I HAVE written before about the impact of films and make no apology for doing so again. This time I want to revisit Joe Wright’s (no relation) 2017 masterpiece Darkest Hour. Great films not only entertain but educate and inspire, and Darkest Hour exceeds this expectation from several perspectives.
In 1940 we stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany which had conquered all of Europe without breaking sweat. Every country bar us was in one of three unsavoury categories – subjugated, collaborators or tolerated as a neutral irrelevance (Sweden and Switzerland). Greece was still valiantly fighting the Italians but did not last long once the Wehrmacht got stuck in.
What the movie brings out quite brilliantly is just how close we were to suing for peace because so many influential politicians believed we could not and should not stand up to Hitler. They thought we should instead have adopted the ‘pragmatic’ policy of France and many other continental nations: sue for peace at any price.
This policy was exemplified by Marshal Pétain, leader of the collaborationist Vichy French government, who was convinced that Germany would invade Britain just as it had France. In 1940 he told Churchill that in three weeks Britain would ‘have its neck wrung like a chicken’. Churchill’s defiant response the following year was ‘Some chicken! Some neck!’ It was a typically belligerent comment that strengthened the will of our tough and stubborn ancestors to carry on and withstand whatever came their way.
The irony I am experiencing now is a sense that if the current Government had been in power in 1940, a slimy academic would have come crawling out from under his rock with a computer model that ‘proved’ that we could not defeat Hitler and if we tried it would cost the lives of perhaps 625,000 military personnel and at least 450,000 civilians. Therefore, the only logical (‘science-based’) solution would be to sue for peace, ‘save lives’ and tell everyone including the military to demobilise and hide away in their homes.
Declare London an ‘open city’ just as France shamefully did with Paris in 1940. Then it would have been jackboots stomping up the Mall, swastikas flying over Buckingham Palace, the SS in Whitehall, a puppet government (with no shortage of volunteers) and our police forces conniving with the mass deportation of British Jews for extermination in the death factories. An unbearable thought but one which the French were certainly prepared to accommodate.
The V2 rocket programme would have been enhanced and once bombs started dropping on New York, Boston and Washington after 1942, the Americans would have quit the conflict and abandoned the Pacific theatre to the Japanese. And post war history would have been completely different. To quote Churchill: ‘If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age.’
Thank God, the country then was made of sterner stuff than now. Most Brits seemed to believe in the notion that freedom is something worth fighting for, and if necessary dying for. Because with freedom comes prosperity and then happiness. And a brighter future for the next generation – which should be the objective of every human being on the planet.
That core philosophy seems a very long way indeed from where we are today. The only ‘success’ that can be attributed to this crisis is the incredible amount of fear, panic and anxiety that has been created by this Government, their spin doctors and the mass media. The subliminal impact of all those vile ‘stay at home, act as if you have it, don’t kill granny’ messages in red and yellow. In my view we have become a nation of pathetic citizens frightened to linger outside, let alone go back to work normally. And prepared to throw away decades of prosperity that so many of our valiant ancestors died to preserve.
Johnson clearly adores any comparisons with Churchill. In his infamous announcement on December 19, days after describing such as act as ‘frankly inhuman’, Johnson stated: ‘We cannot continue with Christmas as planned. In England those living in Tier 4 areas must not mix with anyone outside their own households at Christmas.’ I suspect he enjoyed this reversal, thinking it the duty of a great leader to take the ‘tough decisions’, probably inspired by Churchill’s famous line ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’.
In my view a better comparison with Johnson would be with Field Marshall Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the Great War. Haig ended up on the side of the victors, but could not escape the bleak judgement of history that he was prepared to sacrifice literally any number of young soldiers if that is what it took to advance in the horror of trench warfare. His path to victory was the willingness to sacrifice more lives than the enemy. I believe this brutal pragmatism prompted my late father, who was no kind of a pacifist, to summarise war as ‘old men sending young men out to die’.
This is where the similarity between Johnson and Haig is so compelling. We may yet ‘win the war’ against Covid – however that may be defined – but at what dreadful cost? As a father I have only ever feared three things in life. Losing my physical independence, losing my mental faculties and having to bury one of my children. If you focus on the last of these fears and invert it, it means that any parent must be prepared to prioritise the younger generations at the expense of themselves. How can any loving parent (or grandparent) disagree with that basic principle?
So how is it that so many British citizens are comfortable with the dreadful impact of these grotesque ‘lockdown’ policies? Sacrificing the education, aspirations and mental well-being of a generation of children and young people so that a small number of octogenarians can live another eighteen months? The average age of Covid related fatalities is 82.4 years. To put that into context, the average life expectancy of anyone in the UK is 81.3 years.
The fact is that on average, Covid victims live longer than regular people. I am sure Churchill would have grasped that.