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

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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 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.


First published April 15, 2008

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About the author

Madhusree Mukerjee

4 books36 followers
Malcolm Gladwell does the Podcast "The Prime Minister and the Prof" in Revisionist History inspired by her book "Churchill's Secret War."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 119 reviews
Profile Image for Simon Wood.
215 reviews126 followers
September 3, 2013

Guess who said that? Perhaps it was Subhas Chandra Bose leader of the Japanese alligned Indian National Army? Or Nehru or Gandhi during an intemperate moment? Or some other Indian nationalist? The reality was that none of these Indian political figure made the comparison, rather it was spoken by Churchills contemporary at Harrow, his accomplice in the rearmament debates of the 1930's and his then Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery. He said it with Churchills views of the Indian people, particularly Hindus, in mind, and with especial regard to how these beliefs impacted on British policies in India during World War 2 in general, and the Bengal Famine of 1943 in particular. This famine probably (as usual no one was counting with any particular care) cost Bengal and the surrounding provinces in excess of 3 million lives, and formed a brutal endpiece to Britains Imperial rule in Bengal that mirrored the famine that accompanied the Empires first steps there in the 1770's.

If anyone has the notion to regard Amerys comparison as hyperbole they would do well to read Madhusree Mukerjee's "Churchill's Secret War". The centre piece of Mukerjee's book is the Bengal famine of 1943 to which she devotes much space to set the context within which it occurred, analysing the British response (stymied by the Hitlerite attitude of Churchill towards Indians), as well as measuring up the practicality and likely results of the options pushed for at the time by Amery and other officials. Beyond this the whole of the British policy in India during the War is covered, from India's War effort (paid for by the accumulation of Sterling balances in London for gradual payment after the war), the efforts to divide Muslims from Hindus, and the effects of British plans for the defence of Eastern India from Japanese invasion which made famine almost inevitable.

Beyond the narrating and analysis of events is Mukerjee's accounts of the main actors, in particular Churchill (whose repulsive views on Indians are extensively quoted) and his all purpose aide Lord Cherwell whose views of the "lesser" races make one wonder why he hadn't just stayed in Germany during the Nazi period. This pair between them bear a major part of the responsibility for the negligible efforts at avoiding or ameliorating the effects of the famine. This negligence was not based on ignorance of the facts, but the fruit of their vicious racial beliefs with regard to Indians that makes Amery's comparison of Churchill to Hitler an apposite one.

Overall "Churchill's Secret War" is the brilliant, well researched account and analysis of India's experience of the second world war. Fans of Churchill may be a little upset, but the "great" mans reputation is long overdue a reappraisal in the popular imagination. His policies and opinions on India were perhaps his most brutal, but they are not alone and chime in with his attitudes towards Arabs, whom he advocated bombing with poisoned gas, and other colonial peoples, not to mention the working people of Britain itself. Thoroughly recommended.
Profile Image for Ashish Iyer.
749 reviews469 followers
March 9, 2021
This book breaks you to the core. A must read book. This kind of history are not taught in our schools and colleges. Quite a detail book it was. It solely focuses on Bengal famine of 1943.

Please also recommend me books on Great Bengal Famine, Chalisa famine, Doji bara famine or Skull famine, Agra famine of 1837–38, Upper Doab famine of 1860–61, Orissa famine of 1866, Rajputana famine of 1869, Bihar famine of 1873–74, Great Famine of 1876–78 (also Southern India famine), Indian famine of 1896–97 and Indian famine of 1899–1900.
Profile Image for Neil Larsen.
1 review1 follower
April 20, 2013
I give this book an unqualifiedly enthusiastic recommendation. Here is excruciatingly documented proof that Winston Churchill is truly one of the last century's greatest war criminals and genocidal, racist autocrats. In the case of the terrible famine that swept the Indian state of Bengal during World War II, we have a clear instance of a mass extermination that could, at multiple times, have been prevented by the actions of the British government under Churchill, but that was consciously allowed to take place purely for reasons of colonial/imperial convenience and, just as plainly, out of an abiding racialized hatred of South Asians (and all nonwhites really) on the part of Churchill, his closest advisers, and the British rulers and governors of Britain's Indian colony. We hear endlessly about the famines in the Ukraine in the USSR under Stalin and in China during Mao's Great Leap Forward, but not often about the historical factors that cast doubt on the allegation that these were catastrophes that the USSR or the PRC somehow refused to prevent. It's not at all clear that these famines, however much mistaken policies contributed to them, could have been prevented. But the famine in Bengal in the 1940s, which claimed millions of lives, clearly could have been prevented, at no great cost to Britain or its war effort. It was, Mukarjee's book convincingly shows, allowed to take place because it served British imperial interests, among them the desire to discredit Gandhi, the Congress Party nationalists and anyone else who opposed British rule. No wonder Hitler admired the British Raj so much and aspired to do the same in Russia and Eastern Europe as the British had done in India. Indeed, as this book also relates, Hitler would have jumped at the chance of a separate peace with Britain if only it had been willing to give him free rein in Russia and Eastern Europe--even offering military aid to the British for the defense of its empire. That the British imperialists refused this offer can be chalked up purely to their own imperial greed.
Profile Image for Raghu.
385 reviews78 followers
November 20, 2010
This is not just another book on the horrendous famine in Bengal in 1943-44 when 3 million people died, according to most independent accounts. This book is about how Winston Churchill and his chief advisor Lord Cherwell became responsible for inducing and perpetuating the famine and how their racist and contemptuous attitude towards Indians, particularly Hindus, eventually resulted in millions of deaths and laid the foundations for partitioning India on religious lines resulting in further tragedy. Most accounts of the famine have often dwelt on the ineptness and callous attitude of the British bureaucratic elite in India as the cause of the tragedies in Bengal in 1943. But Ms.Mukerjee shows how Churchill's personal hatred towards Indians, aided by the dubious and cynical counsel of his scientist and eugenicist friend and colleague Lord Cherwell, devastated Bengal during the famine and later set the stage for the massive bloodshed which accompanied the partition of India. The book is very well researched and the author, being Benglai herself, has talked to many of the survivors of the famine resulting in a book which is at once scholarly as well as personal. Being Indian myself, it was not only heart-wrenching for me to read about the role and prejudices of a British aristocrat in this tragedy but realize how ignorant many of us Indians have been in accepting Western accounts of the greatness of Churchill as a democrat of the free world. Ms. Mukerjee's book places Churchill's hatred towards India and his terrible actions into the larger context of WW 2 and India's freedom. One is left with the feeling of asking, 'what moral right did Churchill have in denouncing Stalin as a brutal dictator'. The author lays bare the machinations of Churchill, Lord Cherwell, Linlithgow and Wavell during the time of famine. Basically Churchill wanted to save foodgrains to feed Greece and Yugoslavia and a post-war Britain as part of his geo-political game in Europe. So, shiploads of foodgrains from Australia passed the Indian ports on the way to Europe without offloading even a kilogram of it to the starving, famine-stricken Indians in Bengal. For Churchill, it was unacceptable that bread should be rationed in Britain but quite acceptable to let millions of Bengalis die of starvation. The only British official who emerges with a clean record was the secretary of state Lord Leopold Amery, who consistently opposed Churchill's plans to promote the Muslim League and partition India as well as plead for grains to feed the millions in Bengal.
The book shows that President Roosevelt, being a genuine liberal, was rather contemptuous of Churchill's aristocratic bearing and Britain's conduct towards freedom for India. His Ambassador to India, William Phillips reported to Roosevelt on the famine and the president was very sympathetic towards Indian independence and the need for America to help India achieve it. But inter-dependencies on the war effort in Europe made it difficult for the US to push Churchill too far on India.
There are a few other observations which were of great interest to me:
In spite of the massive starvation, amazingly, shops holding grains were not looted by the people. The author says that it was initially due to the people clinging ferociously to their values of not taking to crime and later due to the emaciated condition of the population to take on the well-fed shop owners. Another unique feature was that not even a single act of cannibalism was reported all through the famine. In most places of famine, cannibalism was a common occurrence. But the people of Bengal - both Hindus and Muslims- clearly drew the line when it came to cannibalism due to the strong cultural taboo that prevailed probably for millenniums. The author says, '...given the frequency and intensity with which famines hit 19th century India, accounts of anthropophagy are so rare that they point to a prohibition that prevailed across the subcontinent...'
The book has many other points of research regarding the state of Bengal when the East of India co set foot there and life of the many revolutionaries during the 1940s. I feel that this book is a major contribution to Indian history in general and also an important work in the history of the second world war. It is required reading for Indians as well as Britishers, especially those Britishers who often like to believe that Britain was by and large a benevolent colonial power in India. The revelation that massive starvation deaths were brought about during the second world war not only by dictators like Hitler and Stalin but also by Winston Churchill by using the same domineering power, should be a humbling thought to apologists of European colonialism.
Five stars all the way!
Profile Image for Steve.
351 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2020
This book angered me. It turns out that behind all that inspiring Churchilliana lived a man far from his popularized mythical rendering. Ms. Mukerjee's meticulous research reveals Winston Churchill as a supreme imperial European racist, albeit at the end of a long line of supreme imperial European racists through the centuries. What happened in Bengal—now Bangladesh— during World War II, in large measure owing to British policies, must change our perception of imperial Britons generally, and Churchill in particular. Here Churchill's character appears closer to the villains we battled than the friends we embraced in that great war. A combination of natural events, fears of Japanese advancement and arrogant indifference led to the unnecessary deaths of some two to three million persons through famine. History has done a poor job properly accounting for this calamity, for which Ms. Mukerjee's effort deserves much praise.
Profile Image for Ujjwala Singhania.
203 reviews48 followers
July 17, 2021
A hard hitting commentary on Churchill's World War 2 policies that led to Bengal famine in 1943 causing 1.5 millions death (official figure), unofficial figure could be just the double. But just calling it Bengal famine of 1943 would be overly simplifying the issue.
Mudhusree Mukerjee, in his book, has shown in detail how the deep seated hatred and racism against a colonial race led Britain to perpetrate unspeakable crime against humanity. Churchill, to win a war, devised policies to suck India dry of its resources, human lives and even basic dignity to humans in life and death. The scorch earth policy is only one factor that led to the famine which cost millions of lives. Mukerjee lists out War Cabinet's policies after policies which left a nation burdened with a war expenses where it was not a player but cattle sent to be slaughtered.
However, out of this huge human tragedy, no less than a holocaust, the author tells us the stories of people of who rose to the occasion, the indomitable spirit to survive, and lend a helping hand to their fellow countrymen. And at the end, these were the stories that made reading this book moderately bearable.
The author has done exhaustive research using available materials and latest published confidential documents/ correspondence; and backed his claims with facts and references. The most important piece comes at the end in the form of Afterword where his fact finding mission triggered an eminent author who is supposedly an authority on the subject.
After all this, the saddest part is that so many books and movies have been made by national and international artist, to huge acclaims, showing India's chronic poverty and deep apathy but it took 70 odd-years for someone to write the reason behind it with such detail. Had India done a similar work post-independence to what the allied nations did after they won the war...if we made movies and written books showing the atrocities perpetrated by Churchill and the British Empire, they would not have been hailed as the heroes of the post-war world. But they would been in the dock alongside the Germans for their untold crimes.
Profile Image for Triya.
10 reviews7 followers
March 20, 2017
Heartbreaking and disturbing - one of those books which makes you put it down because you just can't take the atrocities that humans have perpetrated against other humans. Impeccably researched and somehow written in a detached manner which makes it all the more chilling.

This is the book that brought to the forefront the horrors that Indians in Bengal had to face during the second World War, because of the British Raj, and exposed the hypocrisy of the defenders of the Raj. Never before has the phrase 'History is written by the victors' hit me so hard, since the wide popularity and glorification of Churchill has made it so easy to gloss over the intense hatred he had for Indians, because of his racist outlook. Madhushree's book is excellent, the sheer volume of research gone into this is astounding. A must read for all fans of Indian history.
Profile Image for Jenny.
283 reviews21 followers
October 13, 2017
This was a tough book to read, both because of the subject matter and because of the density of the writing. In history classes and previous reading, I never learned about India’s role in WW2. What I did know was more related to Indian independence and the life of Gandhi. If I’d had any illusions that Churchill was without flaws, this book pretty much exploded then. Well worth the (albeit depressing) read.
Profile Image for W.
63 reviews2 followers
October 31, 2012
Mukerjee, a physicist turned journalist, attempts to shed light on the conduct of the British government and its treatment of its colony of India, especially the provinces of Bengal, in her most recent work. Resource rich and with an extensive bibliography, she includes documentary evidence from recently released British imperial documents.

Unfortunately, the author fails to provide an adequate analysis in a coherent way to truly satisfy those searching for a good narrative on this tragic period within Bengali history at the tail of the British Raj.

She does appear to have evidence of indifference by Churchill and his key advisers to both preventing or ameliorating the devastating famines that led to at least 1.5 million deaths during the 2nd World War. As anyone who has even the barest knowledge of Churchill understands, the prime minister had an intense love/hate relationship with India throughout most of his adult life. It should also come as no surprise that he truly believed in imperial Raj and the enlightened imperial leadership that Britain supposedly provided to its crown jewel, India. Nor should it be surprising that such an attitude led him to believe that India should support Britain in its time of crisis.

Did Churchill and his primary advisers deny shipping space for grain/foodstuffs to Bengal while continuing to export rice from other areas of India. Yes, how can there be any doubt? Did they favor Britain first and other European nations, and perhaps even post-war stocks over assisting Bengal. It appears from the author's evidence, that is likely true as well. Again, how does this come as a surprise?

What is problematic with this work, is its disjointed style and relativity of many of the passages. Mukerjee fails to do the topic justice. What could have been a very pointed and important document on imperialism, famine and adaptation instead because a meandering, irrelevant disaster of flawed writing.

In good conscience, it would be difficult to recommend this work to anyone other than a specialist in the topic, who should probably already have the knowledge available in the work. The bibliography is excellent and I look forward to reading many of the titles referenced.

A shameful disappointment to a potentially valuable historical topic.
Profile Image for The  Conch.
278 reviews16 followers
January 10, 2020
"Britnannica's soldiers trudged toward the ships that would carry them home, some marching to this chant:

Load of shit and filth and wogs
Gonorrhea, syphilis, clap and pox.
Memsahib's paradise, soldiers' hell
India, fare three f***ing well"
(wog=brown, non-white people)

This was exactly Chruchill's attitude towards India. "The Hindus were a foul race ' protected by their mere pullulation from doom that is their due. He wished that Air Chief Marshall....could send some of his surplus bombers to destroy them."
(pullulation = sexual intercourse)

After reading 'Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War-II', one may feel the difference between Hitler and Chruchill is slowly blurring. The world knew about the German one, but the world has been kept ignorant about existence of a Briton Hitler who deliberately murdered more than 4 million Indians (read Hindu Bengalis and 4 milliioin figure was only for year 1943) systematically and slowly by denying them food in the name of saving the empire and its white soldiers.

This book is one of the most important book to expose how racism can transform one of the most wealthy country, India, into a wretched beggar. The author, Madhusree Mukerjee, did herculean research to write the book. Reader will be loaded with profuse reference of important archives and books. This book also expose the myth of Gandhi's contribution in India's independence struggle.

The saddest part of our education, these type of books are not popular among students. They grow on knowing British gave everything from railway, post office, telegram etc., and remain ignorant about their gift of death, slavery, loot and humiliation of Mother India.
Profile Image for Dr Rashmit Mishra.
692 reviews93 followers
November 27, 2018
A fantastic detail on the evils of a man dubbed hero

History has mostly dubbed , Churchill , Stalin and Roosevelt as heroes and Churchill (especially after the latest movie 'the darkest hour's' success) particularly was considered a hero . However for 1940s India , Churchill and Hitler weren't a whole lot different

In fact , for much of India , Hitler was a foreign monster in a foreign land , committing atrocities on a foreign community , Churchill and the British Empire were the big bad monsters at home , killing them after the torture of taxations , Starvations , rapes , and mass shootings .

Ms. Mukharjee's book details the attrocities committed by British Empire , the callousness shown by Churchill when it came to India , and she does it all citing sources to back her claims .

The main focus of the book obviously deals with Churchill , Bengal famine and everything related to it , however other atrocities are also depicted in detail .

The gruesomeness feels too real and really pulls the emotional distress beacon in every fibre of my body as a reader . However sometimes this gruesomeness also feels too heavy and makes you want to stop reading .

For every history enthusiast who wants to learn more and question the "History is written by the Victor" idiom , this is a must read
14 reviews3 followers
February 8, 2019
This is one book that everyone should read.

The author explains in details how Churchill, who's celebrated across rhe western world as a great statesman, wantonly ignored the desperate and rightful needs of the starving millions in India during the second World War.

Madhusree Mukherjee builds the case that the millions of Indians died not just because of a bad crop year or two but as a direct result of the actions of the British governments who put their interest and future necessities over and above the current need of the dying Indians. All of this using the official records and communication of the time.

Many a stories of individuals who died during the famine as also the accounts of those who survived were captured in great detail to paint as accurate a picture of the time as possible.

The amount of research that went ti to writing this book...the very thought is mind-boggling.

I borrowed the book from a lending library. I'm now going to buy a copy to keep.
Profile Image for Vladimir Chupakhin.
118 reviews4 followers
April 4, 2018
From first sight this book is on one particular topic: Famine in India caused by UK, but actually author show a tremendous slice of a history related to UK-India relationship and general politics in WWII related to East/Asia. Book is rich in psychological, religious and historical details, almost academic work.

The size of atrocities done by Churchill and his subordinates and most of the UK people in India are huge, and should not be forgotten. The democracy stars in reality are cold blooded racists and chauvinists... And the figure of Churchill is very representative in this lake of blood.
Profile Image for Anant Singh.
45 reviews46 followers
December 23, 2010
Some times you feel like reading the history of India time and again and everytime you come up with something new. But the sad part is the new is always very sad and disappointing.

Mukherjee in her book gives you a detailed description of Bengal famine , how Churchill and his war cabinet overlooked the necessity of controlling the Famine situation in Bengal. Her book is good work of research on various accounts giving diary notes, cables, telegrams and meeting minutes during those periods.

Churchill's hate to India and Gandhi is well written and lighted. The book also establishes the fact that Congress has nothing to do with independence its the war and economic constrains that pulled the Raj out of India.

Some of the chapters are very horrific to read which gives the account of how terrible the situation was during famine period and how system handled the situation forcing about more than millions of death in Bengal. The book gives me more reason to hate the administrative part of India and UK .

Must read for people who thinks Indian History is just about Gandhi and Congress !!
Profile Image for Kavinay.
529 reviews
November 14, 2017
Every once in a while, someone will venture forth with a pseudo-academic diatribe about how colonialism and imperialism were ultimately valuable for nations captured by European mercantile and military might.

They also tend to be the people who will tell you how clever Churchill was, how The British Raj created modern India and how the British Empire should be a source of pride.

In such cases, I recommend you point such committed imperialists to the staggering body of documentation and evidence that Madhusree Mukerjee has collected in Churchill's Secret War.

The picture that emerges of British efforts to starve India for political gain is monstrous.

Mukerjee doesn't even have to take a side. She lets British officials both close to Churchhill's administration and The Raj flay the PM and the empire in their honest assessment of the quiet genocide perpetrated during World War II.

An empire of famine, condescension and pride: Churchill and Britain are impossible to apologize for after you've read this book.
166 reviews11 followers
March 23, 2017
We - the people of India, thanks largely to our media and our history books are well aware of this particular bit of unsavoury history of the 1930s and 1940s. We are told that this was an act unparalleled in documented history, and was carried out by Adolf Hitler. That just goes to show how ludicrously poor our knowledge of history - specifically our own history is. The Year: Circa 1942-1943. The Venue of the display of generosity and humanity that lead to the Indian version of the holocaust: Bengal. The Villain? As per the superb research conducted by Madhushree Mukherjee, A certain World War 2 hero known by the name of Winston Churchill, in addition to the entire British Raj. The result? A small matter of an approximated 5.4 Million Indians dead. Small change, really. Peanuts, as compared to 6 Million Europeans.... The sequence of events lead to a British Civil Servant to comment: "Naturally I lost patience and couldnt help telling him that I could not see much difference between his outlook and Hitlers'..." - Leopold Amery to Winston Churchill. Having read the book, neither can I. He continued in his Diary: "The dangers arising from his lack of judgement and knowledge in many respects and his sheer lack of sanity over India make him increasingly dangerous"

The facts will make your stomach turn, especially at british hypocrisy. Scorched Earth policy was employed by the Nazis they say. Wrong! Scorched Earth policy was implemented by the "gentle" "civilized" "human" British in Bengal, Assam and much of East India. The horrifying impact of this has to be read to be understood! Fact 2: food was continuously sent to Europe to feed the newly-liberated European lands, to build a stockpile for the Invasion, and to buttress British food stocks. This was done even when there was no need for such heavy stockpiling. This was done even as Indians were dying by the millions... if anyone stock-piled food during the famine, it was the British. Food was deliberately not sent to India, or retained in India just so the British could be well-fed. In the same Bengal, the British were eating 5-course meals! The book proves that the British were holding stocks of food that were far in excess of what they required. Thus, they not only caused the problem, they also exacerbated it.

The book is full of heart-rending real stories that will, quite literally, make you cry. Stories of people just dying on the streets, corpses lining the streets of cities, stories of planned and systematic gang-rapes of women - entire villages of women, stories of starvation, stories of women selling themselves, stories of mothers selling their children, stories of women being kidnapped and gang-raped every night, stories of people walking long distances just for a bowl of rice soup, stories of the crying of children.... and the stories of corpses.... corpses everywhere, on the roads, in the fields.... and how the authorities

Read More : https://reflectionsvvk.blogspot.in/20...
Profile Image for Rosa.
26 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2019
Coincidencely, I started reading this book two days before an MEP from Scotland called Churchill a 'white supremist mass murder' on twitter - a statement I already agreed with from what I knew of him. I didn't start this book completely uninformed, I certainly didn't think highly of Churchill beforehand knowing what I did about his opinions on India (amongst other places and people), and I had heard the odd quote from Amery, however, reading this book was completely eye-opening and the extent of which the Bengali famine could have been avoided, is heart breaking and infuriating. Even moreso within the context of the British cultural show of admiration for a man who, in my opinion, deserves condemnation for being a racist imperalist.

It is a tough a read. It took me over a month, stop and starting when it got to heavy and the statistics tired me down. I guess that is the nature of a book like this. The book is filled with sources and footnotes, however, I have to be honest and say I have not checked these sources so can't confirm their trustworthiness. However, the fact that are so many provided, from so many different sources, is certainly a positive thing. Maybe one day I will get round to looking at the primary sources.

As I say, this is a tough read and it isn't a pleasant read either. However, in my opinion this is an important book about a subject that is often overlooked or defended as a necessary tragedy. I would recommend this book to anyone who is British or has an interest in British imperialism for certain, this is about a man who is often idolised by politicians and media and a lot of discourse is left behind in favour of the old troupe 'he fought the Nazi's so he must be great'. Please pick up this book.
Profile Image for Iñaki Tofiño.
Author 31 books36 followers
April 6, 2012
Not every one's cup of tea, obviously, but I had a blast with it. Well researched and even better written, the book describes the implications that Churchill and his War Cabinet decisions had on the fate of India and Bengal in particular.
Due to their contempt and racism, they performed what can be considered daylight robbery: take rice and wheat from India to feed Indian troops fighting outside the subcontinent and leave Bengalis starving to death, literally. The lesser figures for 1943 indicate at least 1.5 million deaths... Besides, to add insult to injury, the British politicians handled independence in the worst possible way, manipulating people, so that partition became inevitable. Apparently, in his late years Churchill repented, but it was too late.
Mukerjee has done a great job unveiling these circumstances, digging into political archives in the UK, interviewing famine survivors, freedom fighters... so we get quite a clear picture of a blatant case of crimes against humanity.
Profile Image for David.
797 reviews8 followers
March 26, 2015
I thought I was well read on the general subject of the Second World War, at least in terms of the Western Allies, until I read this book. I even took a University course on the History of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and I don't recall any discussion of the war time famines in India. This is clearly written from the Indian point of view, and there are some conclusions which seem speculative. Overall, the book is quite damning of Imperial policy and the comparisons between food requirements for the home islands and India, are a stark comparison. I particularly enjoyed deepening my understanding of the conflict and the post war Independence and Partition of India. The audio version is read by an English narrator which adds some interesting flavor somehow.
Profile Image for Sumit.
84 reviews24 followers
November 23, 2013
Impressive book, though the title is a little bit misleading,,, the book talks next to nothing about any part other than Bengal, A lot was happening across the country but book focused on Bengal.
Book is good for people who want to understand how British umpire treated its subjects and followed double standards.
23 reviews
July 7, 2014
A very rare to find analysis of Churchill's "Heroics". Proclaimed as the "Hero" of World war II with his own history books Chrurchill turns out to be a bigger war criminal than Hitler. We need bold authors like Madhusree.
Profile Image for Lavanya Ajesh.
27 reviews2 followers
August 25, 2018
That Churchill is no hero I’d heard- but the level of rage and pure hatred towards Indians he had is undocumented so far. This book is important. It’s good. It tells you the signs to watch for. And is poignantly written. Please- read it.
Profile Image for Rachel.
67 reviews3 followers
December 14, 2012
Engrossing, brutal. Brutal. The things people in power will do to stay in power look much like a junkie trying to get their next fix.
Profile Image for Bilal Shakir.
22 reviews
March 28, 2021
I initially gave this book 4 stars. However, the more I thought about the more I realized that there is scarcely a metric on which this book doesn't score outstandingly.

The research that provides the bedrock for the book has been meticulously conducted by Madhusree Mukerjee. It is cemented by vivid storytelling that effectively conveys the horrifying extent to which Churchill waged a secret war ravaging India during World War 2. This is not an easy task, given the historically focused orientation of the entire book project. Mukerjee emerges unscathed from any criticisms of being overly biased in her framing of historical issues and largely presents a story based on where the evidence takes her. Not 'another' book on the Bengal Famine that killed some 3 million innocent Bengalis!

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Ashish Samuel.
28 reviews22 followers
March 14, 2018
"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it" - A war criminal

Just before starting this book I watched The Darkest Hour and some documentaries on the celebrated war hero, to have a balanced view - since I knew this book would be critical and I never had any great opinion about Churchill to begin with. I wish the book was thicker, so it would leave a more lasting impression when I throw it at the next person who says "well yeah but he was a great statesman, won the war and all!".

I guess those who complain about the literary style of the book were bored by the long detours taken by Mukerjee to describe the harrowing hardships faced by Indians in general and Bengalis in particular during the early 1940s. As disturbing they were, they were not irrelevant. In fact, she did him a favour by not making it a focused and scathing diatribe against the wicked man. Keeping her own observations to the minimum while painting a blunt picture of his persona through the words of various contemporary colonialists -who were quite racist themselves, to put it mildly.

Churchill was much more than the archetypal racist. To call whatever bone he had to pick with India a "love-hate relationship" is a gross understatement. I've tried as sincerely as I can to find any redeeming qualities in him. I can't find any, except his way with the English language - mainly because he extensively and religiously studied it as he believed it is much superior than the rest.
As I've opined to many after reading the book, he would have dethroned Hitler if he was born in the reich.
Profile Image for Degenerate Chemist.
833 reviews18 followers
August 12, 2021

This book is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of the Bengal famine and the factors that lead to it being as devastating as it was. Its main purpose is to make western readers aware of these events.

This book is an excellent look at racist leaders enact the public policies that lead to systemic racism. It is true that India was hit by a famine during WW II and the effects of that famine were exacerbated by colonial rule and Churchill's policies towards the nation during that time. This lead to 3 million deaths and untold human suffering. Mukerjee does not shy away from the human cost of the famine and the full effect that it had on Indian society. I also appreciate her investigation of scientific racism and how it contributed to Churchill's decision making. I was in a rage reading this- the population was slowly starving to death while the food they grew was being exported and stored for future use.

This book is well researched and goes into detail about a historical event that many are unfamiliar with. For this reason alone it is worth reading. It loses a star for the writing style. Mukerjee tends to get sidetracked and it makes the story she is trying to tell very disjointed and hard to follow.
Profile Image for Lauren Albert.
1,798 reviews160 followers
September 23, 2010
It is hard to admire Churchill (as I have) after reading this book. The story of India's role in the war, and the resulting famines, is devastating. It is a credit to the writer that I felt myself watching the events as they unfolded, with my anxiety increasing, as the factors which would cause the famines unfolded. Churchill diverted food stuffs away from India in order to guarantee plentitude for the English and in order to be able to feed the enemy population after the eventual peace. He refused to allow ships to bring food donated from other countries because of the need for ships for the "war effort." And all the time, the Indians were feeding the troops from their own meagre supplies. "Churchill exclaimed, 'I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.'" Churchill's racism left him indifferent to the suffering and death of millions.

"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."
Profile Image for Donna Herrick.
544 reviews6 followers
December 10, 2018
This book is important because it teaches about a very tragic and unconscionable decision during WWII that resulted in famine and disease in India that killed 5 million people. This book is important because it explains how British Imperial policies utilized and exacerbated religious tensions, this led to the partition of India and to the tensions between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh today. This book is important because it shows us explicitly the difference between race-thinking and racism. It shows us how racism was devastating when it was the basis for colonial policy.
Winston Churchill is revered today because of his leadership during WWII. This book shows us his less desirable qualities. Like Donald Trump, Churchill had fixed ideas and built his policies around those beliefs and prejudices. Churchill lived in the age of social Darwinism and Eugenics. He expressed these ideas in policies like allocating food for the Balkans rather than for Indians
Profile Image for Margaret Omodu.
14 reviews
August 8, 2017
I have always known that Churchill was a racist war criminal, but I really didn't really know the extent. Mukerjee does a fantastic job of explaining how Winston Churchill diabolically for no reason at all allowed India to starve. Mukerjee draws from an amazing primary source, recently declassified British war records, to show that all the excuses Churchill had were false. She reminds the reader that India a British territory at the time were sending supplies to Great Britain. Although there is certainly a slant Mukerjee allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, however she is EXTREMELY persuasive
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