Sophie and I went to the cinema today to watch Darkest Hour, the film made last year about Winston Churchill in the spring of 1940 when all the odds were against England. Here is a trailer from YouTube:
What this film has done for me is to restore my devotion to and veneration for the greatest Briton of modern history. Early in the film, Churchill was portrayed as cantankerous, rude and unfeeling, perhaps as vulgar and mad as old King George III back in the eighteenth century. He drank whisky with his full English breakfast! He has been denigrated quite a lot over the last few years in the name of historical realism. I thought the film would follow the trend.
However, there are several things I noticed in this film, his deep humanity and emotional suffering under the weight of the decision of whether to try to negotiate with Hitler or defend the honour and freedom of his country. King George VI also comes through as a man of humility and a profound sense of duty to his people. Mrs Churchill is the women with an uncompromising character but yet the ability to support and strengthen her husband in these terrible times – true feminism in my reckoning. Following the King’s advice, Churchill takes the London Underground to Westminster, and asks ordinary people to advise him. Never would England surrender, and every man, woman and child was for fighting for our freedom. On the basis of Vox populi vox Dei, the principle of the Jury of a Crown Court trial, Churchill won the support of England’s entire political establishment and the people. Here is his famous speech which brings tears to my eyes:
That is the stuff of which my grandfather was made. He was taken prisoner in Dunkerque as he (Captain in the Green Howards Regiment) and his men fought to the last. Those men made the true nobility of my country. We can look back at World War II and take our victory and Hitler’s defeat for granted. Would we have liked to have lived in May 1940 when all seemed to be lost, darkness would conquer the earth with all its bestiality and love of death?
I have expressed opinions on the question of the just war. I tend towards pacifism, but if there was ever a just war, it was against Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. There is no compromise against evil, only the bitterness and determination to win the victory like the Knights of old.
Those days were not mine, but I might live long enough to see worse. Propaganda and fake news make the world that much more difficult to understand, knowing who are the “goodies” and who are the “baddies”. Some try to get us to believe that we would end up at war with Russia. Others try to pass off Donald Trump as a “new Hitler”. I don’t buy any of it. There would be no just war against either. I read alternative news as well as mainstream sources, and try to form a balanced judgement – and it isn’t easy. I see more evil in our own midst, in globalism, in our corrupt western political establishments. I would not like to live in Putin’s Russia, but I believe he is more a force for good than for evil. The Muslim Caliphate is an evil enemy, and I hope and pray our rulers and leaders will take decisive action to make sure they do not end up dominating us and imposing their ideology of death in the name of their totalitarian god.
If it is of any consolation, May 1940 was just as confusing then as many current events of our own time. History could have turned out so differently, and the idea is horrifying. The film Fatherland is much more tame than what might have happened. We have seventy-eight years hindsight. The men who fought and died then were not supermen, but ordinary people like you and I.
War is that one terrifying mystery of sinful humanity that deeply depresses me, but even more so the possibility of totalitarianism, evil ideology and the darkness of madness.
Thank you for a thoughtful recommendation! I’ve previously encountered different responses/reviews, leaving me hopeful but still a bit apprehensive. I enjoyed the late Sir Robert Hardy’s Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain (2015), which I think – from what I’ve read of Darkest Hour, here and elsewhere – covers some of the same period, in its own way. “May 1940 was just as confusing then as many current events of our own time.” And the fine earlier, much more detailed series with Hardy – Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981) – shows that was true of the preceding years, too. It is somehow encouraging to get a sense of that – and see that things can turn out as well as they did, despite all there terrible suffering of so many millions.
Fatherland is comparatively tame, but some variant of its ‘thought experiment’ is worth making – what if Hitler would have been left in control of most of Europe, to exterminate and to develop his atomic bomb, and refine his rockets, jets, and long-range bombers at leisure, and (depending on when the accord was reached) go on cooperating with Stalin?
Here is the Wikipedia article about this aspect of alternative historical scenarios – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothetical_Axis_victory_in_World_War_II
How long the Nazi / Soviet regime would have lasted would very much have depended on how the USA dealt with it through the rest of the 1940’s and 50’s. Hitler was in very poor health and a drug addict and might not have lasted very long, perhaps into the 50’s or perhaps the 60’s. Having killed all the Jews and other “inferior” people, Nazism would have had no positive meaning or message, and would change in one way or another until it collapsed.
With the development of rockets and nuclear bombs, there would certainly have been a stand-off with the USA, unless the Reich / Soviet Bloc found a way to invade America. There’s also the question of the Japanese Empire and its role. Again, the problem is maintaining the foundational myth and means of controlling the populations.
The article gives quite a few novels giving various scenarios.