Churchill and Empire

Written by Lawrence James
Review by Alan Fisk

This book traces the development of Sir Winston Churchill’s attitudes to the British Empire, starting with how those attitudes were formed in his youth at the end of the 19th century. His experiences in India and the Sudan ingrained in him a deep conviction that Britain had a duty to maintain the Empire, not merely as the foundation of its status as a Great Power, but also for the welfare of its subjects.

Churchill and Empire traces Churchill’s actions through a series of analyses focused on individual theatres of imperial policy. Although the author seems unsympathetic to Churchill’s aims, he gives him his due, disposing for instance of the myths that Churchill used poison gas on Iraqi tribespeople or was indifferent to the Bengal famine of 1943.

Unfortunately, the book is stuffed with errors. For example, the United States did not acquire Cuba in 1898; the capital of British Guiana was Georgetown, not Bridgetown; and the Indian Prime Minister Krishna Menon did not have flags flown at half-mast during Churchill’s funeral, because Krishna Menon was never Prime Minister of India; and what editor passed “zenophobia”? (Fear of the philosopher Zeno?)

An informative and stimulating book, but to be read with caution.