Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About

Khalid Elhassan - October 12, 2021

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Famished locals in Bengal, 1943. All That Is Interesting

4. Blunder Followed Blunder Throughout the Course of the Bengal Famine

In what turned out to be yet another huge blunder, British authorities also destroyed thousands of boats throughout Bengal, out of fear that they might fall into the hands of the Japanese. Unfortunately, those boats were vital to the local economy and the transportation of food. With traditional rice imports from Burma cut off, home grown surpluses unnecessarily destroyed by the alarmed British, and the means to transport what little food surplus remained wrecked, famine roared through Bengal. Relief efforts were hampered by Churchill’s decision to divert food shipments intended for the starving Bengalis to already well-supplied British soldiers in the Mediterranean.

Ships loaded with wheat sailed past Indian cities whose streets were littered with the corpses of those starved to death, in order to add to the stockpiles of food in Britain. Simultaneously, offers of Canadian and American food aid to the famished Indians were turned down by Churchill’s government, even as it prohibited India from using its own sterling reserves or its own ships to import food. Indeed, India was made to export over 70,000 tons of rice in the first half of 1943, even as millions of Indians starved to death.

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Winston Churchill was indifferent to the suffering of starving Bengalis in 1943. Houston Museum of Natural Science

3. Churchill Disavowed British Responsibility for the Bengal Famine, and Blamed the Indians Instead

The colonial government in Delhi sent the British Prime Minister in London a telegram to inform him of the famine in Bengal and that millions of Indians were dying. Winston Churchill churlishly replied: “Then why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” The Viceroy of India described Churchill’s attitude towards India as “negligent, hostile, and contemptuous“. Churchill was unrepentant, however. In addition to being shockingly callous about the millions of deaths sure to result from his orders, he seemed viciously gleeful about the predictable consequences when they actually occurred. As he put it, referring to the deaths of millions of Bengalis under his watch:I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.

Nowhere in Churchill’s assessment was there any recognition of the fact that it had taken blunder after blunder by British officials to produce that famine. That was colonialism in a nutshell: an imbalance of power between colonists and colonized. It created dynamics whereby respected figures such as Churchill, widely praised for their moral virtues, could engage in morally reprehensible conduct without any qualms. It allowed the government that ruled both Indians and Britons to callously tolerate famine in India, yet remain sensitive to British views that bread rationing in wartime Britain was an intolerable imposition.

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Gamal Abdel Nasser delivering a fiery speech. Madison

2. An Egyptian Leader’s Blunder in Provoking a War He Was Not Prepared to Fight

In the runup to the Six Day War, June 5th – 10th, 1967, tensions between Israel and her Arab neighbors climbed steadily. Raids from Palestinian guerrillas based in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, increased, and elicited massive Israeli reprisals. That put Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser in a bind. He was the Arab world’s most popular politician, a hero of the masses for his defiance of Britain, France, and Israel during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Now, however, he was criticized his failure to aid other Arab states against Israel. He was also accused of hiding behind a UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Nasser knew that the Egyptian military was in no shape to fight Israel, but he wanted to retain his stature in the Arab world by bluster and bluff. He broadcast increasingly heated speeches that threatened Israel, and sought to convey his seriousness with demonstrations short of war. However, Nasser got carried away with his own rhetoric, and escalated the demonstrations beyond the point of prudence. He began to mass Egyptian forces in the Sinai. A few days later, he requested the withdrawal of the UN peacekeepers who separated the Israeli and Egyptian forces. A few more days, and he closed to Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. A week later, Jordan’s king arrived in Egypt to ink a mutual defense pact, followed soon thereafter by Iraq. Nasser had intended the whole affair as bluster, but it turned out to be a grave blunder.

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Wrecked Egyptian airplanes after the surprise Israeli attack that kicked of the Six Day War. Khaleej Times

1. Too Much Bluster Turned Out to Be a Grave Blunder

Unfortunately for Gamal Abdel Nasser and his allies, what might have been intended as bluff seemed all too real from an Israeli perspective. Moreover, the Israelis, who actually were prepared for war, had long been itching for an excuse to cut Nasser down to size. So on June 5th, 1967, they launched preemptive air strikes that destroyed 90 percent of the Egyptian air force on the ground, and put paid to Syria’s planes as well. With aerial supremacy secured, the Israelis then launched ground attacks that routed the Egyptians and seized Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula within three days. They also routed the Jordanians and seized Jerusalem and the West Bank within two.

Remarkable Historic Blunders these People Should be Embarrassed About
Israeli soldiers guarding Egyptian prisoners captured during the Six Day War. Greanville Post

Egypt and Jordan accepted a UN ceasefire but the Syrians unwisely did not. So the Israelis attacked Syria on June 9th, and captured the Golan Heights within a day. Syria accepted a cease fire the following day. The defeat was humiliatingly lopsided: about 24,000 Arabs killed vs 800 Israelis, with similarly disproportionate rates for wounded and equipment losses. It was a huge blunder by Nasser. His prestige in the Arab world, which he had sought to burnish with warlike rhetoric and demonstrations short of war, took a severe hit from which it never recovered.

Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

BBC – How Churchill Starved India

British Battles – Battle of Kabul and the Retreat to Gandamak

Cracked – 6 Grand Mastermind Coups (That Fell Apart Immediately)

Darlymple, William – Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (2013)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Narodnaya Volya

Extreme Tech – Square Windows That Changed the Aviation Industry

History Collection – 20 Embarrassing Mistakes Historical Figures Made

History Extra – Mary Rose Facts: When and How Did Henry VIII’s Flagship Sink?

History News Network – Failures of the Presidents: JFK’s Bay of Pigs Disaster

Lampert, Evgeny – Sons Against Fathers: Studies in Russian Radicalism and Revolution (1965)

Macrory, Patrick – Retreat From Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan, 1842 (2002)

New Scientist, September 3rd, 2014 – Myths and Reality of the Nazi Space Rocket

New York Times, November 2nd, 2015 – Gunter Schabowski, Whose Gaffe Helped Burst the Berlin Wall, Dies at 86

New Zealand History – Sydney Ross

Oren, Michael B. – Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2002)

Radio New Zealand – Nazi Hoax: The Story of Syd Ross

Security and Surveillance History Series, 2018/1 – A Formidable Responsibility: The Rise and Fall of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Bureau 1940-1945

Tharoor, Shashi – Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India (2017)

Time Magazine, November 29th, 2010 – The Ugly Briton

Wikipedia – 1842 Retreat From Kabul

Wikipedia – Assassination of Alexander II of Russia

Yarmolinsky, Avrahm – Road to Revolution: A Century of Russian Radicalism (1955)

 

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