Churchill, 'Dunkirk,' history and me

Churchill, 'Dunkirk,' history and me
photo by Margaret H. Laing

I don't love war movies, as a general idea. But I love the coincidence of the new movie "Dunkirk" appearing during the time I'm reading the third part of William Manchester's great biography of Winston Churchill, "The Last Lion." This volume, completed by Paul Reid after Manchester's death, is called in full "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965."

So much goes on in the book that I'm reading page 283 now, and the middle of the page refers to "The first weeks of 1941." Of course, the years 1940 and 1941 were terrible, consequential ones for Great Britain and Churchill, and a great deal of pages must cover them. The evacuation from Dunkirk is only one frightening part of a story that's keeping me up nights.

But part of the story that may stay with me longest is in Manchester and Reid's preamble -- a thing I suppose you need when Vol. 3 comes out in a different century than Vol. 2. The authors write of Churchill:

"He may have been born a Victorian, but he had turned himself into a Classical man. He did not live in the past; the past lived on in him."

I think I'm catching part of that same feeling. During my time at Valparaiso University, I lived for one semester in Cambridge, England, where my sense of history deepened greatly. Part of that was looking out of the window of my bedroom at New Hall, a "postwar foundation" college of Cambridge University, and the tree-lined and otherwise open space near it.

After history lessons, I used to stare out the window and wonder what happened so that "our" house was OK, along with all of the even numbers on the street, but the odd-numbered side of the street needed rebuilding. When Manchester and Reid mentioned that after the fall of France in 1940, one of the first bombing raids hit Cambridge, destroying a row of houses, I put down the book and saw that view again, thinking that I had my answer.

Simply having to read so much of the war, so much horror going on with the U.S. still on the sidelines, is embarrassing -- especially now. I wasn't born until well after Franklin Roosevelt's death, but the book still has me muttering at him in frustration (and avoiding present-day broadcast news).

So it seems history is living on in me, as well. I'm happy with that, and I think I'll go and see "Dunkirk" soon.

But I won't go alone.


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Filed under: Sustaining Books


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  • I saw the movie. Try to see it on a big screen. I think you will find it haunting, with its three interlocking stories. It is about both a massive human tragedy and a victory of the human spirit.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thank you for the review, jnorto. I'll do that. I love victory of the human spirit.

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