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Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War IIby Madhusree Mukerjee
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
A historian of India now living in Germany, Mukerjee recounts how the British Prime Minister and his advisers chose to channel the resources of the British colony to wage war against Germany and Japan, how that decision caused a famine in the eastern Indian province of Bengal that killed between 1.5 and 3 million people, and how it led to the postwar campaign for independence and the subsequent partitioning of the subcontinent. Among other matters, she describes how the beginning of British rule in India as well as its end was occasion for a devastating famine in Bengal. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In the tradition of "The Rape of Nanking" and "A Problem From Hell," this account will change the way we think of Churchill and World War II
A bracing narrative of wartime India and the tremendous famine that resulted when Churchill sacrificed the lives of four million Bengalis to win World War II
Relying on extensive archival research and firsthand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of the Bengal Famine of 1943-44 in which millions of villagers starved to death, and Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war unfolded.
In 1943 Winston Churchill and the British Empire needed two million Indian troops, all of India's industrial output, and hundreds of thousands of tons of Indian grain to support the Allied war effort. Such massive contributions, paid for by inflationary policies--printing paper money--were all but certain to trigger famine in India. Because Churchill believed that the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, he proceeded, sacrificing millions of Indian lives in order to preserve what he held most dear. The result: the Bengal Famine of 1943-44 in which millions of villagers starved to death.
Relying on extensive archival research and first-hand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war unfolded and toignore the corpses piling up in the Bengali countryside. The hypocrisy, racism, and extreme economic conditions of two centuries of British colonial rule finally built to a head, leading Indians to win their independence in 1947, accompanied by a brutal partition into India and Pakistan.
Few Americans know that World War II was won on the backs of these starving peasants; Mukerjee shows us a side of World War II that we have been blind to. We know what Hitler did to the Jews, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, what Stalin did to his own people. This story has largely been neglected, until now.
About 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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History and Social Science » Asia » India » Ancient and General