“Allied leaders were anti-Nazi, but not anti-racist. We’re now paying the price for their failure.” That was the headline on an April 29 Washington Post op-ed by John Broich, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. His beef with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt was that, yes, they led the Western Allies to victory in World War II, but while they both delivered memorable wartime speeches in which they eloquently adduced the enemy’s evil, they “rarely attacked the core tenet of Nazism: the belief in a master race.” By way of defending this assertion, Broich explained that in a recent class on World War II,
I had my students pore through the speeches and letters of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the years around the war’s start in 1939, searching for his basis for opposing the Nazis. They found Churchill wanted to stand up to the Nazis’ expansionism, fight their anti-democracy posture and resist what he called (but largely left undefined) their anti-Christianity. What he did not do, however, was call for the destruction of the essence of Nazism: race supremacy.
FDR, too, according to Broich, “either failed to comprehend the basic nature of German fascism or chose not to rally Americans to oppose Nazism as Nazism. In his prewar correspondence, he made no secret of his dislike of Hitler and his belligerent regime, but like Churchill, he never framed his opposition to Germany as a rejection of race hierarchy or race nationalism.” Broich then went a step further, citing America’s racial segregation laws and FDR’s placement of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II as evidence that when it came to racism set in system, Roosevelt’s America and Churchill’s Britain were scarcely better than Hitler’s Germany. Which, of course, is an obscene view to teach to college students or to preach to newspaper readers.
Let’s be clear: Jim Crow and Manzanar were deplorable. But even to hint at moral equivalence between the Western Allies and the Nazis is insipid.
After reading Broich’s article, we turned to Andrew Roberts’s recent bestseller Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book’s first reference to Hitler appears on page 95, in a passage about Churchill’s attitude toward Jews. Churchill, Roberts tells us, was a “philosemite” – an active admirer of the Jewish people. In 1904, he denounced a bill that would have restricted immigration by Russian Jews because, in his own words, it sought “to appeal…to racial prejudice against Jews.”
Churchill’s philosemitism was not just a public stance but a private conviction: Roberts lists several Jewish causes to which Churchill generously contributed (and this at a time when he and his wife, Clementine, were having trouble making ends meet). It was, Roberts writes, Churchill’s deep respect for Jews that enabled him, in the 1930s, “to spot very clearly and early on what kind of a man Adolf Hitler was.” In other words, Churchill, far from being unaware of or indifferent to Hitler’s antisemitism, recognized his evil earlier than others did precisely because it expressed itself as Jew-hatred.
Broich’s charge against Churchill, then, is a calumny. As for FDR, it’s absolutely true that he was the president who rounded up Japanese-Americans, turned away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and chose not to bomb the railroad line to Auschwitz. Yet while FDR was a Democrat and a so-called progressive, Broich made a point of linking his racist views and policies to the present-day American right, rather than to today’s left, whose obsession with group identity, fondness for segregation (e.g. gay-only and black-only dormitories), and mounting antisemitism (as reflected in the recent Nazi-style New York Times cartoon showing Donald Trump as a blind Jew and Benjamin Netanyahu as his guide dog) is very much in the “progressive” tradition.
Compounding the duplicity and offensiveness of Broich’s op-ed was his attempt to draw a moral contrast between, on the one hand, Churchill and FDR and, on the other hand, one Muhammad Najati Sidqi, “a Palestinian leftist activist” whom Broich praised for recognizing Hitler early on as a racial supremacist. In fact Sidqi wasn’t just a “leftist” – he was, though Broich omits to mention this fact, an out-and-out Communist – a devotee of a totalitarian ideology every bit as evil as Nazism. Sidqi studied in Moscow at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (Ho Chi Minh’s and Deng Xiaoping’s alma mater), was a regular contributor to the Communist newspaper Mundo Obrero, and is today memorialized by the Najati Sidqi Competition, a literary prize awarded by the Palestinian Minister of Culture.
This is the man whom Broich held up as morally superior to Winston Churchill and FDR.
Interestingly, it was not until the end of his op-ed that Broich mentioned, parenthetically, our other wartime enemy, the Japanese Empire – whose subjects, like Hitler’s, were guided largely by a conviction of their own racial superiority. Given that the orthodox view in today’s humanities departments is that all whites are racists and that non-whites can’t be racists, Broich deserves a thumbs-up for even daring to mention Japanese racism, however fleetingly. But what a low bar to have to clear!