Following a few questions and misconceptions on the man himself, I thought I'd reiterate a few of them to balance things out a bit.
The grand old man of Conservative politics, Winston Churchill has been revered for telling Britain to buck up and keep going under the bombing raids of the Luftwaffe. But outside this reasonably useful propaganda work, there's a less widely-known part of dear old Winston's personal history which is often glossed over.
Starting with Churchill's support of the Kurdish gassings. This was a dirty little war in which the British state looking to keep hold of land in what is now Iraq against a substantial and violent campaign for independence, used both gas and bombings against the populace as a sort of test run for its fast-developing weaponry.
Come the hour, come the man. From the Guardian newspaper:
Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes... (to) spread a lively terror" In today's terms, "the Arab" needed to be shocked and awed. A good gassing might well do the job.
This, bearing in mind, was said in 1919, shortly after the horrors of the first world war and shortly before the adoption of the Geneva ban on such weapons.
By 1937 he had gone on to explain in a little more detail his views on the worth of subject peoples in his submission to the Palestine Commission, arguing:
I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even 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 done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
Drenching the Ruhr
He was back sticking it to foreign civillians again during the second world war, 20 years on from the gas ban's ratification as Britain started to gain the upper hand and send its bombers over German cities, saying:
If the bombardment of London became a serious nuisance and great rockets with far-reaching and devastating effect fell on many centres of Government and labour, I should be prepared to do anything that would hit the enemy in a murderous place. I may certainly have to ask you to support me in using poison gas. We could drench the cities of the Ruhr and many other cities in Germany in such a way that most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention. We could stop all work at the flying bomb starting points. I do not see why we should have the disadvantages of being the gentleman while they have all the advantages of being the cad.
Apparently, the Germans weren't the only ones considering the mass gassing of civilians in the 40s. Just as well the Germans weren't a bit faster building their doodlebugs really.
What he did go for in the end of course wasn't exactly wonderful. In what is widely (and probably wrongly, given the other activities of the British empire over the years) regarded as one of the most shameful episodes in the UK's history, between 25,000 and 40,000 people died during the firebombing of Dresden. From the Wikipedia entry on Dresden:
Winston Churchill pressed the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair: "I asked [last night] whether Berlin, and no doubt other large cities in east Germany, should not now be considered especially attractive targets. …Pray report to me tomorrow what is going to be done"
This is backed by the Churchill centre here, though they couch it slightly differently it is clear his cigar-stained authority lay at the heart of the action.
Meanwhile, In India
It wasn't just the unfortunates of the Axis that Churchill was happily slaughtering, he presided over some of the nastiest activities the British government has yet managed while waving his V-sign and proclaiming Britain as the beacon for All That Is Good In The World.
When in 1942 the popular Quit India Movement threatened to disrupt the war effort, it was brutally put down with public shootings and mass whippings, torturing of protesters and burning of villages, leading even bourgeois observers to make comparisons with 'Nazi dreadfulness'. When in 1943 food shortages began as a direct result of British scorched earth policies, the War Cabinet ignored the problem, refusing to stop ordering Indian food abroad in the interests of the war effort. The resulting man-made famine in Bengal may have accounted for as many as four million deaths.
His charming response when asked about this was to castigate the Indian people for:
Breeding like rabbits and being paid a million a day by us for doing nothing by us about the war
(Hat-tip to the ICC and a post by libcom poster cantdocartwheels there).
One war just isn't enough
Of course, his disregard for human life was not confined only to foreigners. It was Churchill, more than any other politician, who pushed for the disastrous campaign in favour of the Whites against the Bolsheviks following the great war. Taking a large British fleet and 1,600 men as Britain struggled to find the money to rebuild, he attempted to restore the Russian aristocracy to power against the wishes of the British population. After spending £100 million in money the state hadn't got, and wasting countless lives, he was only forced to admit defeat following mutinies and widespread demonstrations of discontent at home.
(For the full tale of this military debacle, try Churchill's Crusade, The British Invasion of Russia 1918-1920 by Clifford Kinvig)
Churchill's actions during the general strike:
During the General Strike of 1926, Churchill was reported to have suggested that machine guns should be used on the striking miners. Churchill edited the Government's newspaper, the British Gazette*, and during the dispute he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country." Furthermore, he was to controversially claim that the Fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world", showing as it had "a way to combat subversive forces" - that is, he considered the regime to be a bulwark against the perceived threat of Communist revolution.
*Using paper confiscated from radical publishers, it was a simple slandering machine against the strikers.
Further to his pro-fascist tendencies, a direct quote:
If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.
In his own words, Churchill saw fascism as the ultimate defence against communism. His antipathy to Hitler was not based on great politics or fine motives, but on a rivalry of power. On this point, Churchill also advocated a policy of appeasement to the fascist Franco in Spain (Churchill and Spain The Survival of the Franco Regime, 1940-1945 by Richard Wigg) which directly aided him in consolidating power after his butchery of the Spanish revolutionaries despite international condemnation from around the world.
So, in summary, good line in cigars and sloganeering, yes. Greatest Briton of all time? I fucking hope not...
PS: Ooh, almost forgot, he was against the NHS too. Bit off asking the wealthy to pay for poor people's healthcare you see. Bless him.