During WWII who caused more death by starvation – Stalin in Ukraine, Hitler in Central Europe or Churchill in Bengal?

My answer to During WWII who caused more death by starvation – Stalin in Ukraine, Hitler in Central Europe or Churc…

Answer by Vishu Menon:

Dennis Weidner prevents me from replying to his comment. However, the following admission puts the picture in the right perspective:

“the tragedy in Bengal is that : 1) The Quit India campaign was putting enormous pressure on the British. And that not only the British, but the Indian Government failed to respond appropriately. If the Indians has been more supportive, than the British and Indian Governments could have functioned better to deal with the famine. It is rather unfair to undermine the British on one hand and then complain that their administration did not function well.”

Churchill was being vindictive towards a people whose leaders were demanding independence. Leaders from Bengal were in the forefront of the struggle; and the rather Don-Quixotic Subhash Chandra Bose had allied with the Japanese to fight, however ineffectively, the Indian soldiers who were fighting on the side of the Allies. When Governor General Wavell sent a frantic message asking for help in stemming Bengal famine, Churchill responded with “Is Gandhi dead yet?”. The implication was that as long as Gandhi and his peaceful independence movement lasted, he wouldn’t mind if the Indians starved and died.

The starvation had little to do with the absence if any of rice coming from Burma, but to the fact that ships that were destined to Calcutta from Australia were deliberately diverted to Europe. The ‘sturdy Greeks need food rather than the underfed Bengalis’ was another argument of Churchill. This was in tune with the cruel, but supposedly pragmatic. help-the fittest-survive approach towards human suffering – induced and natural – prevalent at that period of human history, shared by Churchill, Hitler, Stalin and later by Mao.

Ukraine famine was not all of Stalin’s making. It began with a deliberate attempt on the part of Hitler to famish the opposition. Stalin’s intentions were good – his Communist ideology taught that collectivization rather than private ownership would increase production and alleviate the peasant’s suffering. The opposite happened – largely because Ukrainian farmers vehemently opposed the idea. I remember a speech by Stalin in the nineteen fifties that when he spoke of the advantages of collective farming in a public meeting, an old Kulak woman raised her skirt and howled: “Do your collective farming here.” Stalin recounted that incident as if it were joke, there is little doubt that his stance against the Ukrainian farmers had hardened.

Do not forget that there was starvation in the United States during this period (1930’s); even in Europe. There were too many factors and parties to the famine in Ukraine; including the Ukrainian farmers themselves. On the other hand in West Bengal 13 years later, the one and only reason was British indifference and callousness that amounted to deliberate atrocity, the chief architect of which was Winston Churchill, who availed of every opportunity to express his cynicism towards India and Indians. Dennis’ own comment on that “ It is rather unfair to undermine the British on one hand and then complain that their administration did not function well.” is rather representative of the Colonial attitude of the British seven decades after colonialism was buried. By undermining he meant asking for independence, forgetting that India contributed 2.5 million soldiers, sailors and airmen to the Allied cause and that at least half a million of them lost their lives while at it, not including those who died due to paucity of food and medicine, control of transportation facilities during the war period and other factors. India had little to do with the perpetual animosity among the small but boastful and belligerent nations of Europe which spread like wildfire towards the Americas and Japan; yet it paid, on account of the British occupation, a huge price for their war in cash, lives and kind. When the war was won, Churchill called it the Victory of the English-speaking people. Indeed.

Forced collection of food grains by Stalin’s government was nothing different from what was happening in India during and after the second world war. I recall, as a child, how my grandmother and parents tried hard to hide at least enough paddies for the year when the government men would come and raid our house and cart away all that they had toiled for. This, in the princely kingdom of Travancore, which was supposed to be an independent kingdom, Britain’s responsibility only to protect it (from itself) against an annual payment by cash.

Between 1765 and 1947, which was the period when India was under British Rule, over 50 million human lives were lost due to famine. <Timeline of major famines in India during British rule – Wikipedia>. This had never happened before nor after independence. Those figures speak much; but the deliberate callousness of the Prime Minister of Britain that caused an untold number of deaths in the twentieth century pales the records of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot when it comes to genocide by starvation.

Churchill's query that shocked Viceroy Lord Wavell, “Hasn’t Gandhi died yet?”, during a period of extreme agony for millions of people under his administration, speaks all that you need to know of a man’s cultural standing. Neither Hitler nor Stalin is known to have been that callous – at least in their written notes.

During WWII who caused more death by starvation – Stalin in Ukraine, Hitler in Central Europe or Churchill in Bengal?


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