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  • A Tale for Children

    Posted by David Foster on December 27th, 2017 (All posts by )

    The Christmas season, in combination with seeing the Churchill movie Darkest Hour, reminded me of a passage from the French author Georges Bernanos.

    In May/June 1940, Nazi Germany defeated the French army. Britain was forced to withdraw its troops at Durkirk–losing virtually all their heavy equipment. Few would have been willing to bet on Britain’s survival…after quickly devastating the (then highly-regarded) French army and demonstrating highly-effective use of airpower, Nazi Germany seemed unstoppable.

    In December of that year, Bernanos, then living in Brazil, wrote as follows:

    No one knows better than I do that, in the course of centuries, all the great stories of the world end by becoming children’s tales. But this particular one (the story of England’s resistance–ed) has started its life as such, has become a children’s tale on the very threshold of its existence. It mean that we can at once recognize in it the threefold visible sign of its nature. it has deceived the anticipations of the wise, it has humiliated the weak-hearted, it has staggered the fools. Last June all these folk from one end of the world to the other, no matter what the color of their skins, were shaking their heads. Never had they been so old, never had they been so proud of being old. All the figures that they had swallowed in the course of their miserable lives as a safeguard against the highly improbable activity of their emotions had choked the channels of circulation..They were ready to prove that with the Armistice of Rethondes the continuance of the war had become a mathematical impossibility…Some chuckled with satisfaction at the thought, but they were not the most dangerous…Others threatened us with the infection of pity…”Alone against the world,” they said. “Why, what is that but a tale for children?” And that is precisely what it was–a tale for children. Hurrah for the children of England! 

    Men of England, at this very moment you are writing what public speakers like to describe in their jargon as one of the “greatest pages of history”….At this moment you English are writing one of the greatest pages of history, but I am quite sure that when you started, you meant it as a fairy tale for children. “Once upon a time there was a little island, and in that island there was a people in arms against the world…” Faced with such an opening as that, what old cunning fox of politics or business would not have shrugged his shoulders and closed the book?

     

    16 Responses to “A Tale for Children”

    1. Mike K Says:

      That generation of Englishmen is gone except for small clusters in the south and southeast of England.

      I know some of them.

      They are not the ruling class nor the nobility, whatever that means in the Age of Diana.

    2. Brian Says:

      “That generation of Englishmen is gone except for small clusters in the south and southeast of England.”

      I think Yorkshire has plenty of them still.

      Those who fought the Battle of Britain, and their children, are viewed as the Nazis to be struggled against today by the respectable people.

    3. John Cunningham Says:

      David, I think you meant to write that the Dunkirk rescue left all the heavy equipment behind. The British and French evacuees at most had some of their rifles and pistols.

    4. David Foster Says:

      John C….yes, you’re correct, they had to leave most equipment behind. Bad wording on my part.

    5. Mike K Says:

      We saw “Darkest Hour” last night. I thought it was very well done. A family member commented that she did not know enough British history to appreciate the plot and I can see that,

      It was obviously based on “Five Days in London”, June 1940 and followed the book pretty well.

      There were obvious scenes dramatized that were more subtle in the book.

      Even the fanciful scene in the Underground repeated the book’s recounting of the public opinion polling described in the book.

      It was very well done.

    6. Anonymous Says:

      I have read the opinion that the evacuation at Dunkirk was the most significant action of the war in terms of England’s survival and the eventual outcome in Europe. I never thought of it that way, but I see no reason to doubt that conclusion. Stunning effort under great, determined leadership for sure.

      Death6

    7. Mike K Says:

      “the evacuation at Dunkirk was the most significant action of the war in terms of England’s survival”

      I would say the Battle of Britain. It was, as Wellington said of Waterloo, a very close run thing.

      Had Goering continued to attack airfields and ignored London, they might well have won.

      The second huge advantage the Brits had was SONAR, or as they called it ASDIC. It made the submarine war winnable.

    8. Joe Wooten Says:

      The second huge advantage the Brits had was SONAR, or as they called it ASDIC. It made the submarine war winnable.

      Mike, the Germans actually did most of their sub attacks from the surface at night. SONAR/ASDIC was useless to combat this tactic. What turned the tide was a strong convoy system with escorts using the newly developed centimeter band radar that could detect small objects on the water surface.

    9. David Foster Says:

      Joe Wooten..these radars were mounted in aircraft, but there was a problem in that they lost the target when getting very close….so the planes also carried very-high-intensiity lights (‘Leigh Lights’) which could be turned on at the last moment.

      Clare Frances’s excellent novel ‘Night Sky’

      https://www.amazon.com/Night-Sky-Clare-Francis-ebook/dp/B01BD0GPDQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1514585969&sr=1-1&keywords=night+sky+clare+francis

      gives a vivid portrayal of the horror felt by a German submarine commander when his radar warning receiver, which has been giving false alarms throughout the voyage, gives a solid signal…and then the Leigh Light comes on…

      I believe these centimetric radars could also detect the periscope of a submerged submarine.

    10. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      I recently read President Hoover’s long-delayed book on World War II — “Freedom Betrayed” (Hoover Institution, 2011). Completely changed my view of FDR (a thoroughly dastardly character who campaigned on staying out of the War while doing everything he could to provoke an incident which would let him railroad an unwilling Congress into declaring war). And Churchill himself comes off as a whole lot less heroic than standard Brit history would have us believe.

      Causus belli for the West was the invasion of Poland, which resulted in Britain & France going to war with Germany. But Russia invaded Poland from the east in collaboration with Germany’s invasion from the west. Instead of declaring war on Russia for invading Poland, Churchill spent years toadying up to Stalin. And of course at the end of a war which began over maintaining the independence of Poland, Churchill went along as Poland was ripped apart, millions of surviving Poles were displaced from their homes, and the country was abandoned to the evils of foreign Communism. Good job, Winston!

      Hoover’s assessment, which he unsuccessfully promoted at the time, was that Stalin & Hitler were going to fight to the death — with unfortunate collateral damage for the nations between them. If the West (including FDR) had been prepared to abandon Poland at the beginning of the war, instead of waiting to the end to throw Poland away, then Hitler would probably have marched towards Russia and ignored his western borders. When the Allies declared war over Poland, they forced Hitler to delay his attack on former ally Soviet Union and instead attack in the opposite direction towards France.

      Hoover’s “Document 14 — A footnote on Winston Churchill” is quite damning. But Hoover’s major vituperation is reserved for FDR, in his blistering “Document 18 — A review of lost statesmanship – 19 times in 7 years”. After reading this book, it is very hard ever again to think of World War II as being “The Good War”, or to see the West’s war leaders as honorable men.

    11. David Foster Says:

      ” Instead of declaring war on Russia for invading Poland, Churchill spent years toadying up to Stalin”

      Britain fighting Germany AND Russia at the same time?….Not to mention Japan?

    12. Mike K Says:

      ” After reading this book, it is very hard ever again to think of World War II as being “The Good War”, or to see the West’s war leaders as honorable men.”

      No wonder Hoover never published it.

      Hillary has a similar book about Trump.

      Hoover was a “Progressive” like Roosevelt and his blundering began the Depression which Roosevelt only prolonged by using the same policies as Hoover, only doubled down.

      A question I’ve pondered is what if Coolidge’s son had not died, sending him into lifelong depression?

      He and Harding pulled us out of the collapse that followed the end of WWI. Could Coolidge have avoided the Depression that followed the Panic of 1929 ? Had he run for a second term in 1928, he would have been there at the 1929 panic. He saw the risks of the speculation in 1928.

    13. Mike K Says:

      “the Germans actually did most of their sub attacks from the surface at night. SONAR/ASDIC was useless to combat this tactic.”

      But it was the only way to find a submerged submarine.

      Catching them on the surface was also greatly aided by the long range B 24.

      Convoying was probably most important but there were other factors.

      The destroyer was also a huge factor and the shipyards in the states built them quickly,

    14. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      @ Gavin Longmuir – I have found Hoover’s theory of what should have happened quite interesting and not without merit. Its major weakness is his confidence of what would have happened instead. If you have ever entertained yourself at alt-history sites, you will see that even deeply-informed people who are trying hard to be fair make similar errors. Yes, if events subsequent to 1933 had transpired as he predicts they would have (even approximately), then the world would have been a better place with other decisions. But we don’t really know that.

      I have a history-professor and serious wargamer (He is the designer of the new serious WWII game) friend I have never asked about this. I should.

    15. Grurray Says:

      The unfortunate thing about Hoover’s theory about standing back and letting Hitler and Stalin kill each other is that he wasn’t the only one to think of it.

      Stalin thought of it also long before Hoover, and that’s why he agreed to the non-aggression pact with Germany. France and the Soviets were allies, having signed a treaty in 1935. After Britain’s appeasement campaign in response to German expansion, Stalin began to see the obvious implications and switched sides.

      It turns out Hoover wasn’t quite the strategic genius he thought he was. If only our actions existed in a vacuum with no unintended consequences maybe he would’ve faired better

    16. David Foster Says:

      “The destroyer was also a huge factor and the shipyards in the states built them quickly”….also, the British built a class of vessels known as corvettes, which were basically mini-destroyers…not even turbine-powered, just old-style reciprocating steam engines. Nicholas Montsarratt’s novel ‘The Cruel Sea’ is a vivid portrayal of life aboard a corvette, and, later (after it is sunk), a destroyer.

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