In answer to Chris Craiker's letter of Sept. 2 about Dunkirk.
In 1919, three men in Paris laid down the terms of the peace that followed World War I. They represented the victorious nations - President Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George of Britain, and Clemenceau of France. These three effectively decided the fate of Europe and the Middle East (with occasional help from Vittorio Orlando of Italy, another ally but one who was apt to weep when he didn't get his way). Germany wasn't even invited.
It is untrue that "Britain was every bit to blame" for the mess of Dunkirk -- all the Paris participants were.
President Wilson said that the Germans "should be shunned and avoided like lepers for generations to come." But turning one's back on German rearmament as isolationist America did, simply didn't work. Furthermore, Wilson failed to persuade Congress to join the new League of Nations, which might have acted as policeman.
The French wanted to punish the Germans with very heavy reparations -- far more than the British – $220 billion versus $120 billion. Mr. Craiker believes it was the punitive cost of reparations which caused World War II, and he may well be right - it's just that he's wrong in blaming only Britain. Clemenceau so hated the Germans that he asked to be buried standing up facing Germany -- to avoid being taken by surprise.
After the searing battles of World War I, both Britain and France were determined to avoid such carnage again. The strategy of Falkenhayn at Verdun was to bleed the French white, relying on their population of 75 million to outlast France's 40 -- a grim tactic of last resort.
France's determination not to expose its youth to future bloodletting on that scale is understandable; the British also suffered terrible losses; on the Somme their casualties on the first day exceeded 57,000, and that battle (one of many) lasted 4 and a half months. So all the nations involved can be excused for being gun shy. Appeasement resulted and eventually another war they weren't prepared for, and then Dunkirk and after it the Fall of France.
Facing a German army already furiously rearming for six years, it was hardly surprising that the British (and French) were no match for it. The evacuation of 338,000 troops (one-third of them French) was the result. By mid-1940, Germany had occupied Czechoslovakia, Poland, and all Western Europe except for two or three non-combatants.
Then, Winston Churchill came to power and inspired his nation to continue the fight. Russia and Germany were allies and the United States didn't take up arms for a further 18 months, so Britain was entirely alone. Without the retreat at Dunkirk, it is hard to see how Europe and much of the world could have been spared a horrifying fascist rule which would probably have lasted generations.
Although they lost all their heavy armaments, tanks and vehicles, the bulk of the men survived to fight another day, and that was a turning point.
As for the movie "Dunkirk," it completely fails to convey the global and long-term significance of the events taking place over those momentous nine days. The heroism of the 850 fishing and pleasure boat owners who came to the rescue of the remnants of the British and French armies doesn't really come across.
Much of the action of the movie takes place inside the hull of an abandoned trawler where a few deserters are skulking. Against the grand tapestry of the story they don't really signify.
Chris Craiker might like to read "Paris 1919" by Margaret MacMillan and "The Last Lion" by William Manchester and Paul Reid.