Sunday, July 30, 2017

Dunkirk the Movie and Dunkirk the Event

Finally saw Dunkirk last night with Carol. As we drove to the movie theater, she read to me from "Their Finest Hours," volume 2 of Churchill's The Second World War epic, specifically from Chapter 5, "The Deliverance of Dunkirk." In a short space of time, that reading gave us some very necessary context. The movie should be an invitation to go much deeper into that event. Its telling on the screen was bereft of any meaning other than the poignant survival situations of the characters and the immediate objective of getting the troops back to England to fight another day. There was no reference to the transcendent at any point. Contrast this with the first paragraph of Churchill's chapter on the event: 

"There was a short service of intercession and prayer in Westminster Abbey. The English are loath to expose their feelings, but in my stall in the choir I could feel the pent-up, passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds of material loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain." 

I concede that the movie ended with one of the protagonists, at last in England and on the train home, reading a newspaper account of Churchill's speech to Parliament on June 4, in particular that part of the speech where "we shall fight on the beaches" appears. I didn't think it was quite enough.

Here is what B.H. Liddell Hart writes of Dunkirk in his History of the Second World War, at page 74:

"The escape of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 was largely due to Hitler's personal intervention. After his tanks had overrun the north of France and cut off the British army from its base, Hitler held them up just as they were about to sweep into Dunkirk - which was the last remaining port of escape left open to the British. At that moment the bulk of the B.E.F. was still many miles distant from the port. 

"But Hitler kept his tanks halted for three days. His action preserved the British forces when nothing else could have saved them. By making it possible for them to escape he enabled them to rally in England, continue the war, and man the coasts to defy the threat of invasion. Thereby he produced his own ultimate downfall, and Germany's five years later. Acutely aware of the narrowness of the escape, but ignorant of its cause, the British people spoke of 'the miracle of Dunkirk'." 

I would say that the "intervention" was the Lord's, through the malignant mind of Hitler, and that the British public had it right. It was a "miracle." Perhaps those prayers at Westminster.

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