“In 1962, when British filmmaker Richard Attenborough began researching what would become his 1982 Gandhi film,” writes Lauren Frayer at NPR, “he asked Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, how he should portray his late colleague.” Gandhi was revered, treated as a saint in his own lifetime, long before Attenborough arrived in India. But Nehru begged the filmmaker to treat the man like a mere mortal, with all his “weaknesses, his moods and his failings.” Gandhi was “much too human” to be holy.
Do Gandhi’s failings—for example his early racism (which he outgrew “quite decisively,” his biographer asserts)—mean he must be canceled? Nehru didn’t think so. But nor did he think telling the truth about a beloved public figure was anything less than intellectually honest. Gandhi’s failings, however, are maybe easier to stomach than those of his political nemesis Winston Churchill, who hated the Indian leader passionately and also, more or less, hated everyone else who didn’t belong to his idea of a master race, a hatred that even extended to the German people writ large. (He once described Indians as “the beastliest people in the world next to the Germans.”)
Churchill was thoroughly unapologetic about what Vice President Henry Wallace called his theory of “Anglo-Saxon superiority.” He has, perhaps, been “the subject of false or exaggerated allegations,” Richard Toye writes at CNN, but “he said enough horrifying things”—and backed them with colonial policy—”that there is no need to invent more.” Even his “fellow Conservative imperialists” felt his ideas were rather out-of-date “or even downright shocking.” The victims of Churchill’s racism numbered in the millions, but those colonial subjects have been erased in political and popular culture.
“There’s no Western statesman–at least in the English-speaking world–more routinely lionized than Winston Churchill,” Ishaan Tharoor writes at The Washington Post, in ritual hagiographies like 2017’s The Darkest Hour. The film portrays what is “of course, an important part of the celebrated British prime minister’s legacy,” notes Aeon, but it also “paints an extremely incomplete picture of his life.” The short claymation film above aims, with biting wit, to correct the record and how Churchill epitomized the failson tradition of the aristocracy.
During his military career, Churchill “had great fun laying waste to entire villages in the Swat Valley in what is now known in Pakistan.” Claymation Churchill informs us that he “also killed several savages in the Sudan.” Churchill, the great hero of World War II and staunch enemy of the Nazis, opposed women’s suffrage and embraced eugenics and “the sterilization of the feeble-minded.” (He once wrote an article claiming “it may be that, unwittingly, [Jews] are inviting persecution–that they have been partly responsible for the antagonism from which they suffer.”) The catalogue of abuses continues.
The short, by UK filmmaker Steve Roberts, tells truths about Churchill that “are often glossed over in surface-level treatments of Churchill’s biography.” They are not, by any stretch, insignificant truths. If someone were to find them very upsetting, I might suggest they take it up with Churchill….
Winston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink “Unlimited” Alcohol in Prohibition America (1932)
Winston Churchill’s Paintings: Great Statesman, Surprisingly Good Artist
Winston Churchill Praises the Virtue of “Brevity” in Memos to His Staff: Concise Writing Leads to Clearer Thinking
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness