August 2010, Week 2


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Sun, 8 Aug 2010 17:45:04 -0400
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Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the
Ravaging of India During World War II
by Madhusree Mukerjee
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: August 10, 2010
368 pages
ISBN13: 9780465002016
ISBN10: 0465002013
[moderator: this post is from Powells Books

Publisher Comments: 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.

Review: "Misremembered as a placid imperial bastion
during WWII, India was in fact racked by famine and
insurrection, according to this searching history.
Mukerjee (The Land of Naked People) surveys a country
seething with violence, as Congress Party militants
agitating for independence turned to rioting and
assassination campaigns after bloody police crackdowns,
and an army of Indian guerrillas fought alongside the
Japanese against the British. The author's centerpiece
is a chronicle of the 1943 Bengali famine, in which at
least 1.5 million died while British authorities
continued exporting Indian grain. She blames the
disaster on British policy, which, she argues, sought to
extract as much war production and food as possible from
India while printing money to pay for it; the resulting
inflation priced food beyond the reach of the poor.
Mukerjee sets her well-researched chronicle amid
heartbreaking scenes of starvation, bloodshed, and
pungent portraits of Winston Churchill and his advisers
as studies in racial disdain and deluded imperial
nostalgia. This gripping account of a historical tragedy
is a useful corrective to fashionable theories of benign
imperial rule, arguing that a brutal rapaciousness was
the very soul of the Raj. Maps. (Aug. 10)" Publishers
Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)

Synopsis: In the tradition of "The Rape of Nanking" and
"A Problem From Hell," this account will change the way
we think of Churchill and World War II

Synopsis: A bracing narrative of wartime India and the
tremendous famine that resulted when Churchill
sacrificed the lives of four million Bengalis to win
World War II

Synopsis: Relying on extensive archival research and
firsthand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting
narrative of the Bengal Famine of 1943-44 in which
millions of villagers starved to death, and Churchill's
decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war

Synopsis: In 1943 Winston Churchill and the British
Empire needed two million Indian troops, all of India's
industrial output, and hundreds of thousands of tons of
Indian grain to support the Allied war effort. Such
massive contributions, paid for by inflationary
policies--printing paper money--were all but certain to
trigger famine in India. Because Churchill believed that
the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, he
proceeded, sacrificing millions of Indian lives in order
to preserve what he held most dear. The result: the
Bengal Famine of 1943-44 in which millions of villagers
starved to death.

Relying on extensive archival research and first-hand
interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of
Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India
as the war unfolded and to ignore the corpses piling up
in the Bengali countryside. The hypocrisy, racism, and
extreme economic conditions of two centuries of British
colonial rule finally built to a head, leading Indians
to win their independence in 1947, accompanied by a
brutal partition into India and Pakistan.

Few Americans know that World War II was won on the
backs of these starving peasants; Mukerjee shows us a
side of World War II that we have been blind to. We know
what Hitler did to the Jews, what the Japanese did to
the Chinese, what Stalin did to his own people. This
story has largely been neglected, until now.

Synopsis: A dogged enemy of Hitler and bold leader of
Great Britain through World War II, Winston Churchill
has been venerated as one of the great political minds
of the last century. The darker side of Churchills
record during WWII, however, has gone woefully
unexamined. At the same time that Churchill vehemently
opposed the Nazis genocidal barbarism, he governed India
with total contempt for Indian lives. A series of
Churchills decisions between 1940 and 1944 directly and
inexorably led to the deaths of some three million

Closely researched and vividly detailed, historian
Madhusree Mukerjees Churchills Secret War restores this
oft-overlooked tragedy to the larger context of WWII,
Churchills legacy, Indias fight for independence, and
the ultimate downfall of Britains global empire.

About the Author: Madhusree Mukerjee, a native of India,
won a Guggenheim Fellowship to write her book The Land
of Naked People. She previously served on the board of
editors of Scientific American. She lives in Schmitten,


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