The famished Raj

Newsinger, J (2015) 'The famished Raj.' New Left Review, 96. pp. 149-157. ISSN 0028-6060

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The Bengal Famine of 1943–44, a man-made catastrophe that in total caused the deaths of perhaps five million people, was described by the incoming British Viceroy Archibald Wavell as threatening ‘incalculable’ damage to the Empire’s reputation. It was, he said, ‘one of the greatest disasters that has befallen any people under British rule.’ Wavell was right about the scale of the disaster. But so effectively has the episode been written out of the histories of the Second World War and the Raj that it can scarcely be said to have damaged Britannia’s reputation. In the prestigious Oxford History of the British Empire: The TwentiethCentury, a volume that surely sits on the shelves of every university library in the English-speaking world, the Famine goes unmentioned. In Max Hastings’s 600-page study of Churchill during the Second World War, Finest Years, it gets barely a paragraph, while Boris Johnson’s cod biography, The Churchill Factor, does not touch on it at all. Jonathan Schneer’s study of Churchill’s War Cabinet, Ministers at War, omits any mention of the discussions the Famine occasioned in the War Cabinet. David Faber’s recent Speaking for England, a political biography of Leo Amery and his sons, says not a word about the Famine, even though its subject was Secretary of State for India at the time.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Date Deposited: 03 Jan 2017 15:18
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2021 09:44
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