Friday, September 17, 2010

"Those that surrender tamely are finished."

"Nations that go down fighting shall rise up again;
those that surrender tamely are finished."

As hagiography does, it just doesn't get any better than the HBO biopic about Winston Churchill, Into the Storm. It might be cliche, but it must be said that this is stirring stuff indeed.

Even if you are familiar with the historical facts, it is still a shock to the system to watch such a convincing portrayal of England's Darkest/Finest Hour. Two hundred thousand British soldiers were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk at the end of May, 1940. It was feared that the vast majority of them would be either killed or captured by the advancing Nazi armies. If that happened, Hitler would have uncontested control of all of Europe. And if that had happened, well, it could very well have changed everything.

But somehow the British managed to not only evacuate their own troops, but also nearly 150,000 French troops as well. It was at this point that Churchill delivered one of the great speeches not only of the 20th century, but of all modern history and arguably of all time:
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

Even though large parts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. 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, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, 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.
The heart of this film, directed by Thaddeus O'Sullivan, is the masterful weaving of Churchill's words together with unfolding historical events that called those words forth. And it is Brendan Gleeson, playing the lead role, who makes those words come to life. Gleeson's performance is staggeringly good, and he won a well deserved Emmy for it.

The quote at the very top of this post ("Nations that go down fighting ...") is actually apocryphal. It is supposed to come from a cabinet meeting in May of 1940, but there is no precise record of what Churchill said at that meeting.

Here is another quote, but one that is not apocryphal. It is from Churchill's six volume History of the Second World War, and it is also inscribed on the pediment of the statue of Churchill in Fulton, Missouri:

In War: Resolution
In Defeat: Defiance
In Victory: Magnanimity
In Peace: Good Will

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