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Joe McQuaid's Publisher's Notebook: Learn about Dunkirk, then see the movie

By JOE McQUAID
July 30. 2017 11:50PM




Went to see the “Dunkirk” movie. It is well done. Good acting, great camera work. See it, if you can, in the IMAX version.

You might want to bring ear plugs. There’s a lot of sound of shelling and gunfire, so startling at the start that a lady next to me spilled her drink. Well, at least it wasn’t popcorn gone to waste.

You might also want to read up on what happened at Dunkirk, France, in 1940 if you are not familiar with the story.

Dorothy Rabinowitz, a Wall Street Journal columnist, points out that if you don’t know your World War II history, this “Dunkirk” isn’t very helpful.

The movie is all about the interactions of the British men and boys who were stranded on the French coast, and the men and boys and women who came to their rescue, by sea in private crafts of all kinds; and by air with some marvelous Royal Air Force Spitfires.

But there is no context. Why were all these soldiers there? Who was just over the hill, and in the air, out to kill or capture them? (History spoiler alert: It was Adolf Hitler’s army and air forces, whose Blitzkrieg across Europe had quickly overrun Britain and her allies. Upward of half a million UK soldiers were in peril. Without them, or even with them, the end of Britain itself seemed certain.)

A guy named Churchill is also referenced at the end of the film. A newspaper notes his remarks, as the Dunkirk evacuation was going on, that despite this defeat, England would go on.

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

With history and civics understanding in short supply these days, “Dunkirk” would have been an excellent “teachable moment.”

Perhaps those who go to see it because of its word-of-mouth popularity, will be curious enough to find out for themselves why those men and boys were there and how important to the world was the grit and bravery of their fellow countrymen in their rescue.

Thank God for them all.

Write to Joe McQuaid at Publisher@unionleader.com or on Twitter @deucecrew.


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