Thomas Keneally is of course a novelist looking for sensational stories and I think one last chance to knock Britain the Commonwealth which he despises. But Keneally goes beyond any of the "Famine was deliberate school" to link Britain to other great famines such as the Bengal Famine of 1943-1944 and the Ethiopian famines of the 1970's and 1980's.
But Andrew Roberts is right these were not the greatest food shortages in modern history.
There is no doubt that Stalin's collectivization induced famines were among worse and largest and most unnecessary famines in all history. The Kulaks were efficient and productive farmers; they were killed for reasons of ideology and revenge and Stalin's paranoia more than anything else.
Greater in scope and numbers of victims has to be Mao's Chinese famines in the 1960's. In the Great Leap Forward the hills were denuded of trees to smelt iron and entire populations of birds were eradicated on orders of the Communist Party. This led to huge infestations of insects which devastated crops.
We all know of the hunger and famine in Nazi occupied Europe, particularly Russia but even Hitler's "Great Hunger" was brief compared to Stalin's and Mao's.
It was never British policy to confiscate food from civilians and denying them food aid in Ireland during the famine years 1845-1851. And it is a great stretch to include Ethiopia in this mix because Britain was no longer a major player in that region of Africa nor a dominant world power.
Keneally's greatest calumny of all is not against Britain or her Commonwealth but against Prime Minister Winston Churchill. To this man and to his leadership we in the West owe our very freedom. It was he, not Stalin, who defied Hitler and made it possible for the Allies to hold on until the full strength of the United States could be brought to bear. To even consider placing Churchill on the same level of murderous terror and ruthlessness as Hitler, Stalin or Mao is contemptible and of course places into doubt Mr. Keneally's objectivity and accuracy as an author.
To write such lies and calumnies is to be on the level of a far-left or far-right propagandist with no respect for the facts and no attempt at finding the truth.
"Starved for evidence" is right. Thomas Keneally may be right that we must investigate famines and unavoidable human tragedies and learn from them. No rational person could be joyous at the suffering and starvation of millions. But there is a vast difference between catastrophes that are a direct and deliberate policy of a government and policy and catastrophes that are acts of God that no one could have predicted and that no one really wanted.
We can question to what extent governments are responsible for famine relief, farm policy and foreign aid. But to me the historical lesson is clear: the greatest man-made famines in the world have been induced by Totalitarian governments of the Far Right and the Far Left not by corporations like Nestle, American presidents or British Prime Ministers. The real question we should ask ourselves is why certain economic systems are unable to feed their own people and how authoritarian governments actively use food coupons and famine as a weapon of revenge. That is a famine story I would like to hear more about.