Racial views of Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill made a variety of contradictory statements on racial and cultural issues, making generalized conclusions difficult.

Statue of Winston Churchill, Parliament Square, London

Points of controversy


In 1937, Mandatory Palestine was in the midst of an Arab nationalist uprising. During Parliamentary debates on the proper British policy Churchill spoke at length. He insisted that British government not renege on its promise, via the 1917 Balfour Declaration, to create a Jewish national home in Palestine. Because granting Palestine self-rule at this time would have meant rule by the Arab majority, he opposed such measures. Churchill believed that an eventual Jewish state in Palestine would advance the prosperity of the country for all. He asked rhetorically before the Peel Commission "Why is there injustice done if people come in and make a livelihood for more and make the desert into palm groves and orange groves?" His firsthand experience with Arab culture both as a soldier and MP "had not impressed him" in the words of historian Martin Gilbert. An Arab majority would result in cultural and material stagnation, Churchill maintained.[1] .

Alluding to pseudo-Aesop, he rejected the Arab wish to stop Jewish migration to Palestine: "I do not admit that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger, though he may have lain there for a very long time I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race or at any rate a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place. I do not admit it. I do not think the Red Indians had any right to say the American continent belongs to us and we are not going to have any of these European settlers coming in."[2]

At the same time he believed that British policy should not result in what he called "harsh injustice" to the Arab majority and that the Arabs would not be displaced by the Jewish influx. He further emphasized the British responsibility to ensure that Palestine's Jews would not discriminate economically against their Arab neighbours. He said that such discrimination would be a reason for restricting future Jewish immigration to Palestine. Churchill summarised his views before the Peel Commission bluntly: "It is a question of which civilization you prefer."[1]


Churchill often made disparaging and outright racist comments about Indians, particularly in private conversation. At one point he explicitly told his Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery that he "hated Indians" and considered them "a beastly people with a beastly religion".[3] Churchill was inspired by the remembrance of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 to take steps that disregarded the value of civilian lives in India.

During the Bengal famine of 1943, Churchill even said that because Indians bred "like rabbits", relief efforts would accomplish nothing. His War Cabinet rejected Canadian proposals to send food aid to India, but did ask Australia to send such aid instead. However, records from the British War Office show no ships carrying food supplies that were dispatched from Australia for famine-stricken India.[4] According to historian Arthur Herman, Churchill's overarching concern was the ongoing Second World War, and he was thus willing to divert food supplies from India to Allied military campaigns. [5] However, this assertion is belied by Churchill's own words and actions, when he persisted in exporting grain to Europe, not to feed actual ‘Sturdy Tommies’ (common soldiers), but add to the buffer stocks that were being piled up in the event of a future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia[6]. Leopold Amery, Secretary of State for India and Burma and a contemporary of Churchill, likened his understanding of India's problems to King George III's apathy for the Americas. In his private diaries, Amery wrote "on the subject of India, Winston is not quite sane" and that he didn't "see much difference between [Churchill's] outlook and Hitler's."[7][8]

According to other defenders of Churchill, he was a "liberal imperialist". He saw his country's role as an imperial power as spreading liberal principles to "backward-looking societies" like India.[9]

Alleged support for use of chemical weapons in Iraq

After 1920 Iraqi revolt against the British, Churchill advocated the use of non-lethal tear gas against "uncivilized tribes"[lower-alpha 1] as a means of dispersing rebels without excessive loss of life or resort to lethal force:

I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas.

I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.[11]

He also described the Arabs as a "lower manifestation of humanity" than the Jews who he treated a "higher grade race" compared to the "great hordes of Islam".[12]


Churchill had some sympathy for the "Jewish Bolshevism" conspiracy theory, and stated in his 1920 article "Zionism versus Bolshevism" that communism, which he considered a "worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality",[3] had been established in Russia by Jews:

There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews; it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders.

However, according to his biographer Andrew Roberts, Churchill rejected antisemitism for virtually all his life. Roberts also describes Churchill as an "active Zionist" and philosemitic at a time when "clubland antisemitism... was a social glue for much of the Respectable Tendency".[13] In the same article, Churchill wrote; "Some people like the Jews and some do not, but no thoughtful man can doubt the fact that they are beyond all question the most formidable and the most remarkable race that has ever appeared in the world." He further pointed out that the Bolsheviks were "repudiated vehemently by the great mass of the Jewish race", and concluded:

We owe to the Jews a system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all wisdom and learning put together.[14]

In the lead-up to the Second World War, Churchill expressed disgust at Nazi antisemitism; Clement Attlee recalled that Churchill openly wept when recounting to him the humiliations inflicted upon Jews by the SA during the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933.[15] In August 1932 while in Munich, Churchill was snubbed for a meeting by Adolf Hitler when the two happened to be sharing the same hotel. Churchill expressed to Hitler's confidante Ernst Hanfstaengl, "Why is your chief so violent about the Jews?... what is the sense of being against a man simply because of his birth? How can any man help how he is born?"[16]


  1. "Uncivilised tribe" was the then-accepted official term for a stateless opponent: the British Manual of Military Law stated that the law of war applied only to conflict "between civilized nations." Already in the Manual of 1914, it was clearly stated that "they do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes"; instead the British commander should observe "the rules of justice and humanity" according to his own individual discretion[10]


  1. Gilbert, Martin (2007). Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 108–119.
  2. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. pp. 414–5.
  3. "The darker side of Britain's most iconic wartime hero". The Independent. 2015-01-30. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  4. "Without Churchill, India's Famine Would Have Been Worse". The International Churchill Society. 2010-09-13. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  5. Tharoor, Shashi (March 2017). An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India. C. Hurst & Co.
  6. Amery, Leonard. barnes, John; Nicholson, David (eds.). The Empire at Bay. The Leo Amery Diaries. 1929-1945. Hutchinson.
  7. Mishra, Pankaj (August 6, 2007). "Exit Wounds:The legacy of Indian partition". the New Yorker.
  8. Herf, Jeffrey (2019-01-22). "Churchill in All His Complexity". The American Interest. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  9. HMSO, 1914, p. 235
  10. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. p. 272-3.
  11. Mark Curtis - Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam,
  12. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. p. 981.
  13. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. p. 278.
  14. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. p. 367.
  15. Roberts, Andrew (2018). Churchill: Walking With Destiny. London: Allen Lane. pp. 363–64.