DUNKIRK: “People Should Be Hung From Lampposts, They Should Be Burned Alive, For What They’ve Done To Britain” - The Unz Review - PETER BRIMELOW
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
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-socialistpublic 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
But Nolan’s achievement goes far beyond
avoiding trouble. Quietly, possibly inadvertently, he has made a movie
that celebrates national identity.
But the British army in Nolan’s Dunkirk is
totally, completely and stunningly white.
(One of the “couple of women,” a nurse, is
unsparingly shown, in a horrible below-decks underwater shot, dying an Equal
Opportunity death by drowning after her hospital ship is torpedoed. Is this an
implicit criticism of putting women in
the front line?)
The result of this homogeneity, as the Chicago
Tribune’s John Kass wrote in a brilliant column:
The star of “Dunkirk” is the character of the
British people at that time, in the worst days of the war, long before America
joined in, when the British Expeditionary Force was humiliated in Europe and
And so it is a movie about a people of a
certain time, a people who knew who they were, a people who firmly understood
their culture and their obligations to it, and to their nation, and to each
I am old enough to remember that Britain. And
it looks like Christopher Nolan, born in 1970 in London
to a British father and an American mother, caught some sense of it too.
One small sign: Nolan has the British troops
standing in orderly, quiet queues (= lines in American), waiting to be taken
off. This is apparently what happened at Dunkirk. The British of that era were very good at queuing.
Significantly, the working class was best at it. It used to irritate my father
that everyone would queue for his buses except in affluent areas, where people
would just stand around and block the pavement (=sidewalk in American). “They
think they’re too good to queue,” he said. Social rot in Britain started from
(Nolan also has his troops being handed slices
of bread and jam by rescue workers. Known in the North of England as “jam
butties,” these were also omnipresent when I was a child. Reportedly, they’ve died out, along with so much
In 1940, my father, already in the British
Army in which he was to spend 6½ years, was stationed on the English Channel at
Folkstone, looking right at Dunkirk. Years later, reading about the German plans
for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of England, I realized he was right where
paratroopers were to land and asked him what kind of resistance his unit would
have been able to mount.