Never has so much ignorance been rendered on such a great feat by so few.
Such is the historical record of reviewers of the new movie, "Dunkirk."
First, a brief historical primer. Dunkirk was the site of the British Army's evacuation from northern France in May-June 1940. The evacuation was made necessary after the British Army in France, deployed as the British Expeditionary Force, was encircled by a rapidly advancing German army. Thanks to the immense courage of rearguard forces, RAF pilots, and British civilians (who lent their boats to the effort), 200,000 British soldiers and 140,000 French, Belgian and Polish soldiers were saved from capture.
Now to the reviews...
At USA Today, Brian Truitt laments "the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color." This, Truitt explains, "may rub some the wrong way."
Let me be clear. The "some" that might be offended are the same "some" that attempt to swim with polar bears and saltwater crocodiles. The Washington Free Beacon's Alex Griswold beat me to it, explaining why Truitt's review is so silly. But let me add one point. What measure of honor would there be to inject "actors of color" into a historical event in which no persons of color served? It would be like making the civil rights movie, Selma, but hiring all white actors to play the parts that black demonstrators played in real life.
In a similarly silly take, at Slate.com, Dana Stevens suggests the British Army at Dunkirk was the "last bulwark against Nazi invasion of the British mainland."
No, this is just wrong. Even if the British Army had been captured, there were two further bulwarks against invasion. First, the British Royal Air Force (RAF). As history records, the RAF was crucial in holding off swarms of German bombers that aimed to destroy the British will to resist and means of doing so. Unless and until the RAF was defeated, the Nazis would have not been able to protect ground forces on the landing grounds and approaches to London. (Incidentally, Hitler's idiocy in diverting German bombers away from RAF airfields and towards British cities helped the RAF win the day.)
Second, the Royal Navy. Though often ignored, the Royal Navy would have played an instrumental role in defending Britain from an invasion. And most historians believe the Royal Navy's recognized supremacy over the German navy would have allowed it to eviscerate German landing support elements and the German supply train in the event of an invasion by sea.
Still, at Rolling Stone, Peter Travers takes the historical fiction quite a bit further. He argues that, "Had Hitler pursued the fight on the beaches and forced a surrender, we'd all be living a real version of The Man in the High Castle [the book series that shows the Axis as victors]."
That's unlikely. Aside from the first point about the two bulwarks, a Nazi invasion of Britain would have been a 50-50 proposition at best. In significant part, that's because of the network of "stop lines" that the British had constructed to hold the German army from rapidly advancing towards Britain's critical political and industrial infrastructure. These stop lines were intended, realistically so, to give British forces time and space to organize a counter-offensive against German supply lines.
Yet the real idiocy of Travers "Man in the High Castle" claim is its ignorance of the U.S. role in World War Two.
After all, even if Britain had been defeated by the Nazis, the United States and the Soviet Union would remain obstacles to the global high castle. We already know how the Eastern Front ended up for Hitler (with millions of dead soldiers and civilians, and the annihilation of Berlin), but things would have been far worse had he tried to invade the United States. In such an attempt, Hitler's industrial capacity would have confronted the world's greatest industrial power.
Additionally, even if they could land and establish beachheads (which is very much in doubt), German army groups would have had to confront massive U.S. Army pincer movements across the continental United States. Oh, and Hitler's navy would have had to contend with the U.S. Navy strike groups contesting his supplies across more than 3,500 miles of ocean.
Winston Churchill knew this. He knew that America was Britain's last and ultimate hope. Speaking on June 4th, just after the Dunkirk evacuations — which he described as a "colossal military disaster" — Churchill offered Britons a message of hope. "And even if... this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."
By "new world", Churchill of course meant America.
This is the reality Travers arrogantly ignores. But Travers does more, doubling down on his own stupidity by jabbing a finger at middle America. He complains that "especially here in Trump's America, the significance [of the Dunkirk evacuation] might be lost."
Of course, it was those of "Trump's America" — middle America — that formed the forces that saved the world from the Nazis and imperial Japan. Those young men, like my grandfather from Fishers Island, New York, knew nothing of European history. But like their brothers at Dunkirk and in the skies over Britain (like my other grandfather), they saved it anyway.