This week, an astronaut called Scott Kelly was quoting Churchill and his great line, ‘in victory, magnanimity’. He got massively trolled by the anti-Churchill cyber warriors who denounced him for all sorts of things. One of the things for which he was attacked, of course, was the Bengal famine, which they say he caused.
In October 1942, Bengal was hit by a massive, terrible cyclone which destroyed the rice crop, which the Bengalis living in that area entirely depended upon. The road and rail links that had hitherto brought food in were also destroyed. In the past, rice from Thailand and Malaya and Burma was brought in to deal with these horrific famines. But in no case, of those three, could that be possible this time, for the simple reason that the Japanese controlled those areas and would not allow their rice to be sold to British India. You also had Japanese submarines in the Bay of Bengal and eastern Indian cities had been bombarded by the Japanese navy.
You had a situation where the Bengal government could not buy rice from other provincial governments; this is something the viceroy should have dealt with, or maybe the secretary of state for India. But the idea that Winston Churchill deliberately attempted to commit genocide on millions of Bengalis simply does not stack up. When I have gone through the papers, usually at the Churchill College archives in Cambridge, you see again and again Winston Churchill writing to the viceroy, writing to the secretary of state for India, writing to Franklin Roosevelt, asking for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain to be brought in. It is one of the great classic libels of Winston Churchill. It is something that this astronaut, if he had spent five minutes on the internet, could have actually looked up. Arthur Herman, the great American historian, says that the Bengal famine would have been far worse if it hadn’t been for Churchill, and I think he is right. And instead of actually doing this, the astronaut just completely folded and capitulated to these trolls. His actual phrase was: ‘I will go and educate myself further on his atrocities, racist views which I do not support’.
Frankly, the only space he ought to concentrate on is the space between his ears.
Andrew Roberts was in conversation with Robert Tombs at last night’s Spectator event