Churchill’s claim to greatness died on two Bloody Sundays in Ireland

WITH the growing international tension over Georgia some have been bemoaning the lack of strong statesmen. George W Bush professes to be an ardent admirer of Winston Churchill who was man of the century for a great many people.

But in what century did he belong?

“He was one of the great leaders in the 20th century,” according to Bush. “He stood on principle. He was a man of great courage. He knew what he believed. And he really kind of went after it in a way that seemed like a Texan to me.”

While Churchill was still alive, some right-wing Texans were advocating war with China before it developed a nuclear capability. In a one-sided nuclear war, tens of millions of Chinese would have been obliterated. Would the Soviets have just stood idly by?

Churchill did more than probably any other leader to promote anti-communism. We know what he was against, but what was he for?

As a politician he was incredibly lucky. He came to power with Britain on its knees in May 1940, but he was lucky that Franklin D Roosevelt believed it was in America’s interest to provide the military and financial help to prop up Britain until the US got into the war.

Churchill had spent most of the 1930s in the political cold because he was a hardliner on the question of India. During the Second World War, he was still opposed to Indian freedom.

“I did not become prime minister to liquidate the British empire,” he said.

For the sake of his historical reputation, Churchill was probably luckiest of all to be thrown out of office in 1945. By the time he got back into power in 1951, India had been given its independence.

Could Britain, then virtually bankrupt, have forcibly denied India its independence? Even if it could, why would any sane democrat have wished to deny freedom to so many people?

During the Black and Tan period in this country, Churchill was minister for war. From the outset he was clamouring to execute republicans.

“It is monstrous that we have 200 murders and no one hung,” Churchill complained to cabinet colleagues in May 1920. “After a person is caught he should pay the penalty within a week. Look at the tribunals which the Russian government have devised. You should get three or four judges whose scope should be universal and they should move quickly over the country and do summary justice.”

Here was this paragon of anti-communism privately advocating that Britain should imitate the Bolsheviks.

“Why not make life intolerable in a particular area?” Churchill asked the cabinet. “It was necessary to raise the temperature of the conflict,” he told colleagues on July 23, 1920.

One of his pet schemes was to recruit the Auxiliaries — a ‘special force’ of officers who had fought in the First World War.

Churchill backed the chief of imperial general staff, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, who advocated taking civilian hostages and shooting five of them for every member of the Crown forces killed.

He proposed they “collect the names of Sinn Féiners by districts, proclaim them on church doors all over the country and whenever a policeman is murdered, pick five by lot and shoot them!”

“You have been right all along,” Churchill wrote to Wilson, “the government must shoulder the responsibility for reprisals.”

Can you imagine anything more likely to rouse the righteous indignation of that generation of Irish people than defiling their churches in such a barbarous manner? Churchill got his way with the execution of Kevin Barry who was hanged in Mountjoy Jail on November 1, 1920.

They could have picked some hardened veteran Republican with a record of violence, but instead they exhibited wooden stupidity by selecting a teenage university student.

They executed him on All Saints’ Day thereby ensuring that he became “another martyr for old Ireland” and “another murder for the Crown”.

Three weeks later Churchill’s Auxiliaries were responsible for the greatest outrage of the period when they open fired on innocent people at a football game in Croke Park on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

Fifteen people were killed outright or fatally wounded, including a 10-year-old boy, Jeremiah O’Leary, who was shot in the head, and John Scott, aged 14, who was also killed. So was Jane Boyle who had gone to the game with her fiance. They were due to marry five days later. Others killed included Michael Hogan, one of the players on the field.

Privately, Churchill may not have approved of the unauthorised behaviour at Croke Park, but he did not have the guts, or the integrity to denounce it, and he facilitated the British establishment’s efforts to cover it up.

As a result, the British made the same mistake all over again on another Bloody Sunday in 1972. Britain and Ireland paid for that with a whole catalogue of outrages over the next quarter of a century.

In 1921, Churchill was one of those who negotiated and signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Michael Collins got a written guarantee that Ireland would have the full status of Canada and the other dominions. Eamon de Valera argued that while Britain would not interfere in Canada, because it was so far away, it would interfere at will in the Irish Free State.

Canada and the other dominions would support Ireland rather than accept that Britain had a right to interfere in their own affairs, Collins contended. Those arguments were tested during the Second World War.

IRISH neutrality became the proof of our independence. Canada and South Africa considered neutrality for some days before declaring war on Germany, but Churchill refused to accept that Ireland had the right to stay out of the war.

In October 1939, he advocated that Britain invade Ireland and seize whatever bases it desired. Even Anthony Eden, one of Churchill’s strongest backers, denounced the idea as “madness because of the likely impact it would have on American opinion at a critical time”.

Churchill came up with the idea again later, but got little support. Throughout the war, Churchill was spoiling for a fight with de Valera.

In May 1941, he backed the idea of introducing conscription in Northern Ireland. President Roosevelt and prime ministers Mackenzie King of Canada and Robert Menzies of Australia all appealed directly to Churchill to drop the idea because it would cause problems for them.

“The greatest difficulty is the prevailing lunacy,” Menzies wrote. “They are mad in Dublin, madder still in Belfast, and on this question perhaps maddest of all at Downing Street.”

In the face of almost unanimous opposition within his cabinet, Churchill had to back down again. Ironically, de Valera proved Collins was right about the 1921 treaty, even though Churchill tried to prove that de Valera had been right.

So much for Churchill’s greatness and Bush’s judgment.

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