Dunkirk: “People Should be Hung from Lampposts, they Should be Burned Alive, for what They’ve Done to Britain”
So I went to see this movie Dunkirk at the urging of James Kirkpatrick, VDARE.com’s lead tweetmeister and our ambassador to popular culture. In the process, I made the interesting discovery that my young Texan wife had never heard of Dunkirk. For me, it brought flocking back a host of memories and emotions sternly repressed since I left Britain for U.S. in 1970. Chief among them now: lethal rage.
If you grew up in Britain in the 1950s, as John Derbyshire and I did, the myth of the Dunkirk evacuation—using “myth” in its affirming and sustaining sense—was everywhere. I remember reading illustrated stories about it in children’s comics when I was about Felicity’s age (now 6).
Of course, the British were wrong to believe this was the decisive turning point in World War II—there were, as we are incessantly reminded, far bigger battles on the Eastern Front. But it was pretty decisive for Britain: the loss (or, politically even more awkward, capture) of the 200,000-plus U.K. troops retrieved from the beaches after being cut off by the German panzers would have been devastating, perhaps fatal, for a country that could field only ten infantry divisions in 1939. As it was, casualties were very heavy—one of many arresting points made by Dunkirk is how terrifyingly quickly combat-damaged ships can sink.
Moreover, Dunkirk was in a real sense a people’s battle. Some 700 civilian craft were recruited to get the men off the beaches and (as the movie recounts) their owners sometimes went with them. When my father took charge of the municipal-socialist public transport operation in Birkenhead in the 1960s, he had Mersey ferrymen who had gone. It was an intense popular effort and it struck deep personal roots.
Although aimed at a mass audience, Dunkirk is a very sophisticated movie and a remarkable technical achievement by writer-producer director Christopher Nolan. It’s also a political achievement. Nolan’s subject is one of the Anglosphere’s great patriotic epics and thus ripe for anti-West snark, but it has actually been well received by the Leftist Cultural Establishment e.g.
Nolan seems to have flown under the radar, partly by eliminating virtually all dialog and hence minimizing the chance of jarring Politically Correct sensibilities.
Even Churchill’s sacralized “We shall fight on the beaches” June 4 oration announcing the evacuation to the House of Commons, hearing which was so much an inescapable part of growing up in England in the 1950s, like listening to Kathleen Ferrier, that I could recite it from memory and never without a thrill, appears here only as haltingly read, from a newspaper, by an exhausted, wondering survivor as his train finally reaches London.
But Nolan’s achievement goes far beyond avoiding trouble. Quietly, possibly inadvertently, he has made a movie that celebrates national identity.
Read the rest of Peter Brimelow’s article here.