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Dunkirk Spirit

I saw the movie Dunkirk this weekend. If you have a chance, go see it. It's about the plight of the British Expeditionary Force and remnants of the French army trapped on a beach in Belgium at the end of May 1940. 400,000 soldiers waited to board ships to take them back across the channel to England.

Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister less than a month previously. He had been running around with his hair on fire about Germany for years to no avail. The non-interventionist British government steadfastly refused to arm itself. Dunkirk was a military disaster in the making for Britain and Churchill. The bulk of the British army was on that beach.

It's non-stop, one harrowing experience after another. All of it true.

Then a miracle occurs.

A few days later, Churchill gave his We Will Never Surrender speech. In it, he made clear that Britain was on its own, surrounded by countries under the sway of Hitler. It was the last hold out in the West and Dunkirk was only the beginning as to what the entire nation was going to be asked to do in defense of its island. If they were going to be invaded, they were going down fighting, every last one of them.

Churchill put his hopes in America to come to its rescue. We did but not until almost all hope was lost and the British people heroically withstood privation and the Blitz.

These days, guns and bombs aren't necessary. The enemy took us over with its words. But some of us aren't going down without a fight. We will never surrender.

Linguistic note: Churchill delivered this speech using as many English words as he could. There are very few Latin derived words in his speech.

Here are the final few sentences of his speech:


9 Responses

  1. I went to see “Dunkirk” too. I was born in 1954, less than 10 years after the war ended. It was something that my parents and grandparents had lived through and was fresh in their memories. History became one of my interests.

    Churchill did embody the fighting spirit of the British people. He spent years in the political wilderness as he was one of the few who had read “Mein Kampf,” and knew Hitler’s intentions.

    Belgium and the Netherlands had declared neutrality, but the German army went through those countries to avoid a head on assault against France and the Maginot Line, the French defense against a German attack.

    The movie captures the confusion, the noise and the resolve of people to do their best. In these days of people who only see what’s in it for themselves, to remember how people risked their lives for something larger than themselves is amazing.

  2. In one biology class, I drew a portrait of Churchill (don’t remember where I got the original photo from) because I was bored — he with his lines and many nooks and crannies and promontories on his face is an artist’s delight. Churchill is not my favorite because he mocked and made fun of Gandhi.

    That said, I agree about this silent and hidden war on America, from within and out. How can this happen in America? Read a Dahlia Lithwick’s piece that very succinctly showed how we are normalizing and getting adjusted to everything that is happening by relying on lawyers to take care of it. Yes, nation of laws but the lawless person with the power does not care about the law and as we are figuring out, it is all asymmetric — opposition is slowly and methodically putting together a legal case when all of us (who want to see) can see what is happening is not acceptable, legal or otherwise, and even dangerous.

  3. Lithwick: “What is increasingly clear is that Trump’s lawlessness isn’t a problem to be solved by other people’s attorneys. Like it or not, we are all public interest lawyers now.”

    • Thanks for that article. She is right. And we certainly can’t rely on the craven and cowardly GOP to do anything about Trump.

    • Oh, and this gets back to what I said in January. We are just going to have to make the GOP pay at the polls and pay at the polls and pay at the polls for a long time. We may even get to entirely destroy the GOP which in his current form is not a bad thing.

  4. After I wrote my earlier comment, I remembered a book that my father owned and of which I have a copy. It was a condensation of Churchill’s “The Second World War” and photographs from Time and Life magazines. In the Preface is an insert into the text called “Moral of the Work,” which states:

    IN WAR: Resolution
    IN DEFEAT: Defiance
    IN VICTORY: Magnanimity
    IN PEACE: Good Will

    The morning after Election Day, 2016, I thought of this.

    The passage of time has shown that Trump was not magnanimous in victory.

    The movie “Dunkirk” captures the resolution that denied victory to the enemy.

    The isolationist sentiment in the US prevented FDR from extending as much help to the British as he would have liked, but the Lend/Lease program helped the British hang on until Pearl Harbor.

  5. McCain is returning to DC to vote on the healthcare bill tomorrow. Man…if he votes yes on this thing, it won’t be good — ‘Do the right thing – you have nothing to lose.’

    • So true. Maybe he doesn’t know what the right thing is anymore. Maybe, he hasn’t for a while.

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