston Churchill in his press conference last Wednesday took confusion to a new height. The president cited the great British prime minister in support of his ban on enhanced interrogation techniques at Gitmo and elsewhere, noting that Churchill never allowed torture of German detainees in World War II "even when London was being bombed to smithereens."
Strange words of praise from the president -- who in February ordered that Churchill's bust be removed from the Oval Office. (We're told this was because British authorities roughly interrogated Obama's Kenyan grandfather in the Mau Mau rebellion, during Churchill's second tour as prime minister.
Not exactly an advertisement for "Winston Churchill, foe of torture.")
Apparently, Obama got his new, sunny view of Churchill not from reading [Sir Martin Gilbert's classic, multi-volume ] Churchill biography that Prime Minster Gordon Brown gave him last month but from Andrew Sullivan's blog.
Maybe we should be grateful to Sullivan and Obama for their confusion, however, because Churchill's actual position on what is morally permitted against a nation's enemies illuminates much more about the relationship between torture and civilization than their fictitious version.
Churchill recognized that torture -- the cruel, needless infliction of pain as a means of domination and control of others -- was emblematic of man's barbarism, as opposed to the values of what he called "Christian civilization."
It was precisely this barbarism that he saw in the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag -- and that we see among the Muslim fanatics who will stone women to death for refusing to wear the veil or behead reporters.
But Churchill also understood that, if barbarism was one enemy of civilization, another was a moral cowardice disguised as moral qualms -- an instinctive flinching in the face of danger, dressed up as "upholding our values."
Churchill had seen this flinching in such 1930s appeasers as Neville Chamberlain, and he feared that he'd see it again among Britons and their leaders after the war.
"There is no place for compromise in war," Churchill wrote. In choosing between civilized restraint and the British people's survival, he never hesitated.
He contemplated using mustard gas if the Nazis invaded England.
He authorized the fire bombing of German cities, the so-called terror bombings, in order to cripple the German war effort and morale.
He was prepared to let Mahatma Gandhi die during his hunger strike in 1943 rather than be blackmailed into abandoning India, the last bastion against Japanese domination of Asia. …
Herman offers readers a great deal more information before he closes with - - -
"Moral force," Churchill once said, "is no substitute for armed force, but it is a very great reinforcement."
On this point, Churchill takes his stand firmly on the side of Vice President Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. Flinching from steps necessary to protect a nation's citizens from barbarous violence doesn't reinforce our moral values. It's a way of running from them.
Unfortunately, too many politicians are willing to take to their heels in that race.
Herman’s entire column’s here and well worth reading in full.
President Obama, Andrew Sullivan, and others misjudge Churchill and seem to misjudge what’s at stake in the war to preserve civilization that America and other nations have had thrust upon them by Islamic terrorists and their abettors here and around the world.
Churchill knew what was at stake in the fight he led. This excerpt’s from his “Finest Hour” speech delivered in the House of Commons on June 18, 1940:
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may more forward into broad, sunlit uplands.Today we fight an enemy every bit as evil as the Nazis, and with the stakes as great now as they were in 1940.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Previous posts on the Churchill/torture topic:
Responses To Historian's Churchill/Torture Comments 5/3/09
Historian D'Este On Churchill & Torture 5/1/09
Obama, Churchill & Torture - 4/30/09