Obama, Churchill, the Mau Maus and Artless Diplomacy

Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein

Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein

A bronze bust of Sir Winston Churchill, created by American-born artist Sir Jacob Epstein in 1946, was loaned to the White House in 2001 by the Tony Blair administration as a symbol of the enduring special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. President George W. Bush kept the sculpture on display in the Oval Office throughout his term.

In a speech before the the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in November, 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:

“Winston Churchill described the joint inheritance of Britain and America as not just a shared history but a shared belief in the great principles of freedom, and the rights of Man, of what Barack Obama described in his election night speech as the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.”

But maybe those were “words, just words” to the capacious ears of President Barack Obama. The White House curators removed the Churchill bust, put it in storage and replaced it with a bust of Abraham Lincoln. Although the British government had not asked for the return of the sculpture, they now have it back.

There is speculation that instead of admiring Sir Winston Churchill, the current US President actually holds him in disdain. It was Prime Minister Churchill who sent in troops to crush the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in 1952. Among those who were detained and allegedly tortured was Barack Obama’s grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama.

The Mau Maus were an African Nationalist group active in the 1950s, whose purpose was to remove British rule and European settlers from Kenya. The Mau Maus were terrorists, using violence and murder against non-military and non-government civilians. On December 12, 1963, Kenya became an independent nation. Amnesty was granted to the Mau Maus four days later.

See Also:
Sir Jacob Epstein
Timeline: Mau Mau Rebellion
Barack Obama sends bust of Winston Churchill on its way back to Britain [Telegraph.co.uk; February 14, 2009]
Churchill bust casts shadow over special relationship with the US [Times Online; January 31, 2009]
Barack Obama’s grandfather ‘tortured by the British’ during Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion [Mail Online; December 3, 2008]