Don’t mention the war
In the newly released film, Dunkirk, desperately courageous actions in mortal combat are vividly portrayed, but the enemy is not identified. The swastika appears from time to time as an emblem, but given the prevailing general state of historical ignorance, it should not be assumed that the average millennial would be successful in connecting that emblem to the right nationality and ideology.
Unfortunately, there are now huge numbers of people below the age of 40 in the Western world who would not know at least the outline of what occurred at Dunkirk in the last days of May, 1940: 238,000 British soldiers and 100,000 French soldiers were successfully evacuated across the English Channel from the port of Dunkirk where they had been cornered by the German Army invading the Netherlands, Belgium and France. The Royal Navy and merchant marine, as well as hundreds of coastal and pleasure craft, took the men off under heavy air protection from the Royal Air Force. Great valour was required from the defenders of Dunkirk, on the sea and in the air, as well as providentially calm waters, to take off 20 divisions, under constant attack for five days.
There is no context in the movie, no depiction of Winston Churchill, who had been prime minister at this point for three weeks, although a rescued serviceman does read aloud from a newspaper an excerpt from Churchill’s epochal address repeating the formula “We shall fight” in the fields, hills, the air, towns and cities, and ending “We shall never surrender.” Only a historically learned person would know that France was about to surrender to Nazi Germany, that Britain would then be under mortal threat of invasion, that Winston Churchill would lead a historic resistance, Charles de Gaulle would found the Free French, and that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would order the immediate dispatch to Britain of the rifles, artillery and munitions to re-equip the evacuated forces, despite official American neutrality, and although much of what was sent was taken out of the hands of the American military.
There was no hint that democratic civilization hung in the balance and that the greatest drama of modern times was about to unfold, directed by extremely different protagonists of immense historic importance: Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin and Hitler. The director of Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan, who brought us Batman Begins, thought mention of Churchill or the threat of Nazism, or the fact that Britain was at war with Germany (inexplicably fighting in France), were “not relevant to today’s audiences,” and did not wish to enmesh the audience in “politics.” Nolan thought Dunkirk “a universal story about communal heroism.”
The war between the Third Reich and the British Commonwealth, materially assisted by the United States, was not “politics,” or at least was much more than politics. Those fighting gallantly at Dunkirk on both sides, all three countries, were fighting for and against the poles of a world Manichaean conflict. All fought heroically, but it was not a communal dispute.
Here lies a wider contemporary problem: all emphasis in culture and politics seems to be of conflict avoidance, homogenization, washing out differences, avoiding judgments, and being attractive, inoffensive, trendily pleasing and completely insubstantial. It is hazardous to leap between great generalizations in apparently unrelated less public sector presence in French life, and all would be better. Only 35 per cent of the French voted in the legislative elections and in the first round of presidential voting, Macron ran only one to three points ahead of the three rival candidates, a slightly xenophobic petite bourgeoise, a traditional Gaullist, and a far-left Marxist with eccentric views on a range of other subjects, including official vegetarianism and quotas according to sexual orientation (not gender, an obsolescent classification).
For 40 per cent of the British to vote for a party led by Marxist Jeremy Corbyn, a man who admires terrorists and deeply venerates failed communist dictatorships like those of Castro and Chavez, motivation is admirable, but some is worrisome.
This nonsense about transgender rights in the U.S. armed forces is related to the quest for universality and elimination of the recognition of differences. There is no civil right to be a member of the armed forces of the United States or any country. Some people are ineligible because of age or physical disability, and in the case of the very small number of transgender people (and rights exist for everyone, not just the numerous), there are very costly and potentially disruptive complexities in admitting transgender people to the military. The goal is efficient national defence, not the application of affirmative action in the military to every sub-section of U.S. society.
It would require me to mind-read to speculate on the motives for the outrageous Canadian government payment of $10.5 million to former Canadian al-Qaida terrorist and murderer Omar Khadr. Khadr, almost 16, killed one American soldier and seriously wounded another with a grenade in 2002. This was in Afghanistan where Canada was an ally of the United States. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadian interrogation of Khadr at the American facility at Guantanamo failed Canadian standards for the judicial questioning of young detainees. Khadr pled guilty to war crimes, and was repatriated to Canada in 2012 to serve the balance of his eight-year prison sentence. He was paroled after five years, but was in custody for a total of 13 years.
Khadr sued Canada for $20 million, while the widow of the American soldier he killed won an award against Khadr in Utah of $134 million. The Trudeau government issued a formal apology to Khadr, tried to hide the quantum of the payment to him, and paid it hurriedly to evade injunctive action from the bereaved Utah family seeking to intercept payment in Canada and then to freeze Khadr’s assets. The Canadian government had no reason to utter more than a pro forma apology and let the courts work out questions of damages. The payoff to Khadr will largely go to his own lawyers, but will make him a millionaire in his early 30s. Given his age at the time of his crimes, and considering time served, I have no grievance with Khadr, but the Canadian government seems to be engaging in helter-skelter conflict avoidance at taxpayers’ expense.
On the other hand, I must congratulate Justin Trudeau for his nomination of Julie Payette to the anachronistic office of Governor General. I know her slightly, but well enough to say that Payette is a very thoughtful, gracious, intelligent and interesting person. The fussing about her having had a scuffle with an ex-husband and about someone dying in a traffic accident where she was not at fault are nonsense. Having known the outgoing holder of that position intermittently for many years, I cannot join in the orchestrated claptrap about how wellliked he is, but congratulate the prime minister on an inspired choice as the new Governor General.