Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Legacy of Dunkirk



Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk is a movie about the famous British retreat from France during World War 2.  Although I suppose I should use quotes around the word "famous" as most younger people today have little knowledge of WW2 except for the Holocaust. I doubt that one in a hundred Americans under the age of 30 knew what Dunkirk was before this movie was released.

Dunkirk represented a humiliating defeat for the British. The Germans easily defeated France and had trapped the British army against the sea. If Hitler followed the advice of his generals, the German tanks would have rolled in and destroyed the British army. In political terms, this would have forced the British to sue for peace and have ended the war.

Hitler choose not to attack the trapped British (except for air strikes). His reasoning was that he had nothing against the British and he thought by sparing these lives he would be seen as a "good guy" and the British would quickly come to terms. Obviously, Hitler was wrong and this had disastrous consequences that we still feel today.

To be fair, there are typically more than one reason for a decision, and this was the case at Dunkirk. Dunkirk was at the extreme range limit for the Luftwaffe. And there was some confusing if the British really were fleeing, or if they planned to use Dunkirk as a beachhead for a counter attack. These factors could have also influenced Hitler's decision to halt the tanks. He did not want to rush into battle unprepared.

Nevertheless, this bad decision by Hitler was one of many throughout the war. Invading Poland was . the height of recklessness as Germany and France made it (somewhat) clear that such would mean war.  And as Hitler wrote about how the Soviet Union would eventually be the enemy, he was putting Germany, yet again, in a hopeless two front war.  Yes, he probably had the moral justification concerning Danzig. But that is probably of little comfort to the Germans, and other Europeans, that are now losing their own homelands as a consequence of Hitler's poor judgment.

Even if the modern 14/88 crowd is correct that Hitler was a righteous man and had good intentions, there is no escaping that his actions created a disaster for our people. Hitler's recklessness and poor judgment are not traits that we should admire and seek to emulate.

A leader has a terrible responsibility to act prudent and responsibly. Hitler did neither.

5 comments:

  1. "Let our British cousins go!" - Alf saw the British as a kindred people to the Germans and allowed the evacuation of Dunkirk as an alternative to a massacre in a rare show of mercy! How could anyone fault him for showing mercy to the British? Dunkirk was arguably the blunder that cost Germany the war!

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    1. He never said that. Making up fake quotes is unacceptable.

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  2. Maybe not noble intentions at all. Hitler was in a battle of wills with his Generals in the field. He was far more cautious than them in the early fighting in France, but his generals ignored his caution and pushed on speedily.

    Hitler's decision to halt German forces at Dunkirk could well have been his determination to impose his will on his generals, for the simple reason that they were in such disagreement with him.

    Of course, we just don't know why he acted the way he did, other than that it was a stuff-up for the later fortunes of the Whermacht, but in looking for reasons why people act the way they do, I generally go for the simpler explanation. You know - ego, hurt pride, wounded feelings etc.

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  3. Maybe not noble intentions at all. Hitler was in a battle of wills with his Generals in the field. He was far more cautious than them in the early fighting in France, but his generals ignored his caution and pushed on speedily.

    Hitler's decision to halt German forces at Dunkirk could well have been his determination to impose his will on his generals, for the simple reason that they were in such disagreement with him.

    Of course, we just don't know why he acted the way he did, other than that it was a stuff-up for the later fortunes of the Whermacht, but in looking for reasons why people act the way they do, I generally go for the simpler explanation. You know - ego, hurt pride, wounded feelings etc.

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  4. Hitler did not 'allow' the British to escape from Dunkirk. We know what he said in private and what he said in public, we know what orders he issued. He was assured that the Luftwaffe would destroy the British, so saving his tanks from attacking across country crisscrossed by canals. The way people perpetuate convenient myths in preference to seeking out the actual truth is depressing.

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