Yesterday Mrs S and I went to see Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’. A very powerful film. One for the video collection. Also today our landlord, a man with an accent more English than my own, gave us half a dozen apples and some sprigs of fresh Rosemary. For which I have duly thanked him. Both the gift and Mr Nolan’s rendition of the story of Dunkirk have touched something at my core; tweaked a nerve of a collective subconscious I’d only been hazily aware of, but has roots wrapped deep around my heart.
As an archer, and an English one at that, I grew up with a particular mythology, a semi conscious stream of stories that plugged deep into my own self image. From the medieval fictions of Arthur and Robin Hood through their semi-legendary counterparts of Adam Bell, William of Cloudesley and Clym of the Clough to the half starved and dysentery-stricken remnants of Henry V’s army at Agincourt who defeated a better equipped and numerically superior force.
Dunkirk is part of that mythology. Of the outnumbered underdog being soundly whipped but refusing to be beaten by a tactically, technologically and numerically superior enemy. Of costly retreats and last stands now only thought legend by those who live today. This is the tradition of my youth and part of that which makes me, and I suspect a good number of my fellow expatriates and Scriblerus contemporaries, tick. That never-say-die bone headed refusal to lay down and surrender to the forces of darkness and conformity. It is with pride that I account myself one of that mongrel breed, of Irish, Welsh and various other northern European parentages that dares to flout the so-called ‘moral authority’ of rule by an unaccountable elite.
No matter that we Northern Europeans have fought with each other like cats in a sack for centuries, one thing has always characterised us. A sense of identity steeped in our legends, forged on the anvil of wars by the repeated hammer blows of injustice. An identity so strong that it might as well be made of Titanium Steel. This is what lies at the core of everyone whose genetic heritage marks them out with pale skin. The biggest, most Machiavellian sons of bitches out there have tried to make us knuckle under since before the Romans invaded and we’re still around. Maybe not the same, but stronger, tougher and despite outward appearances, indomitable to the core. Although I appreciate that there are exceptions. For every half dozen or so unconquerable heroes, there are four times that number of cowards, many of them the same individuals. Each with a need for their own space, their own independence which brooks no interference and detests officialdom. This is also the drive behind what brought the USA into existence and keeps memories of the confederacy alive.
The places and names are not important as such, only to the people that claim to call them home. I dare say the native tribes of Afghanistan feel the same way about their own homeland. It is theirs, and they will fight to the last to hold it close. No matter how many of them are killed. They have their own legends and mythologies, with bloody memories and heroes fresher than our own.
Such are the forces that drove the need for BREXIT and those that voted Trump into the White House. Nothing to do with racism, sexism or anything else but a dogged snarling refusal to give in against the awful blandness and subsumation of corporatist and collectivist dogma’s native to the bureaucrats of the EU and Washington DC. When push comes to shove, those born on the sceptic isle of my birth have been famous for their refusal to lie down and go quietly. Like many French, Germans, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Danes et al with whom we share similar cultural heritage.
Yet this is the attitude that has fought off totalitarianism time after time and obtained and destroyed empires in the process. The English and more generally the British are a people you can say what the hell you like to and not get much of a rise out of, yet just try to take their home from them, no matter how small, and you will have the fight of your life on your hands. You’ll find the same attitude common in many Dutch, French, Germans, Czechs, Austrians and just about any other nation that can stand on their own two hind legs.
This is why the forces of collectivism take issue with our myths and legends. In order to install their own utopias they must first destroy and discredit the pride of nations and the sense of belonging that being part of a nation bestows. Which means that they who would rule these utopias need to say, “Silly little people – what you believe in is not real, they are only stories for children. These things are not relevant and they are wrong. Now do what we tell you and we’ll have no more of this foolishness. Hand over the fruits of your labour so that we might live in the luxury we deserve.”
But Dunkirk is not a myth or legend, it was real. Nolan’s film only focused on small parts of the story, which are inaccurate in detail, but generally representative of what happened. What I do know for certain is that about 198,000 British, 140,000 French and Belgian troops were evacuated from that awful place. Many by the ‘Miracle of the little ships’, small seagoing cabin cruisers, trawlers and barges who ran the gauntlet of blitzkrieg to help their fellow countrymen. It was a tale well told.
The home grown apples we received were bred in English orchards. The heady scent of Rosemary tripping off a whole series of pleasant memories and associations somehow reconnecting with a certain sense of self and belonging. Including those tales I grew up with of Agincourt, Dunkirk and my fathers own stories about D-Day and the liberation of Europe. My mother never really spoke of her evacuation from France after being kicked out of Italy when Mussolini declared war, but from all accounts she was evacuated in the early stages of operation Aerial, the sister operation to Dynamo at Dunkirk. These are things I am certain of. The collectivists cannot take that from me. They might as well try to stop the world turning.
To conclude this ramble I’d say each person within a nation, or as Desmond Morris described it in The Human Zoo a ‘Super Tribe’ has it’s own mythology, threads that bind all members as a group. Decry that set of ideas and you become no longer part of that grouping. Cast out. Alone. Subject to the attractions of dangerous iconoclastic totalitarian cults like Fascism, Marxism or Socialism. Which were ironically the very political forces that brought Dunkirk about.
Anyone else see the irony?