Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II

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by Madhusree Mukerjee
     
 

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A dogged enemy of Hitler, resolute ally of the Americans, and inspiring leader through World War II, Winston Churchill is venerated as one of the truly great statesmen of the last century. But while he has been widely extolled for his achievements, parts of Churchill’s record have gone woefully unexamined. As journalist Madhusree Mukerjee reveals, at the

Overview

A dogged enemy of Hitler, resolute ally of the Americans, and inspiring leader through World War II, Winston Churchill is venerated as one of the truly great statesmen of the last century. But while he has been widely extolled for his achievements, parts of Churchill’s record have gone woefully unexamined. As journalist Madhusree Mukerjee reveals, at the same time that Churchill brilliantly opposed the barbarism of the Nazis, he governed India with a fierce resolve to crush its freedom movement and a profound contempt for native lives. A series of Churchill’s decisions between 1940 and 1944 directly and inevitably led to the deaths of some three million Indians. The streets of eastern Indian cities were lined with corpses, yet instead of sending emergency food shipments Churchill used the wheat and ships at his disposal to build stockpiles for feeding postwar Britain and Europe.

Combining meticulous research with a vivid narrative, and riveting accounts of personality and policy clashes within and without the British War Cabinet, Churchill’s Secret War places this oft-overlooked tragedy into the larger context of World War II, India’s fight for freedom, and Churchill’s enduring legacy. Winston Churchill may have found victory in Europe, but, as this groundbreaking historical investigation reveals, his mismanagement—facilitated by dubious advice from scientist and eugenicist Lord Cherwell—devastated India and set the stage for the massive bloodletting that accompanied independence.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Misremembered as a placid imperial bastion during WWII, India was in fact racked by famine and insurrection, according to this searching history. Mukerjee (The Land of Naked People) surveys a country seething with violence, as Congress Party militants agitating for independence turned to rioting and assassination campaigns after bloody police crackdowns, and an army of Indian guerrillas fought alongside the Japanese against the British. The author's centerpiece is a chronicle of the 1943 Bengali famine, in which at least 1.5 million died while British authorities continued exporting Indian grain. She blames the disaster on British policy, which, she argues, sought to extract as much war production and food as possible from India while printing money to pay for it; the resulting inflation priced food beyond the reach of the poor. Mukerjee sets her well-researched chronicle amid heartbreaking scenes of starvation, bloodshed, and pungent portraits of Winston Churchill and his advisers as studies in racial disdain and deluded imperial nostalgia. This gripping account of a historical tragedy is a useful corrective to fashionable theories of benign imperial rule, arguing that a brutal rapaciousness was the very soul of the Raj. Maps. (Aug. 10)
From the Publisher

Ramachandra Guha, author of India after Gandhi
“Winston Churchill’s dislike of India and Indians has been known to scholars. But now, in Churchill’s Secret War, we have, for the first time, definitive evidence of how a great man’s prejudices contributed to one of the most deadly famines in modern history. In her book, Madhusree Mukerjee writes evocatively of how hunger and rebellion in rural Bengal was a product of cynicism and callousness in imperial London. Deeply researched and skillfully constructed, this is a major contribution to Indian history and to the history of the Second World War.”

Mike Davis, Professor of Creative Writing at University of California–Riverside
“An epic indictment of British policies that cold-bloodedly caused the death of millions of ordinary Indians during the Second World War. With impeccable research, Mukerjee debunks the conventional hagiography of Churchill, showing ‘the last imperialist’s’ monstrous indifference to the peoples of the sub- continent.”

John Horgan, Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology
Churchill's Secret War is a major work of historical scholarship, which reveals that one of the 20th century's greatest heroes was also one of its greatest villains. Mukerjee's elegant, precise prose and meticulous research make her tale of colonial brutality all the more gripping and horrific.”

Kirkus
“An important though uncomfortable lesson for readers who think they know the heroes and villains of World War II.”

Publishers Weekly
““[W]ell-researched…This gripping account of historical tragedy is a useful corrective to fashionable theories of benign imperial rule, arguing that a brutal rapaciousness was the very soul of the Raj.”

Providence
 Journal

“A clearly written and well-researched study…Mukerjee writes with a careful hand, avoiding an easily dismissible rant and smartly allowing Churchill’s closet advisors to color in the dark details.”

Roll Call

“Mukerjee’s work is an important tool in repudiating the dominant legacy of Churchill.”

Indian Express
 (India)

“[Mukerjee’s] main point comes through persuasively…never has anything quite this persuasive demonstrated how devastating for the world were Churchill’s personal failings.”

The Independent 
(UK)

“Mukerjee has researched this forgotten holocaust with great care and forensic rigor…Her calmly phrased but searing account of imperial brutality will shame admirers of the Greatest Briton and horrify just about everybody else.

Sunday Times 
(UK)

“[A] significant and – to British readers – distressing book…the broad thrust of Mukerjee’s book is as sound as it shocking.”

Washington
 Times

Churchill’s Secret War is a disturbing read, and one that I recommend.”
 
Time

“Madhusree Mukerjee’s new book, Churchill’s Secret War, reveals a side of Churchill largely ignored by the West and considerably tarnishes his heroic sheen…Mukerjee’s book depicts a truth more awful than any fiction.”
 
Time Out for Entertainment
“Mukerjee makes [her] points with a skill and scholarship that are convincing, making the reader see an episode of World War II with new eyes and new sympathy.”
 

Asian Review of Books
“A vivid account of the subject…Churchill’s Secret War is a book that needs to be read.”

New York Review of Books
“Mukerjee not only writes well, she writes from a point of view that most Bengalis and many Indians would share…her book should be welcomed as a serious attempt to deal in all its aspects with a neglected catastrophe in an era of catastrophes piled grotesquely one on top of another.”

New York Times Book Review
“[Mukerjee] sharpens her point by drawing provocative analogies…Churchill’s Secret War is convincing.”
 
Choice “[Mukerjee] seeks…to give a voice to a people without a history…Recommended.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465022601
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
08/10/2010
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
882,201
File size:
936 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Madhusree Mukerjee won a Guggenheim fellowship to write her previous book, The Land of Naked People. She has served on the board of editors of Scientific American. She lives near Frankfurt, Germany.

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Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bengal Famine of 1770, actually ranged from 1769 - 1773.  10 million Bengalis died during this famine.  The territory at he time was ruled by the British 'East India Company', which was a front company for the British Royal family and the establishment.
willyvan More than 1 year ago
Robert Clive had called Bengal 'the paradise of the earth'. In 1757 Clive's forces conquered India. By 1770, there was a famine in which 3 million people died. This brilliant book examines the 1943 famine in Bengal which killed 3.3 million people. British rule over India started and ended with a famine in Bengal. Churchill did not mention the 1943 famine in his six volumes on the Second World War. He loved the Empire, but hated the peoples it ruled. As he wrote, "I therefore adopted quite early in life a system of believing whatever I wanted to believe ." Churchill's private secretary John Colville reported that Churchill said, "the Hindus were a foul race" and wished that the head of Bomber Command would 'send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them'. Mukerjee observes, "During his 1930s campaign against Indian self-government, Churchill went so far as to warn of famine engulfing the United Kingdom if, 'guided by counsels of madness and cowardice disguised as false benevolence, you troop home from India.' He feared that a full third of the English population would perish if the empire was lost." In 1942 British forces arrested 90,000 Indians and killed an estimated 10,000. On 10 September 1942 Churchill broadcast the lie that the Indian National Congress had been helped by 'Japanese fifth-column work'. In fact, as Churchill well knew, MI6 had been unable to find any evidence linking the Congress with the Japanese. Viceroy Linlithgow told Bengal's elected Chief Minister Fazlul Huq in January 1943 that he "simply must produce some more rice out of Bengal for Ceylon even if Bengal itself went short!" Mukerjee sums up, "Whereas India annually imported at least a million tons of rice and wheat before the war, it exported a net 360,000 tons during the fiscal year April 1, 1942, to March 31, 1943. . On April 22, 1943, more than a month after it had been warned of famine, the Ministry of War Transport recorded with approval 'continued pressure being brought to bear upon India to persuade her to release more than the previously agreed quotas of rice and, more recently, cargoes of wheat.' Between January and July of 1943, even as famine set in, India exported 71,000 tons of rice ." Throughout the famine, the British government rejected all international offers of aid. Significantly, there have been no famines in India, even with a growing population, since she won her independence.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great feature Free Preview, only problem, when you spend your time to open it the publisher has denied access to every written page. Wouldn't take it now if they gave it to me.