A striking, contrarian view of a war and a movie, by the clearly outspoken (and apparently curmudgeonly) Peter Hitchens.* “Not Their Finest Hour,” First Things (Feb. 16, 2018) [link]:
[Churchill knew that if] Britain wanted American help, we must accept American desires. To stay in the war, Britain must cease forever to be an empire and independent world power. Of course this prospect was far better than the alternative. Churchill had the global and historical understanding to grasp this fact, and enough American in him to reckon that America’s chilly mercy would be better than Germany’s smiling triumph.
This story is largely unknown to this day in Britain, where a childish fable of brotherhood and love is widely believed. I would welcome a motion picture that finally dispelled this twaddle and introduced British public opinion to the grown-up world. In this world, the Finest and Darkest Hours were in fact reluctant but necessary steps down the crumbling staircase of national decline.
*Peter Hitchens’ brother was Christopher Hitchens. One of the things that the brothers disagreed about was Jesus. (This fact makes it slightly less surprising that this article is published in the eminent Catholic periodical First Things.)
NOTE: I have not seen the movie, so I am not endorsing the review, just interested in the view of history which it represents.
In April 1941 (long before the entry of the U.S. into the war), the British had had some success in the tank campaign in North Africa, and it became necessary for “a terribly important convoy of tanks . . . to risk the perilous Mediterranean route” at which point Winston Churchill “informed the Cabinet of the timetable, adding:
‘‘If anyone’s good at praying, now is the time.’’
Andrew Roberts, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2011) (Kindle ed. loc. 2424-26).
I love it.
May we remember that all times are the time.
Matthew I. Hefti’s A Hard and Heavy Thing is the best novel I have read in 2016.
AHAHT is the story of three friends, two men and a woman, who struggle in situations dangerous, terrifying and mundane. It is written with a gritty wide-eyed realism, but conveys deep compassion for the flawed characters.
No spoilers here, but the narrator (Levi) self-consciously looks back on his history with Nick and Eris, and the choices which led two of them to enlist in the Army. The story lurches back and forth between third-person narrative and Levi’s direct discourse to the reader, who fills in for Nick.
The back-and-forth is purposely a little clumsy, which works beautifully to further the author’s artistic aims.
Three quotations on changing the past:
[He] thought, even if it was not true that he was a hero, perhaps it was true that he was not a criminal or a failure. The possibility existed for him that the past was mutable — that he might have a new truth, a new narrative that was truer than his own tortured memory. For the first time, he realized how subjective it all was and how the past was not as inviolable as he had come to believe.
Matthew Hefti, A Hard and Heavy Thing 207 (2016).
Now for you and me it may not be that hard to reach our dreams,
But that magic feeling never seems to last.
And while the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past.
Jackson Browne, ”Fountain of Sorrow,” Late for the Sky (1974).
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton” l. 1-10, Four Quartets (1943).