About this episode
In 2002, Winston Churchill was voted the greatest Briton who ever lived, beating Darwin, Shakespeare and Elizabeth I to take the top spot. Just 18 years later, a statue of the former British Prime Minister was defaced in London, spray painted with the words “Churchill was a racist”. As the west reckons with the misdeeds of history’s heroes, Winston Churchill’s long-time critics are eager to shine a spotlight on his dark past. To them, he was a racist, imperialist warmonger whose bombastic speeches during World War II have overshadowed the atrocities he oversaw during his decades in government: from using excessive force to crush dissent at home, to carpet bombing German cities during the war, to his role in the 1943 Bengal famine that killed 3 million Indians, his disregard for the suffering of others and penchant for violence has left a dangerous legacy. An advocate for British colonial rule, a well-known racist, and an admirer of Mussolini did not deserve praise when he was alive, and he certainly does not now.
Churchill’s supporters, meanwhile, regard him as a wartime hero whose bravery and leadership during Britain’s darkest hour saved the country and western civilization. Churchill’s powerful rhetoric inspired his countrymen to fight the Nazis when the rest of Europe had surrendered to Hitler’s army. Domestically, he reformed Britain’s prison system, introduced a minimum wage and improved social welfare systems. Like every hero in history, they argue, Churchill made mistakes. But his extraordinary leadership helped save western democracy, proving himself to be worthy of every accolade, every statue, and every memorial dedicated in his memory.