ALLAN JEFFERYS: Appeasing No Better Today Than It Was for Churchill
Recently at our house, we watched a DVD called "The Battle of Britain."
It was put together in the year 2000 by the BBC and our PBS (Boston). It runs four hours and is totally gripping for all that time. I cannot recall a documentary as fine as this one.
In many ways it surpasses Ken Burns' efforts, which makes this one as good as it gets. I'm not sure why it took us eight years to discover it, but the wait was worth it.
It covers the months in 1940 when Britain had its back against the wall as it tried valiantly to stave off the blitzkriegs of Hitler's Nazis. Following the rapid fall of Poland, Belgium and France, most people thought it was only a matter of time (and a short time at that) when Britain would follow suit. Many Brits shared that thinking, and appeasement was on the lips of most of them.
Winston Churchill stood alone in the government and refused to submit. According to Churchill, "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Even America, rife with isolationists and America Firsters, turned her back on England. Churchill refused to give up, stating, "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 on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
Hitler persisted, unleashing the Luftwaffe in an effort to bring the sceptered isle to its knees before the invasion began. Only a tiny band of RAF pilots with a limited supply of Hurricanes and Spitfires stood in the way of total disaster. These young men, fighting unbelievable fatigue and overwhelming odds, held the Luftwaffe at bay, causing one more quote from Churchill: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
Gradually, the tide of public opinion turned to Churchill's side, thanks in part to a small cadre of newsmen like Edward R. Murrow who broadcast from rooftops during air raids and told the world about the determination, bravery and sheer guts of the British people. America dug into its pockets and hearts and now supported this tiny little island. The rest is history.
It is not merely the telling of history that makes this documentary so compelling; it is the seamless manner in which it weaves the actual pictures of 1940 with recreated scenes photographed in this age and the survivors who tell their stories with such vivid memories of what they did in 1940. "The Battle of Britain" is a must see for those who do and those who don't remember that part of World War II, for as Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Does it apply to today? We are admittedly in a different war (or wars depending on your definition.) We are threatened by even more wars, and much of the world is opposed to our nation. Appeasement is again on the lips of many Americans, including some in our government.
There is a parallel between this thinking today and what took place during Churchill's term as prime minister. Regrettably, we cannot zero in on one battle or one site to gain a sway in opinion and, beset by a biased press, we are vulnerable to an escalation in demands for appeasement.
Arguably, appeasement sounds sophisticated and adult, whereas other approaches make us sound like childish bullies. But then, Marxism also makes sense if you ignore reality. The biggest argument against appeasement is that it has never worked. The appeaser always seems weak and the aggressor pushes even more. Witness Hitler, North Korea, Saddam Hussein, Iran et al.
Initially, Lord Halifax (foreign secretary in Churchill's War Department) was more likable and more popular than Churchill. Halifax's push for peace talks with Hitler would have made our world totally different had he succeeded.
Today, several politicians are far more popular than George W. Bush, who is accused of dragging us into a bad war through lies. But, just as history justified Winston Churchill, that same history may one day justify President Bush. (Please hold the brickbats and vicious e-mails.) Likability has nothing to do with it.
All of this is well delineated in the DVD "The Battle of Britain."
The truth is, if you lift up enough rocks, bad guys will pop out like roaches. You cannot make them good guys with discussion or reasoning; you have to take a stand and stop them. That is what Winston Churchill and the RAF did in the Battle of Britain and that is what we have to do today. It ends when it ends whether you have a timetable or not.
Our candidates should watch this program.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic, entertainment editor and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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