The price of greatness is responsibility.
December 17, 2004 10:12 AM   Subscribe

"There is no excuse for superior authority not choosing the most suitable agents for particular duties, and not removing unsuitable agents from particular duties." With all the talk of empires and resignations, a reflection to history turns up a remarkable story about an already remarkable man:

A tense time in British India came to a head when General Reginald Dyer's brigade opened fire on an unarmed crowd assembled in Amritsar with machine guns, killing 379 and wounding over 1500. Command wanted to relieve him of duty, but patriotic (and imperialist) fervor at home led to a parliamentary debate which was expected to repudiate this decision and honor him. Enter War Secretary Winston Churchill who defended the Government so eloquently that the minds and hearts of the entire deliberative body were turned.
posted by allan (16 comments total)
The Amritsar Massacre, also known as Jallianwallah Bagh after the public park where it occured, served as an important spark in the Indian independence movement, including inspiring Nehru to throw his wait behind Ghandi's movement. Amritsar, the center of the Sikh faith, has remained in the news as a center of
sectarian violence.

posted by allan at 10:16 AM on December 17, 2004

"Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened."
--Sir Winston Churchill
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:26 AM on December 17, 2004

"The most frightful of all spectables [is] the strength of civilisation without its mercy."

Interesting history, and I thank you for it.

Though I'd argue that the Mercy of a Civilization can be pretty frightful too
posted by freebird at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2004

interesting story. i don't know much about the history of british troops in India (except what i gathered from reading kipling, which i'm sure isn't exactly weighted fairly towards India) but i am a person who feels that history is worth knowing and indeed worth contemplating. for example, consider the following excerpt:

"Our reign in India or anywhere else has never stood on the basis of physical force alone, and it would be fatal to the British Empire if we were to try to base ourselves only upon it."

substitute a different country starting with "I". it's advice worth heeding.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:44 AM on December 17, 2004

Hey liberals, you lost.

Get over it.

posted by felix betachat at 11:02 AM on December 17, 2004

Turns into anti-Bush thread in...3...2... whoops too late.
posted by fungible at 11:03 AM on December 17, 2004

It's inspiring -- and perhaps a bit sad -- to read of how once upon a time individuals could successfully use rhetoric to sway opinion.
posted by bshock at 12:03 PM on December 17, 2004

It's inspiring -- and perhaps a bit sad -- to read of how once upon a time individuals could successfully use rhetoric to sway opinion.


posted by felix betachat at 12:14 PM on December 17, 2004

Rhetoric in recent American debate reached its high point when Newt asked burning questions of the Democratic party from the Well of the House that the Democrats were unable to refute. Unable, that is, because he was addressing only C-SPAN cameras in an empty chamber.

I think various senators have sung partisan song parodies.
posted by allan at 1:53 PM on December 17, 2004

I find Churchill's position on Amritsar absolutley fascinating - considering this was a man with no qualms about using troops against strikers and his time as Colonial Secretary:
An uprising of more than 100,000 armed tribesmen took place in 1920. Over the next few months the RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs killing 9,000 Iraqis. This failed to end the resistance and Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued to pose a threat to British rule. Churchill suggested that chemical weapons should be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment." He added "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror" in Iraq.
As I understand it he was also strongly opposed to the 1935 Government of India Act (which would have given it some level of autonomy) and to it's later independence, so this is somewhat out of character. I guess weapons-grade pandemonium's quote is rather apt really.
posted by comraderaoul at 3:36 PM on December 17, 2004

Somebody remind me again why Churchill is supposedly the greatest political figure of the 20th century. Was it because he fought Nazis? That really opens the doors to a slew of awesome people in history.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 9:13 PM on December 17, 2004

Churchill is overrated because he inspired the English in the time of their worst danger, and the English were still in a position to impose their national heroes on everybody else. Apart from his WWII rhetoric (and prescient understanding of the menace of Hitler), he was a pretty repellent figure.

Great post, by the way!
posted by languagehat at 5:52 AM on December 18, 2004

christoper hitchens has a swipe at churchill in the first chapter of his latest collection ("love, poverty and war", iirc). he includes a fair number of juicy morsels, the most surprising of which (to me) was also one of the less political - that the famous radio speeches were given by someone else.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:57 AM on December 18, 2004

Good God, is that true? I don't trust Hitch as far as I can throw him.
posted by languagehat at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2004

I was watching A&E or one of those fancy channels, and there was a documentary on Churchill. It was supposedly rumoured that he carried around a little map in his pocket that had Europe entirely divided into USSR/UK/USA zones of control. Every country. I can't back this up at all. I was pretty young when I saw it.

It's probably just one of those geo-political urban legends, but it was sort of funny. I wonder what most politicians carry around in their pockets on the backs of napkins.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 9:32 AM on December 18, 2004

The speeches were written by Churchill and given by him in the House of Commons. For broadcast on BBC radio, some of them were read by an actor imitating his voice. At the time, the British didn't like letting microphones into the HoC. We have recordings of many of his publically delivered speeches though, and the similarity between the actor's voice and Churchill's was quite close.

Churchill was a very nasty man who did a lot of good for civilisation. I'm willing to settle for that.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 3:06 PM on December 18, 2004

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