Saddam and Churchill

It is a society imbued with racism that celebrates Winston Churchill as a great man in history while it vilifies, condemns and, presumably, executes Saddam Hussein…   It was not Saddam Hussein but Sir Winston Churchill who introduced the use of chemical weapons to Iraq

I wrote this piece in 2005, after the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and before he was “tried” and lynched. Even in comparison with Saddam, Winston Churchill comes off looking bad. While a debate rages over monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other “heroes” of the Confederacy, there is a bust to the violently white supremacist Winston Churchill in the Oval Office and a National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.  This article was published in the March, 2005, issue of THIRD WORLD RESURGENCE, Penang, Malaysia.


By Brian Terrell

While the terrible toll of a growing insurgency on Iraqi civilians, soldiers and police is being reported with a daily tally in the media (“Suicide Bombers Kill At Least 35 in Baghdad Area” proclaims a headline in The New York Times 2/19/05) the number of Iraqi civilian casualties of American and British military action and the occupation is not so easily available. Studies such as published by the British medical journal Lancet last October that suggest a civilian death toll of more than 100,000 are largely ignored by the media in the United States. American soldiers killed by Iraqis is news, of course, and it seems that Iraqis killed by other Iraqis is news as well. What is not deemed news is when Iraqis are killed by Americans, even when this is done on a massive scale.

This bias of the media is the official policy of the U.S. military in Iraq- “We don’t do body counts,” General Tommy Franks of the U.S. Command insisted when pressed to give an estimate on the civilian death toll during the invasion in spring of 2003. Keeping such numbers of Iraqi civilian victims of “coalition” action from being made public or even from being collected has been a tactical imperative in this war. The destruction of the city of Fallujah last fall began with an attack on the city’s hospitals and detention of its doctors to prevent casualty reports from inflaming sentiment against the occupation. Hospitals report casualties; reported casualties affect public opinion against the occupation. Hospitals, then, as the Pentagon’s admitted logic goes, are “centers of propaganda” (The New York Times, 11/8/04) and centers of propaganda are deemed legitimate military targets.


Another statue of a racist that needs to go- Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri


This selective outrage, this counting the Iraqi victims of Iraqi violence while ignoring or suppressing reports of Iraqi victims of American or British violence, is also apparent in government and media references to Saddam Hussein. Of the many and awful crimes attributed to Saddam for which he is likely to be tried soon, the allegation that he used chemical weapons against his own people seems most horrible of all. Rarely is his name mentioned without mention of this crime that seems to be the one that makes Saddam less than human and into a monster, the fact of technical assistance and diplomatic cover from the United States not withstanding.

It was not Saddam Hussein, though, but Sir Winston Churchill who introduced the use of chemical weapons to Iraq. In 1920, as Arabs and Kurds rose against Britain’s brutal post-World War I occupation of Iraq, Churchill, then Secretary for War and Air, first suggested the use of “asphyxiating bombs” to put down the rebellion. (Simons, Geoff. Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam. London, 1994) Some in the British cabinet demurred, citing the misery and revulsion that such weapons caused in Europe in the first World War. In response to these considerations Churchill insisted “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against primitive tribes” and argued that the use of gas was a “scientific expedient” that should not be prevented “by the prejudices of those who do not think clearly.”

Winston Churchill’s “clear thinking” prevailed and chemical weapons were used in Iraq “with excellent moral effect.” “The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means in casualties and damage,” reported Wing Commander Sir Arthur Harris of the RAF’s 30th Squadron, “Within forty-five minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.” Harris, later as head of the RAF Bomber Command, gained heroic stature for using the skills he honed in Iraq to destroy entire German cities.

I cannot but wonder at a society that demonizes Saddam Hussein while it makes heroes of the likes of Winston Churchill and Arthur Harris. Isn’t this the story: the visionary and statesman Winston Churchill used chemical weapons on “primitive tribes” in Iraq in 1920 and six decades later the murderous thug Saddam Hussein used similar weapons in Iraq on “his own people” to the same “excellent moral effect?” I suggest the real outrage over Saddam is not so much over those he had killed as it is over his presumption to take for himself the white man’s privilege. White men, engaged in the spread of civilization, might wipe out whole nations of darker skinned people without suffering a blot on their name, reputation or place in history, but is seems a monstrous and unforgivable fracture of this social order for Saddam, an Arab, to do the same.

Use of weapons of mass destruction is a crime to be condemned without restraint, no matter who is the perpetrator or who is the victim and I do not write to defend Saddam. It is a society imbued with racism, however, that celebrates Winston Churchill as a great man in history while it vilifies, condemns and, presumably, executes Saddam Hussein.

This same racism is exposed when the deaths of the American and British soldiers and those Iraqis killed by Arab insurgents count, the number of those killed, their names and images, are given to the public daily to mourn while the Iraqi victims of American and British guns and missiles perish without notice.

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