From Winston Churchill to the Bengal famine: are we in denial about our role in WW2?

The Second World War was perhaps the greatest collective trauma in the history of the world. But are we remembering the Allied victory through rose-coloured glasses? What elements of the Second World War might we be in denial about? Historian Keith Lowe explores – in 60 seconds

Winston Churchill gives his famous v-sign. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

What elements of the Second World War are we in denial about?

This series of videos is designed to be bitesized, offering introductory information for between 1-2 minutes.

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Historian Keith Lowe answers…

“It starts with the fact that we celebrate the war an awful lot; we like to look back on the war with rose-tinted spectacles.

“As far as what we are in denial about, we don’t like to look too closely at some of the things that we did. The Bengal famine [of 1943]  is the obvious one, and what it meant to the people who actually lived through it and the responsibility for it, which started with the Bengal government, went up to the Indian government and ended, really, with the British government and [Winston] Churchill.

Churchill was no saint – just like none of us are saints

“Nobody likes to say bad things about Churchill because, of course, he’s our symbol of British fortitude during the war. But, you know, he was no saint, just like none of us are saints. So people don’t like to criticise Churchill.

“There are plenty of other things, too. In Africa, we rounded up Africans and basically set up slave labour camps and made them work for us on plantations against their will. And these things are not really talked about. So, yeah, I suppose that counts as denial.”


Listen to the full interview with Keith Lowe on the podcast

Keith Lowe’s latest book, Prisoners of History, is a study of Second World War monuments around the world, and what each of these monuments say about the societies that put them up. It is published on 9 July 2020. You can find him on Twitter @KeithLoweAuthor.

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Keith Lowe was speaking to Rachel Dinning at BBC History Magazine’s History Weekend 2017.