'The trouble with this unassuming establishment in the North London suburb of Finsbury Park is not that its cakes are served on wooden planks instead of plates; nor is it the presence of blocks, where one might expect to find chairs. The problem, says its detractors, is that it celebrates Sir Winston Churchill.
'Its full English is called The Winston, while a dummy of the wartime leader sits in a corner, incongruously adorned in an Arsenal scarf...'
- independent, 30 january 2018
winston churchill as a young lieutenant in the 1890s
born in 1874, winston churchill was an upper class military man. his father was a lord and an MP, at one point in fact, chancellor of the exchequer. the young winston went to sandhurst and, as a 21 year old officer, he travelled to cuba to observe guerilla warfare where he 'was delighted to come under fire for the first time'. he went with his regiment to india, later transferred to south africa, marched on mafeking and became a celebrated news correspondent during the boer war during which time he was captured and made a POW. he escaped and returned to london a hero.
in 1898 he fought sudanese dervishes from horseback with three confirmed kills, shot by pistol at close range. churchill was elected to parliament at the age of 34 where he showed most interest in international affairs, particularly military affairs. he personally went to oversee the military suppression of a small armed uprising in london. firstly for tactical reasons, mostly 'out of curiosity'.
he was closely involved in the british effort to develop tanks in WW1. altho he argued for cuts to military spending in the 20s, churchill was a lonely voice that warned against coming german aggression in the 30s, a time when he urged rearmament.
altho out of favour with his party in the late 30s, at the outbreak of war, churchill's popularity was widespread amongst ordinary people and he was appointed first lord of the admiralty in 1939. after the resignation of chamberlain in 1940 he became leader of the conservative party and britain's wartime PM.
as we all know, winston churchill saw britain thro the second world war - some would imply, almost single handedly. he is known to history for his great oratory and the inspired summoning of british courage during times of extreme national adversity.
so what is to be understood from that? essentially, that it is still possible to dislike a man who saved us from nazism.
the first thing to note about churchill is that he enjoyed war. at the end of the C19th, just before the industrialision of holocaust that was begun by WW1, there was still a little time for men to dream about the nobleness of heroic action, of medals and honour and glory and god and queen and country - and the young churchill was one of them.
the second thing is that even if he hadnt enjoyed war as both a physical reality and as an idea, he still proved himself much more prone to support for military options rather than someone like, say, chamberlain. he was a campaign enthusiast not a blood letter of last resort.
thirdly, and crucially, his war enthusiasm was directly linked to his role as an imperialist. first he was an imperial footsoldier and later an imperial administrator and strategist. he had a horse called 'colonist II'. as with many imperialists, churchill was also a racist. the evidence is all there if you go looking for it. i am cutting to the chase.
at the end of the C19th century, britain was the imperial power with colonies all over the world. other europeans nations tried to compete - belgium for eample, and france - but germany was deeply envious of british prestige and success. and it is on this that our understanding of churchill and our own modern nationalism turns.
if britain, through people like churchill, had not been waging imperial wars across the globe, germany would not have felt any sense of inferiority. it would not, presumably, have felt the need to twice invade france. so on the one hand, while churchill saved us from nazism, he also condemned us to it.
non-white, non british commentators perhaps find it easier to condemn churchill outright because they do not feel the same sense of debt to his WW2 legacy as others. it is more important for them to acknowledge his bloody racist expeditions and to roundly condemn him than it is to say such ruthlessness is forgivable because it was somehow necessary.
but neither outright condemnation nor jingoistic support seems right and i think the reality is that we need to understand the difference between our idealism - that racism is bad, colonialism is bad, murder and war are bad - and our pragmatism - resisting nazism is good, strong leadership during war is good etc.
the way to do this is to understand that we are not dealing with good and bad, we are dealing with bad and more bad. nazism and imperialism were extreme bad, churchill's methods were necessary, post facto bad so - by default - we come to think of those methods as good.
we should never do that with lesser evil.
it is never good.
good is the absence of evil - no churchill, no war, no nazis, no racism.
we must accept that our world of lesser and greater evil is just a world of total evil where good is reserved for another time or place we sense but dont see.