Darkest Hour – Winston Churchill and the Monomyth

Prime Minister Winston Churchill – AP file photo

In the last six months,  bookend movies have been produced that focus on a very tight window of time from May to June, 1940, when the United Kingdom, under enormous external threat, faced an existential crisis of leadership and free will.   In a few short weeks, a dark reality presented with the spectacular collapse of its European democratic erstwhile ally France and its own military implosion on the continent as the German military machine split and cornered the whole of the British Expeditionary Force against the sea.  The assumptions of an entire generation of British political elite, that the dictator Hitler could be placated, or if requiring confrontation, subdued by fixed continental defenses, cascaded in the space of a few short days from misplaced confidence to absolute panic. The French multi-million man army possessing superior firepower and internal lines of support,  proved absent the critical will to absorb punishment, having exhausted its martial spirit in being bled white a generation earlier in the Great War conflagration.  The British forces, assuming themselves to be the flanking hammer in the low countries, found themselves instead flanked by a superior German philosophy of combined assault of armored thrusts and air cover, that quickly drove a wedge between the mass of the French force and the British forces through the Abbeville gap to the sea at Calais.  Flanked, then surrounded, the collapsing British fell against the beaches at Dunkirk,  hundreds of thousands of British infantry trapped against the seawalls, awaiting the inevitable end , like fish in a barrel.  The front line drama of this moment was captured in the summer 2017 movie, Dunkirk, and reviewed previously by Ramparts.  The missing back story of  Dunkirk, the unfolding of the impending disaster and the specific decisions of leadership as the German hegemon stood athwart Dunkirk poised to destroy British land defense capability, is the core of  Darkest Hour.

The coupling of the two movies, Dunkirk and  Darkest Hour, present at a curious time.  Atypical for the inspiration of such period historical dramas, there is no identified anniversary of events or people that would lead one to assume the enthusiasm and funding for such movies.  The events and the number of people who can physically remember them in actuality , is receding rapidly into the mists of time.  With the distance from such memories and their implied heroism, progressively goes the sense of recognition and interest in the existential  threat that faced the participants.  The globalist modern western world has little time for the concepts of “Christian Civilization” and “martial spirit” that drove Churchill and the common people of the United Kingdom to even consider that a battle to the death would be preferable to subjugation beneath  a Nazi philosophy of a master race. Modern globalists look aghast at the idea that an individual could reorder the tides of history through something as quant as personal will or loquacious inspiration.  Modern tides are defined by horizons defined by events and movements, such as Global Warming, Intersectionality, and Social Justice.  Individual freedom, the idea that one can determine one’s destiny in the face of such tides of history seems anachronistic.

The philosophical construct that great men can influence and direct outcomes in history found origin in the writings of Thomas Carlyle, a 19th century Scottish writer. Articulating  the Great Man Theory, Carlyle surmised that certain individuals possessing exceptional charisma, insight and political will  could actually shape historical events decisively.   Such Heroes and Anti Heroes existed among men through time and predictably reassert individual impacts on historical forces.  The American author Joseph Campbell, in Hero of a Thousand Faces developed the concept as a unifying multi-cultural archetype through history, the Hero of the monomyth:

In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or “boon”), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (the return to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon).                                    (wikipedia)

Winston Churchill has been identified as such a hero of the monomyth, and the very idea that this flawed individual could rise above myth and  possibly be the proof of a living, breathing example of the Great Man come to life has been the vortex of the battle of the two opposing views of history.

The movie Dunkirk,  for all its spectacular cinematic scope, stands slightly empty in that the human element is entirely interchangeable against the massive overwhelming threat that is the  unseen enemy.  The forces and events  that place the individual soldiers against the sea wall and lead others to try to save them are not developed beyond human suffering and the need to assuage such suffering.  The context that would suggest fighting to survive against overwhelming odds for an uncertain future might be preferable to surrendering to the inevitable is barely developed.

 Darkest Hour lives in a profoundly different cinematic universe.  The central figure Winston Churchill is fully developed and the action scenes only implied.  The movie coalesces around the forces of opposition to Churchill as he finds himself alone in a large sense of the movie, both figuratively and literally under attack from both internal and external forces. This movie monomyth finds himself swept up into the pinnacle of his career with, as suggested by the movie, nary a supporter other than his wife (even the American President Roosevelt throws him under the bus).  This Churchill is at times doddering and seems doubtful of his physical and mental abilities to perform the task, and needs reinforcement from his wife, his secretary, his king, and ultimately directly the British people themselves.  In actual events, Churchill had positioned himself at the crucible of moral strength through years of calling out the Conservative Party leadership for Britain’s lack of preparedness and correctly identifying the threat of Hitler while others appeased, and had sustained support from the opposition Labor party leaders who mistrusted any other Conservative leader to stand up to Hitler.  Upon ascending to the Prime Ministership on May 10th,1940, Churchill astounded others with his incredible work ethic and energy, working long days and far into the night, taking multiple flights into the war zone to buck up the French leaders, seek multiple alternative plans to attempt to arrest the tide and ultimately save the forces stranded at Dunkirk.

The movie does however function on a higher level in showing the politician Churchill recognizing that people he needed to convince were not his immediate cabinet so much as the people beyond.  The British people would be asked to sacrifice profoundly and needed to understand at their core what was at risk and what would be worthy of such sacrifice.  This is of course the monomyth’s gift of self knowledge that the hero Churchill receives, and delivers to his people that all important gift in language that has rarely been replicated for immediate impact and gathered unity of purpose.  In the gangway of the Commons, speech perched upon the red dispatch box of the Prime Minister, Churchill used his oratorical gifts  time and time again to frame the daunting challenge and stakes through the spring, summer and fall of 1940 when Britain stood alone against the Nazi war machine.  The actor Gary Oldman epically reveals the internal pressures Churchill no doubt sensed and his ability to rise to the occasion in magnificent prose and take the entire weight upon his shoulders.  In the movie, the Viscount Halifax is quoted as saying after Churchill’s epic speech following Dunkirk, ” He has mobilized the language and sent it into battle”.   Though the quote is actually Edward R Murrow’s regarding Churchill years later, it fits the drama of the moment better than any, and works in the movie.

Darkest Hour, flaws of content and dramatic license aside, speaks to assert the role of a hero figure to impose his will on history.  This most world war of wars was obviously fought upon the sacrifice of untold millions to whom mere words held little solace.  But World War II was also a profound realization of the Hero and the Anti-Hero, so clear cut that the goal of each opposing force was always to try to find a way to kill Churchill or Hitler , so pivotal to the forces of light and darkness respectively each represented. When the world is at its darkest, one looks for illumination and salvation at the most mythic levels.   In a cinematic age of cartoon heroes , Darkest Hour gives us some insight on how real heroes find their way.

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2017 Hands Off A Potentially Historical Arc for Freedom To 2018

Old Year 2017 hands off to New Year 2018

Each year reaches exhaustion on the Gregorian Calendar at the same time midnight December 31st.  Since Pope Gregory in 1587 determined Julius Caesar’s calendar was sufficiently out of sync that an extra day was required every four years to leap the calendar forward and secure it appropriately with the seasons, we have counted our transition to the new year with similarity to our ancestors for 430 years.  Most of those years, the resolutions are personal, with an oath to do things differently,  a fresh start in life  upon the advancement of the calendar to the new year.  History, however,  is more continuous in arc and less amenable to rigid stops and starts.  Suddenly though , the end of 2017 has shifted the ground so dramatically  in Iran  that something similar to the real historical diversion made in 1989, may be upon us with the coming of the new year.  Maybe something truly heroic; maybe, at long last, the breath of freedom to a long suffering people.

IRAN          In 1979, the people of Iran were grifted out of their people’s revolution in overthrowing the autocratic Shah,  the autocratic dictatorship absconded by religious zealots and replaced with a theocratic one.  For nearly 40 years, the Iranian people have suffered under a small cadre of clerics that assume their brand of rigid male dominated society forcing all others into subservience will somehow continue to resonate with a population which is now 60% under the age of thirty and no longer willing to be denied their individual pursuit of happiness.  Like all religions with a dark, negativistic view of human interaction, the puritanical restrictions eventually morph into downright moral corruption and overreach that eventually cause fundamental collapse of the subjected’s passive acceptance of authority.

In 2009, President Obama, the so-called leader of the Free World, reached the lowest moral point of his Presidency when he remained silent during the protests of millions in  Iran’s Green Revolution as young people were massacred on the streets by regime thugs.  History records that he did so as he did not want to upset his fantastical plan to work with the mullahs in achieving a diplomatic pact that would place theocratic Iran in the position of dominance in the Middle East and Central Asia.  He was willing to deal away the heroic uprising, remove sanctions, restore billions of dollars to the mullahs, avert his eyes as the regime’s terrorist arm, Hezbollah threatened Israel, overran Lebanon, helped convert Syria into a human calamity, allow Iran to continue to develop ballistic weapons for nuclear delivery that could threaten Israel, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe, kill hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq, and prepare for an active nuclear capability.  It is hard to underestimate how ugly this colossal misjudgment proved to be.

Now, seemingly  out of the blue to averted western eyes, the Iranian people are rising again to throw off their enslavers, and this time, it may be hard to put the genie back in the bottle.  The regime is full of viciousness and will not stand for a mortal threat to its existence, for each of these ‘religious” figures understand that there could be a ‘Libyan sendoff‘ for each of them should their authority erode and their role in murder , theft, and corruption becomes fully uncovered.  As 2017 ends, the clamp down on information escaping Iran by authorities makes the extent and potential success of what has erupted from the population difficult to discern.  What appears critical this time, is that the revolt of the people is across the width and breath of Iran, and transcends class.  Outgunned and up against a vicious reactionary leadership, there is little doubt that success if at all possible will more resemble the French Revolution of 1789  than the Velvet Revolution of 1989.  We at the ramparts, must watch and pray for the latter, but history suggests usually otherwise.  At least this time, the Iranian people will see an American leader who recognizes their struggle for what it is:

As 2017 leads into 2018, a historic fulcrum is upon Iran and its heroic people.  To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, oppressive authority withers two ways : gradually and then, suddenly.

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The Great and Terrible Wizard of Trump

November 8th, 2016 represented a cornucopia of shattered illusions about the United States of America.  A thirty year meme had been assumed, that our country had entered into a new social consensus, having risen above individual concepts of rights and moralities, to a progressive consciousness.  The establishment convinced itself it understood the modern concept of the village, tied together by willingness to sublimate individual success to the general ‘well being’, led by a wise council of elites, that would forge a more tolerant, environmentally sensitive, and egalitarian world.  Concepts of borders and unique characteristics of nationhood were seen as quant relics of a past battered by conflict, and were subsumed by the desire to create a shared world order and purpose. The  queen bee of the new consensus was to be Hillary Clinton, the elites’ most elite.  The first woman president, the most prepared President ever, the new consensus of generations was expected to obliterate a candidate with more character flaws than a back country bandelero.

But like a coastal tsunami, Florida, then Ohio, then Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan  fell to the renegade from Queens and the wholly unexpected became reality; the reality television star had achieved the ultimate in surprise endings.  Donald Trump crushed the Inevitable One and , in the end, it wasn’t even close.

The nation awoke the following morning to one of the great proverbial hangovers, wondering what in the world it had just done.  Approxiamently half of the country breathed a sigh of relief that the wicked witch of the East had not won, and the other half dribbled  and waled in a flush of anxiety sure that the great experiment in social progress had just been turned over to the cretins of Duck Dynasty and mental giants of  Jersey Shore.  The whole country was in agreement, however, that the new occupant of the Whites House was of a wholly new, never before seen iteration.  How would Trump actually face up to the enormous responsibilities and pressures as one of the most ill prepared and experienced political neophytes in history?   Doom was the common conclusion.

One year later, we still are perplexed as to what we have in Donald Trump, and the division as to those who put Trump into power, and those who seek to find any means necessary to get him gone, is starker then ever.

For the anti-Trumpers like myself who in the end could not ignore the profundity of the binomial choice of the election in regard to the futures they projected, the comfort with the  outcome took some time to clarify.

One year later, we are faced with the Great and Terrible Wizard of Trump.

Trump turns out at the one year turn to be both great and terrible, but whichever view you hold, the performance is most unexpected.  The one shock that resonates with both the zealots and the haters is, who knew he was going to prove to be so….competent?  National Review’s Deroy Murdock lays out the optimal governmental approach that for conservatives would have been seen as a generational win, only to be dumbfounded that the politician who appears to be pulling it off is the ultimate anti-politician.  Remove Trump’s name from the achievements, and the roll of victories for rolling back government, restoring the economy, and re-ordering foreign affairs is gobsmacking.

The extent of the pull back from the very cliff of socialist permanency achieved in one year would have been considered impossible by any rational conservative strategist, and certainly none of the preferred candidates likely would have driven the agenda with the singled mindedness of Trump, a man assumed by all to be without any defining philosophies other than the vagaries of “greatness”. Increasing the astonishment level of the consistent results has been the recognition that the haters have hated Trump with a unique vitriol.  Trumps’s destruction has been a planned event from the first day after the election.  The Deep State and Democrats could not even wait to the inauguration to initiate a full scale demolition derby meant to emasculate Trump, and position him for removal as soon as the their position in power had been restored.  An independent council was immediately named within days of Trump taking power to investigate a Democrat fantasy that the election was stolen by some nefarious Russian influence.  The pounding has been daily and relentless, with the hypocrisy of those most compromised by Deep State bias being the grand inquisitors. Hillary Clinton, perhaps the most ethically challenged of modern candidates for president, has become the incredible shrinking foil, as with each attempted smear of Trump, more and more of the dirt ends up on her own legacy.  There can be no stopping this attack as the statist hegemony can not risk the bountiful grip over the people that had been so remorselessly achieved.

And then there is Terrible Trump, who shows incredible indiscipline and self absorption with spasms of ludicrous tweets, that distract and dwell on people and events of immeasurably vapid value.  Is Clown Trump or Revolutionary Trump the real Trump?  Are these distractions from his agenda tenth dimensional chess designed to distract the haters as he continues behind the curtain to quietly run the levers of a profound revolution to halt the country’s slouch toward a socialist Gomorrah?  Or are they just Clown Trump, unable to contain his narcissism, every bit the unhinged pretender his haters assume him to be?

It may difficult to watch, but watch we must, as real history is being made, after decades of national hesitancy and bloating of the progressivist state.  You don’t have to like the man in order to realize he isn’t going to just sit back and let two hundred and thirty years of a great experiment be allowed to implode on itself.  The Great and Terrible Wizard may simply be the strange little man that will find a way to get us back home…

 

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P.A. Nisbet : The Neverchanging meets the Everchanging


Light Storm, Taos
2009
P.A. Nisbet

The Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana is dedicated  “to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America”.  Like several other distinguished American museums, such as  the Gilcrease in Tulsa and the Autry in Los Angeles, the Eiteljorg presents the projection of America’s view of itself, both historical and mythic, as defined by the concept of “West”, most prominently illuminated through its landscapes.  The vast open spaces, infinite sky and prismatic light lend themselves to constant reimaginations by contemporary talented artists who seek to evoke the majestic character of the physical world, and capture the “West” of the American mystique.  This year, as an extension of its annual Quest of the West show, an exhibition of a consensus collection of the life work of  P.A. Nisbet, 2016’s Quest Artist of Distinction, ran from September 8th to November 19th. I had the privilege of loaning one of the works for the show and seeing the exhibition in person.  I have collected Nisbet paintings for twenty years, but to see the cumulative vision in one time and one place, made the sense of awe as fresh for me as the very first time.

The exhibition was titled “Light, Space and Power : the Art of P.A. Nisbet”.  A curator for the Eiteljorg, Johanna Blume, framed the three components in Nisbet’s work as adding “a spiritual dimension.  Light and Space work together to elevate landscapes to preternatural level.  They reflect Nisbet’s own sense that the natural world is symbolic of an unknowable, sublime power.”   My own familiarity to the artist’s work, and upon visualizing the accumulated works as a whole, lead me to add a fourth dimension , Time,  that for me underlies the unique conceptualization of this most talented landscape painter.  The recognition of Time, both the instantaneous and the inexorable,  is ultimately the most human of characteristics applied by the greatest of landscape painters, for it is only through the projection of a human eye that the wistful recognition that what has just been experienced will never again be seen in the same way and with the same emotions.  The artist himself recognizes this dominant dimension.  The canyons, deserts, oceans and mountains that seem never changing, are, in the distance of time,  ever changing.  This  human recognition  brings an aching sentimentality to the most vast and impersonal of landscapes. An oblique critism of the art, that the human activity is rarely a component of any of the paintings except as a forlorn and indistinct figurine, belies the intensely human perspectives of these landscapes that indicate instead a critical humanity in the form of the viewer, who relays the etherial projection and emotions that can only be recorded in the solitary, by human eyes.

This understanding of time makes Nisbet, as evidenced in the exhibition, one the greatest American painters of unique visions of clouds and waves.  Recognizing the time element of the everchanging interplay of wind and light on most elemental of landscape subjects, Nisbet’s clouds are in particular a tour de force in the projection of these familiar landscape components, and as such, have the power to carry an entire painting on their own.  Each cloud, each wave, like a snowflake, starts with identical physics, only to mutate over time into a unique and never repeatable vision. In the above Light Storm , Taos, massive forces push simultaneously up and down like magnetic pilings, with brightly illuminated billowing cloudlets seeking the infinite sky and ominously dark pillars of water driving downward and eroding the immutable walls of the canyon.  Taos Gorge has been painted time and again, but the perfect actionable verticality of the painting brings the

Colossus 2007

recognition that this immense power display was observed through human eyes, that recognized the etherial nature of the display and its brief existence in time.

Similar geometric tension exists in Collosus, where a road projects into a distant avenger that dares the viewer to risk the journey into a future of malaign portent, or reverse course and stay admidst sunlight.

Elysian Fields 2008

In Elysian Fields, the power is muted as the human perspective is changed to a  serene overviewer , and the once massive structures are now a benign, budding coral reef in a luminescent ocean of air.

 

 

 

Tico’s Paradise 1995

The time element and human perspective is alive in the many visionary interpretations of water.  In an early Nisbet creation, Tico’s Paradise, a fantastical. effulgent crashing wave meets a fecund landscape that speaks to Eden and the world prior to the fall of man.  A more intense projection of water in Lava Falls brings a vitality and brilliance to moving water and light, with a characteristic Nisbet light motiff of streaming sunlight projecting through the wave crest.  You can literally feel the wave mist striking the viewer’s face, with eyes squinting from the triad of gleaming sun, rushing water, and the immense joy felt of being in such a glorious space.

Lava Falls 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Southern Sea goes full Turner with brilliantly executed shafts of light from a pewter and bronze sky that blast through the turgurous foam of massive wave caps, blown mist surging against the light with violent fury.  Walls of deep blue, grey waves leave the viewer helpless against the scope of the dangerous seas.  The artist lets you know he has seen such fury up close in very human terms, as only a human would attempt to exist at the junction of the typhoon above and the watery depths below.  Not a bad metaphor for the often tumultous journey of human life itself.

The Southern Ocean 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Canyon is one of Nisbet primal painting joys where, for him,  the neverchanging meets the everchanging like no where else on earth.  Eons of stone carved by river and rain provide the greatest canvas for light mystique of any structure on earth.  Nisbet is in an elite league of Grand Canyon painters that show their understanding of plein air vision on the many vistas of the canyon that all are familiar with, but Nisbet secures light effects that create epic drama

Morning on the Colorado
2010

that only someone who has personal, intimate absorption over a life time can imbue.  Morning on the Colorado is such a painting, with the mirror like shimmering river lying in the shadow of  the canyon wall, projecting against the brilliant sun bleaching out the geologic colors and the layering shadows.  Nisbet takes such conceptualization to its logical extreme in two non-exhibition Canyon paintings that are personal favorites of mine added for the discussion.  Golden Temple and Breaking Storm , Grand Canyon present dramatic polar opposites of the time effects on light illuminating  the never changing canyon geometry with vastly different light – the first, the flat light of the end of day creating almost impressionist light and shadow, the other a single beam of illumination tearing through the dense darkness of a massive storm to bring forward epic drama in minimalist color.  Both in my mind are the mark of a master artist.    

Golden Temple 2009

Breaking Storm, Grand Canyon 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recognition by the art world of both the unique contribution of an artist along with the understanding of how they fit in the lexicon of great generational painters is one of the higher forms of adulation.  P.A. Nisbet is from a lineage of devotion to landscape and seascape painting that recalls Moran and Turner but does not copy them.  He is a bit of a throwback to the craft of careful observation of nature, elevating his paintings beyond the often photographic familiarity of modern contempary landscapes or impressionist knockoffs.  This is one serious student of his craft, who pushes himself to greater and greater personal clarity no matter what the subject of his works.

In ten thousand years, the ever changing light will be different, the never changing majestic canyons shifted and eroded,  the seashores re-ordered, and the climate unknowable. But if humans were to survive the ten thousand years forward like they survived the ten thousand years that brought us to today, they would recognize the deeply profound cords of awe for our world and our place in it, that PA Nisbet has made a career of projecting through his work.  And how lucky for us, so much more to come.

 

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What Happened?

What Happened?!?

If you are Vladimir Putin, you are probably always a little surprised how easy it is to screw with democracies.  The formula is straight forward.  Inject a little a little disinformation into the mix,  then sit back and satisfyingly watch the show evolve into more than you could have ever hoped for. Having to stew in the reality that Russia has become a one product economy under great competitive strain from entrepreneurial fracking geniuses  in the United States, and having to find a way to somehow keep pace with the leviathan that is the U.S. military,it must be especially satisfying to realize how the core institutions that once gave the United States its enormous strength, are riddled with manipulable dupes, compromised bureaucracies,  and third rate political hacks.

The nation is waking up to find that the manufactured meme of supposed corrupting Russian intervention in the American election process fatally ensnaring the new President, is proving to be no more than an attempted diverting side show to wholesale self corruption of an entire generation of political elite.For over a year, an incessant drumbeat by operatives inside and outside the government using a grab bag of nefarious leaks and innuendos worked to drive  a compliant press into attempting the destruction of candidate Trump, and when unsuccessful, the  termination of his functional presidency from day one.

The Presidential election of 2016 provided the ultimate expression of the collapse of the traditional party vetting process to obtain candidates of appropriate capability and stature to the potentially take on the most complex and powerful executive responsibilities in the world.  On the Republican side, a neophyte businessman with no thought out plan, a shoot from the hip style, and a spotty at best past, amazingly defeated 16 better turned candidates who had no answer for his peculiar combination of bluster and ability to blast through supposed norms of political correctness.  On the Democrat side, a known political stiff, with a long standing history of difficulties with the truth, unbridled ambition for power and wealth, and a family tradition of playing the victim card while ruthlessly using whoever necessary to advance,plodded her way passed an ancient socialist, who somehow appeared the more energetic and ideas driven candidate.

Hillary Clinton, the supposed anointed one,  had found herself caught in a typical Clintonian mess of her own making.  Having spent the better portion of her years of Secretary of State using the position to influence foreign powers in enriching herself through the Clinton Foundation ,  her sloppy tool of hiding the activity, a private e-mail server containing all the more nefarious requests no doubt, became known.  Clinton then did what Clintons do, she brazenly destroyed access to her emails, and dared anyone to imply a connection.  The grotesquery of her act, a process that would have thrown any other government employee in jail, required a special kind of obsyiquience by a government and compliant media that wanted her to win, and continue the statist revolution.  High brazenness produces high risk, and  therefore, there was work to do to assure the processes of enforcement in a democracy, the cratering but still possible rule of law and the bright light of investigative journalism, did not interfere with her inevitable election, and thereby permit with her election the  permanent burial of the story.

And then, the bountiless wonder of providence sees to the nomination, on the Republican side, of maybe the easiest opponent in a century, a populist simultaneously weak in the most conservative states, and weaker still in the swing states.  The predictions are for a landslide, a republican wipeout. When however, you are empty of principle yourself, the idea of leaving the election up to a notoriously fickle public enthralled with the brash talk of the opponent and still holding fresh in their minds another example, in the email scandal, of your absent personal virtue,  another weapon is needed.

Having participated yourself in the making of millions of dollars by entering the United States into deals with Putin’s oligarchs that divest 25% of the United States uranium reserves into Russian hands, you are comfortable with the thought that a modern businessman like Trump would obviously operate by the same rules of enrichment.  Looking for the political dagger, your political operatives employ a company with known Russian ties for misinformation, and spend millions for a ‘dossier’ that reveals the ‘real Trump’ and alleged Russian influence peddling.  What a wonderful distraction as the thin skinned Trump distracts himself in fighting off attack dogs in the media, while you work on your own leaky vessel.  The FBI, run by a Director long since oblivious to his legal obligation, devises alternatives to prosecution on the email scandal even before he has interviewed you for the facts.  He gives immunity to your team before they request it.  Your husband manages to gain the necessary assurances from the U.S. Attorney General in a preposterous ‘accidental’ airport rendezvous.  The President of the United States stands back, as he sees risks to himself and his legacy in having the unbound bowling ball of Trump anywhere near a victory.  The FBI, so willing to have a distraction to equalize the playing field and take on the appearance of balanced justice warriors, may even have invested in the opposition ‘research’ — provided by a foreign spy from other foreign spies, hand fed by a gleeful dictator enabling Americans to get stuck in their own sanctimonious goo.

The election comes, and the impossible happens.  The anointed one loses, and the bumbling amateur loud mouth pulls off the greatest upset in modern election history.  What does Hillary Clinton do? — she does revenge.  A brilliant Clinton inspired campaign of leaks, innuendos, complicit media and a retiring President protecting his legacy creates a firestorm of lies, fabricated news analysis, and a compromised FBI Director who assures the stage is set for an independent council to go after the President practically day one in office, a prosecutor who just happens to be his mentor and friend, best able to divert any direct tracks to the Director himself.

It’s a tragicomedy on the scale of the greatest  conspiratorial nonsense, and horribly beneath contempt in a country that once prided itself on its civic institutions.  We can now look up and see compromised, the Democrat nominee for President and the Democrat National Committee, The former President of the United States and his Justice Department, the FBI and its Director and its last two Directors,  and the legion of media sycophants that perpetuate the myth of objectivity while promoting a form of propaganda for the state.

Where it will end, typically is not with justice being served to all the miscreants.

President Putin can at least laugh in what he can accomplish with just  a little chaos. No one from this country can any longer raise the standard of objective justice, selfless civil servants, or a fourth estate of a free and unbound character, when pointing the finger at him.  We are stuck, knee deep, in our own goo.

President Trump has innumerable faults, but he is looking like a peach compared to the last crowd.  Hopefully, he really will be able to start to drain the proverbial swamp.

Despite a foundation of a most perfect union, we have become mired in one very deep, deep swamp.

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The Emptiness of Modernity

In the cauldron of what passes for the day’s news is the ongoing pathetic accumulation of stories of  decades of abuse and sexual harassment imposed by the leading figure of Hollywood’s film industry upon untold starlets and aspiring actresses. At the beginning of October, Harvey Weinstein stood like a colossus over the production of cinematic art in the United States.  The industry that had made him a billionaire and positioned him as the “conscience” of Hollywood due to his devotion and monetary support of liberal causes and ever more liberal candidates, suddenly awakened to the raw stories of ruined lives and possibly criminal assaults that had been an “open” secret, but sublimated by payoffs, fear, intimidation, or worse, casual acceptance.  The ‘colossus’ first attempted to deflect the stories, as had worked so many times before, but this time, the sheer volume and profoundly pathetic nature of the actions prevented any coverup from taking root.  For the first time, high priced lawyers with the politically correct belief set were not enough to dissuade the pent up anger and outrage of the many victims from pouring out.  Weinstein, so used to burying such stories, in the briefest of times found himself buried by the avalanche. An attempt to deflect the criminal nature of his acts through the typical liberal weapon of converting himself into a victim needing “treatment for his sickness, sexual addiction” only brought forth more scorn, more stories, and eventually, the wrath of the very entertainment company he had founded and led.

There can be no treatment of Harvey Weinstein for sex addiction, because sex is the last thing  to which this self absorbed power thug could relate.  He is another progressively perverse example of the lack of  human responsiveness in modern society that is poisoning and weakening civilization to the point of collapse.  As outrageous as are the perpetrated violent assaults is the global lack of recognition of his peer community of the anti-human character of such people, empowered by a societal fatigue for the traditional strengths of  human relationships. Weinstein, despite the untold number of sexual assaults predicated on his ability to threaten and intimidate, was revealed to have a sordidly predictable, asexual and profoundly vapid interaction with his victims.  Story after story told of Weinstein entrapping young women into vulnerable environments, only to be asked to passively watch him bathe or pleasure himself, as if they were props in a movie set. Sex, as a human interaction between adults based on mutual attraction, was the furthest thing from this amoral, anti-social character’s psyche.  So self absorbed in the action, he could often not remember, upon later meeting the person, as to whether a positive or negative event had taken place.

Modern society has drawn us into this dark place.  The blurring of genders, the flattening of the importance and responsibilities of masculinity, the outsourcing and perversion of femininity, the relegation of sex into a hormonally discharged act of inwardly directed sensory release has displaced the centerpiece of a healthy society, the mutually projected love of a man and a woman. This core strength of a society to procreate for the purpose of creating its next generation, and linking the act to the positive expression of the human instinct to support and protect towards this purpose, is under massive assault.  The modern culture that has glorified an impersonal sex, directed inward, absolved of  the lack of any meaning beyond physical, celebrates this perversion as an achievement of personal freedom and expression.  The movies that Weinstein specialized in making often promoted such gratuitousness into subsequent expressions of casual violence where pain and loss were whitewashed, societally destructive anti-heroes were celebrated over those with principles, and villains were cartooned on the basis of race or politics to tear down conventions of civility.

We are at one of those tipping points where society has lost its compass to the point that the basics of interactive behavior ultimately defining our humanness are at risk through such casual distain. In Japan, it is estimated a third of the population of procreative age has not had a sexual interaction with the opposite sex, resulting in a population implosion that threatens the very future of a Japanese cultural existence.  In that same society, and in parts of the enlightened west, men look to experience their sexual interactions with idealized robots rather than another human being.  It is all in all a profound loss of understanding for the deeper meanings of existence and the cognitive recognition of the critical role of both the physical and the metaphysical in bringing meaning to life.

Modernity, expressed in such profoundly empty, valueless lives of those who supposedly are the exemplars of our modern societal intellect and self proclaimed projectors of our culture, have ensnared a large proportion of society into their ultimately aspiritual, meaningless vision of existence.  The restorative powers of redemption will not be found in a sex addiction clinic or in paying indulgences.  It can only come from a reinvigorating of our very humanness, and a return, as did the prodigal son, to the healing powers of what is fundamental and good.  We will not find our happiness in the superficial, the dominated, or the passive. We will not find it in amoral equivalences. We will find it, dear Brutus, not in our stars, but in our selves.

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Fall Leaf Follies

photo attrib. buzzfeed.com

Don’t look now but fall is just about upon us.   The oh too short period of  clement weather and bountiful harvest that leads to brief moments of frivolity before the serious impact of winter.  A time for finding a good leaf pile and jumping in for the sheer  escapism and harmlessness. It’ll get serious again soon enough.

Leaf Pile #1:     President Donald Trump in the last several weeks has moved into a mode of what he feels is bi-partisan outreach.  Frustrated with the glacial pace and compromises he has had to abide working with his own alleged party, the Republicans,  president Trump has lurched to the left, reaching apparent agreements with Democrat leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, on controversial issues such as extension of the national debt ceiling, the DACA program, and potentially a larger amnesty agreement that would essentially undermine the entire logic of his Presidential campaign, to block and reverse illegal immigration and Build the Wall.

That would be of course, as Trump has previously referred to them, “Head Clown” Schumer and “Loser” Pelosi.  The same Minority Leader of the Senate and Former Speaker of the House that have accused him of working with Russia to undermine America and would impeach him if they ever returned to power.  Such frivolities!  The multi-dimensional chess the President is playing is to somehow get the Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker of the House Ryan who he has just humiliated, to work with the Senate Minority Leader and former Speaker of the House that want to impeach him, on Health Care, Immigration and Tax Reform that will define his legacy and the nation’s future, as interpreted by a main stream press that wants to destroy him, driven hopefully  by the support of his voters who he has just sold out by his immigration decisions,  organized by a White House staff that has been turned over three times, and in the end, stand astride the achievements like a colossus….that is one big leaf pile.

Leaf Pile #2:  Kim Jong Un is playing a game he has invented called, “Light The Candle”.  Every two weeks he sends up a ballistic missile over the Pacific to see how close he can come to inciting the US, Japan, and South Korea into responding and starting a massive conflict that risks drawing in the participants as well as China and Russia into a cataclysm.  Now that would be shooting a small candle and igniting a whole candelabra.  As Kim is the third generation of Kim  to hold the title of Supreme Destroyer of North Korea, has determined to outdo his father and grandfather in making life a living hell for the poor unfortunate 25 million Koreans who ended up on the wrong side of the 38th parallel in 1953.  In addition to the concentration camps and secret police dominating a cowed population, he is experimenting with the effects of massive sanctions imposed by the other players on his creaky economy in energy products, such that if the people of his country had a job to go to, they wouldn’t be able to get there.  Luckily, the only job to go to, is working for the Kims or the military.  Progressively threatening the largest military power in the world, hundreds of millions of people with nuclear attack, and destruction of four of the world’s largest economies is a strategy that is unlikely to end in stalemate.  Too bad we can’t pull the “go to Jail” card.

Leaf Pile #3:  The plan of genius strategist Abu Bakr al -Baghdadi to take over the world by restoring the islamic caliphate through the armies of ISIS has led to an incredible leaf pile.  Follow closely.  Taking advantage of the Syrian calamity, Baghdadi established his caliphate in Raqqa, Syria in 2013, rapidly subsuming most of eastern Syria and Western Iraq, managing to kill thousands including the genocidal actions on Arab Christians and the Yazidis and displace millions in his drive to Mosul, Iraq, which he conquered in 2014. The caliphate now astride thousands of square miles of territory, now did what it was designed to do, kill Muslims.  The Sunni caliphate  reached the gates of Shia Baghdad, leading the world’s largest Shia nation, Iran, to come to the aid of the Iraqi government. Which lead to the eventual driving out of Mosul of ISIS.  The desperate Yazidis fell back into the hands of the Kurds, who eye Mosul someday for themselves, and are a persecuted minority in Iran. Turkey, which hates ISIS, hates the Kurds more, and alternates between supporting and fighting ISIS.  The Americans, who pulled out of a stable Iraq and ignored the conflict in Syria, were forced to return to support the Kurds and Iraqis to drive out ISIS, but not help too much and give Iran functional control of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  Russia, whose client Syria, was nearly destroyed has buoyed up the Syrian President Assad, who literally everyone hates, risking direct Russian and US conflict within his own country to reassert control over his fractionated country, where everybody hates each other and hates him equally.  The Saudis, who can’t stand Assad but won’t abide ISIS and are mortal enemies of Iran, are suppling ISIS like troops to fight Iran and are bullying Qatar, who are supporting with Iran  the insurgency in Yemen to overthrow the Saudi supported government.  It’s so bad that the Saudis are now secretly meeting with their stated enemy Israel, to plan against their shared mortal enemy Iran.  The Americans, who support the Saudis and Israel, and are aligned against Russia, Syria, and Iran, are about to blow ISIS out of existence in Raqqa,  who the Saudis support and the Turks see as a hedge against the Kurds.  The Russians, who could care less if the whole region goes up in flames, thereby strengthening their hold on the eastern Mediterranean and energy dominance, don’t want the Americans sticking their nose back in the Middle East

And the Palestinians are mad that no one cares about the Palestinians any more.

Who will come out of this leaf pile is anyone’s guess.

Leaf Pile #4:  The government of Venezuela has mandated that starving Venezuelans look to killing rabbits for sustenance as there are too many starving Venezuelans and too many rabbits, a convenient situation that could potentially solve both issues.  Now, no one  in President Maduro’s dictatorship or his Cuban handlers are eating rabbit.  Their sustenance comes from maintaining the black market and the illegal drug trade that keeps the overlords on the filet and merlot diet.  Most Venezuelans would prefer that diet, or any diet, but Venezuela is a socialist state, and that means everyone must starve so the few at the top can eat filet and merlot.  despite Venezuela sitting on one of the world’s largest oil reserves, the socialist government of Venezuela/Cuba has managed to empty the treasury and re-orient the receipts into the hands of those who should benefit, the Cuban and Venezuelan overseers. The United States does not want to jump into this leaf pile, as it has recently opened relations with Cuba, the co-oppressors, and has a history of being over bearing in Central and South America that has weakened its moral influence.  Besides, the United States has jumped into about 50 other leaf piles around the world. The Venezuelan people, who have been bullied to the edge of tolerance, may be determined to simply light this leaf pile to get rid of it once and for all.  Nasty, sudden government overthrows, even of dictators, are after all,  a Latin American tradition.

 

Leaf Pile #5:  The United States is leaf blowing a whole new disorder of individual inequality and victimhood.  The pile has now divided the sexes, two for eternity, into over 70 genders.  Once united by the principle of our equality, we now reflect a unique bias to our race, gender, economic status, religion, and historical position.  We are imbuing all our thoughts and actions as political.  Sports, once the great escape from our differences, now must become the stage for our righteous indignation.  Do we stand up or kneel down for our anthem , and what does it say about us?   The President of ESPN, a sports network, has to remind his employees that after years of forcing in politics into every sporting event, they must be reminded that the sports network is supposed to report…sports.  Differing opinions must be eliminated on campus if they threaten a person’s  vulnerable value set, unless there are value sets felt impolitic.  Laws are for some, but not for others.  The government can decide which laws need enforcement and which don’t, leading to the need for new laws to firm the old, and necessarily to arbitrarily suppress freedom further.  This leaf pile once seemed worthy of derision, but has become a generational piling on that looks to suffocate freedom and individual choice.  Involved in so many international leaf piles, the largest and most combustible may be our own.

 

Heck, look for a good dog, and find your own leaf pile.  We will have to get serious soon enough.

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American History is no longer Statuesque

The General Robert E. Lee statue is removed from its pedestal on Lee Circle in New Orleans May 19th, 2017

In 1884, 19 years removed from the intense passions of the brutal interlude of the American Civil War, an illustrious crowd led by Confederate royalty, including the former President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, the Confederate General Beauregard, and two daughters of General Lee, saw the dignified and solemn statue of the Confederacy’s most famous general dedicated in New Orleans.  The statue survived on its pedestal through the twentieth century and many re-interpretations of the causes and principles of the struggle, and levels of veneration of the  reluctant general who vigorously led the South in battle.  The statue on its 107th birthday was placed in protected status on the National Register of Historic Places.  Rising nearly a hundred feet over New Orleans, its was one of the more recognizable and representative historical  structures in the city.

On May 19th, 2017, the monument to the South’s peculiar cultural identity and tragic mis-direction was taken down, as the city’s government’s final success in removing Confederate historical figures from the city.

New Orleans’ drive to expunge its connection with secessionist history injected momentum across the United States to find ‘inappropriately venerated’  historical monuments and expunge them and perhaps what they teach us about ourselves , from our consciousness.   The focus by self interested groups on the left to roust out such history accelerated after the events of Charlottesville, and have led to less civilized and more aggressive removal and destruction of similar monuments. As with all movements where the original logic for the actions shift with the political motivations of the activists, the destructive eye now points toward previously uniting monuments

Abraham Lincoln Bust defaced in Chicago

to the American story such as the Jefferson Monument and Mt. Rushmore.  The radical aggression has spilled beyond the country’s founders to the very base disgust the radicals feel for anything that defines America, such as Christopher Columbus and yes, Abraham Lincoln.

Really.   Abraham Lincoln.

We are living through a dangerously anti-historical time, when the extent and meaning of events, so formative in how we became, are being evangelistically eradicated by those with little sense of history and a real hatred of who we are.  It is nonsensical to not understand that monuments are often erected to highlight what people have seen over years to be enduring and important, rather than any pretense that these individuals represented were without flaw.  Robert E. Lee is venerated for the way he led men, not for the fractured logic of his divided loyalties.  Thomas Jefferson elevated for all time the principle of individual rights and the expressed equality of man, not his own timid, very human  inability in his time and culture to live up to his own principles.  The many representations of a heroic southern sacrifice do not celebrate the horrid culture of slavery, but of an epic, crushing struggle that left a million dead, nearly twice as many as in World War II, in a country a third as populous.  In the profound battle to end the wretched scar of American slavery hobbling a society founded on equality and freedom, the passions that drove one side to the righteous, and the other to a doomed and inhonorable and erroneous principle, were complex and inexorable.  Tearing down history, without recognizing its ability to teach, encourages the very close minded  processes that led to such passions in the first place.

That said, history and our human story is too imbued within us to fall silent when facing the the poorly chosen  specific statue or monument.  Heroes are etherial and not locked in their time. A statue to Roger Taney or a George Wallace are not time heroic.  There is no feasible need to teach  their inhumanity, regardless of their skills, that suggests any need for their continuing memorial existence.  A modern society can reflect upon its heroes and determine their relevance soberly, and cull with care. We needn’t feel sentimental justifying a particular malevolence, because of a peculiar skill. There is justice in removing a Hussein or Stalin from the pedestal, once their own societies have identified the hypocrisy of their veneration.

Yet the danger always resides in the zealous nature of our own perceived purity and our unwillingness to register our humility in judgement of others.  Could it be possible that we could even learn from a Nathan Bedford Forrest?

Civil war, such as you have just passed through, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge.  It is our duty to divest ourselves of such feelings, and, so far as it is in our power to do so, , to cultivate feelings toward those with whom we have so long contested and heretofore so widely but honestly differed.  Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out, and when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of even of your enemies.  Whatever your responsibilities may be to government , to society, or to individuals, meet them like men,  The attempt to establish a separate and independent confederation has failed, but the consciousness of doing your duty faithfully at to the end will in some measure repay for the hardships you have undergone.

LT. General Nathan Bedford Forrest to his soldiers

May 9th, 1865

Before we tear it all down, maybe we should hear out all the strains of history, and find the better angels of our nature.

 

 

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An American Original – Glenn Campbell

Glenn Campbell
1936-2017

The current over enhanced and emotion deadened noise that passes for modern American popular music has separated us from the power that once was evoked from the marriage of lyric, voice, and musicianship that represented the golden age of music performance and recording.  Self absorbed and over engineered performers play one generic tome after another, calling out mechanical and soulless structure that blend together like musical hoppel poppel ,that leaves as soon as it is digested and extends no decernible satisfaction.  Attempt to recall, to sing, any of the ‘epics’ of the last twenty years and one is left with empty beat and emptier emotions that don’t linger beyond the vapid moment of vague familiarity and oppressive shallowness.

Then Glenn Campbell dies, and memories of musical greatness, like a sudden breach of a whale, or the ecstasy of one who has held their breath for too long under water and first gasps to fill one’s lungs with massive gulps of life giving oxygen,  come to mind.  Glenn Campbell was the holy trinity of performers.  He could sing like an angel. Interpret lyrics to touch one’s very core, and play the absolute hell out of a guitar.  No one who ever heard him failed to be just a little bit in awe of what the country boy from Arkansas was able to do with almost any strand of music.  When Alzheimer’s Disease stole his prodigious talent in 2012, and inevitably silenced him on August 8th, 2017, a ripple across the Cosmic celestial spheres was felt.

Glen Campbell came out of the outer banks of the American Frontier, born just outside the aptly named Delight, Arkansas on April 22, 1936.  His family was musical and Glenn took to the guitar like a fish to water, soon becoming  a participant in some of the family’s musical projects, a polyglot of american backwoods — gospel, bluegrass, and “cowboy” swing.  The teenage Campbell honed his craft in family efforts such as the Sandia Mountain Boys and the Western Wranglers, dipping into the vortex of post world war rural sound that was part Bob Wills  and part Ralph Stanley that would eventually become a force in American music known as Country and Western, with seminal stars such as Hank Williams, Kitty Wells,  Webb Pierce, and Ray Price.  C&W music no only told stories that brought sophisticated reflection to the rural life experience, but also the injection of seriously good musicians, like Chet Atkins and Buck Owens, innovators in both the acoustic and electronic voices of the new recording technologies of the post war world.  A great instrumentalist by the time he was 25, Glenn went in the opposite direction of most country inflected performers, away from Nashville and out to California, where nearly every performer recording in Los Angeles looked to have his tight and elite musicianship backing every album, from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.

The not so hidden secret among studio musicians was that not only could Campbell play, he could sing as good as any performer he backed.  The general public did not discover this until Glenn Campbell discovered the songs of an obscure Oklahoman named Jimmy Webb, who could write as epically as Campbell could sing.  From mid-1967 till mid-1968, Glenn Campbell and Jimmy Webb managed to displace the colossus of the music world, the Beatles, as the world’s greatest selling artist,  with songs such as Galveston, Wichita Lineman, and By the Time I get to Phoenix.

In Jimmy Webb, Glenn Campbell had found his muse, and in Campbell, Jimmy Webb his siren.  The songs matched a profound and dignified humanity to real, everyday people caught in life’s most reflective moments, and Campbell’s perfect 21/2 octave ,innocent and aching, clarion of a voice made the simple words immortal.  Jimmy Webb, America’s greatest baby boomer songwriter and Campbell, America’s troubadour, had careers that lasted decades after, but were forever linked to their brief perfect union.   The two artists had collaborated on music that transcended pop, country, and rock to become indisputably American Music.  Fifty years later, it speaks to us in emotions and reflections as fresh as the day they were borne.

Glenn Campbell became a huge television star, hosting his own show, the Glenn Campbell Good Time Hour, promoting little known acts like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, would revolutionize the staid world of country music in the 1970s and 80s. He starred in movies such as True Grit and Any Which Way You Can, was a regular on Johnny Carson and achieved superstar status with songs such as Southern Nights and Rhinestone Cowboy.

The natural humbleness and boy next door on screen personality, however, could not withstand the typical stresses and attention of uberfame, and Campbell like many artists, lost himself in unstable relationships and substance abuse.  The productivity and quality suffered as well in the 1980s and 1990s until he was eventually able to achieve sobriety and take stock of himself.  A chastened performer in his final decades, he still at times overwhelmed audiences and fellow artists with his off the charts talent. The videos below are a wonderful memoriam to Glenn Campbell’s amazing talent, a man and his guitar wowing some of the biggest names in country with his beautiful honey tinged voice and guitar chops. The horrible prison that is Alzheimers took Glenn Campbell away when he still had so much to give. If you get a moment, turn todays’ pale imitations off, open your mind and absorb some true sensorial pleasure, on what legendary talent in the person of Glenn Campbell was all about.

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Miracle at Dunkirk: Re-Imagining History in the Post History Age

One of the “Little Boats” used at Dunkirk – Imperial War Museum

I recently had the occasion to see Director Christopher Nolan’s cinematic epic “Dunkirk”.  We have been through a period in cinema , depicting heroism relegated to the contrived world of comic super heroes and steroid injected Ubermen,  where courage is universal because personal risk is essentially eliminated.  The real world is altogether different, where courage is usually selfless, with the recognition of one’s mortal being and the randomness and cruelty of destructive fate is ever present.  Nolan has attempted to revert back to old fashioned cinematic concepts of relating historical events, more in line with the effect upon individuals of sweeping and inexorable waves of history.  “Dunkirk” is told in perspective style, in which time is warped to view a simultaneous event from the perception of those on land, on water, and in the air.  Nolan tells everyone’s story on the Dunkirk beach by concentrating on no one’s particular story, instead, relaying a visual masterpiece of surreal beauty, claustrophobic terror, and harrowing visual and audial tension. It is heroism on a human scale, with self preservation in conflict with duty, small gestures raised to epic scope, and helplessness at war with determination.  It is a war epic in classic mode, leaving the seeds of conflict for others to tell, focusing on the innate  human quality of somehow rising to the occasion, forming the mythic foundations of the human story.

Nolan’s epic, though entertaining in both its visual scope and its technical virtuosity, is strangely absent in the critical ingredient needed to attain great cinematic art, the art of telling a mythic event as an engrossing story.  Nolan’s screenplay relates in intimate detail of the overwhelming sense of entrapment and helplessness of the hundreds of thousands of men clinging to the beaches of Dunkirk, but little of the story as to the reasons for their predicament, or of the heroic and determined effort of those who put them there, to get them out.  It is the obvious trap of having to tell a complex story that extends over a week, in the two hours that the movie can relate, that resulted in Nolan determining to leave the tension and heroism in, and the history out.  The result is, despite the brilliance on the screen, one leaves the theater with the story of the “miracle of Dunkirk” seeming vaguely flat and unsatisfying as an epic event.  It is unfortunately the burden of attempting to tell history to a post historical audience, in which the assumption of knowledge of the event and consideration of its importance to our current comfort and security meets  a mostly empty vessel of recognition.  Without presenting the background of the event to the modern audience, now immersed in a world of casual, politically corrected  facts and  extremely limited awareness of history, Nolan has made “Dunkirk” into an entertaining, but at its essence,  simple “disaster” movie, ultimately no more impactful than a characterless Poseidon Adventure.

Dunkirk holds more than enough epic stories to fill a serial movie treatment.  The extent of the looming disaster to western civilization cannot be underestimated.  The relative security and interlude of the ‘Phony War’ of the winter of 1940 came to a sudden and violent end with the Nazi war machine invading Belgium and ultimately France on May 10th, 1940.  Displaying “Blitzkrieg”, the innovative and overwhelming strategy of rapid ground advancement spearheaded with tanks accompanied by devastating air support, the German Wehrmacht achieved in weeks what they could not in 4 brutal years of trench fighting  in WWI, the encirclement of the entire British Expeditionary Force in Europe, along with the residual of the French army, in a small enclave in northwest France.  The only means of escape were the ports, and with the rapid loss of Boulogne and Calais, there was  left only a small salient around Dunkirk, ten miles from the Belgian border.  Over 400,000 British and French forces were bottled up against the coast with diminishing supplies and overwhelming opposition pinching from the flanks.    A near total loss of the critically trained foundation of the British Army was imminent. The developing catastrophe had caused the prime ministership of Neville Chamberlain to fall, with the massive responsibility and enormous consequences of failure now assigned to his replacement, Winston Churchill.  Loss of the expeditionary army of 300,000 men and equipment would likely leave the British homeland prostrate before the multi-faceted superiority of the German war machine.  The future survival of recognizable western civilization lay in the balance.

Pushed against the ocean in Dunkirk, the thousands of men lay inexorably trapped against the artillery from the surrounding enemy and the vicious strafing from the Luftwaffe from above.  The small silver lining was the curious decision of the German forces at the end of May to halt tank advancement against the Dunkirk enclave, believing the surroundings not conducive to tanks due to marshes,  and rely upon the air force to prevent extraction from the sea and devastate the residual force from the air.  This provided a small amount of breathing space for a complex and coordinated heroic attempt to hold off the Germans long enough to evacuate as many as could be evacuated by sea.

Troop evacuations off the beaches at Dunkirk June 1940 – wikipedia

Nicknamed Operation Dynamo, the plan consisted of a  barricade of predominantly French troops to prevent German ground forces from entering Dunkirk while coordinated landings of the bulk of the British fleet at the Dunkirk  port would remove soldiers under the relative security of British air cover.  The evacuations started on the 25th of May, and the onset of the plan was fully realized on the 26th.  The ominous goal of perhaps removing at most,  10% of the trapped troops, 40,000 men, was the hope of Churchill and his planning team.

The difficulty of the plan, both in scope and in diminishing available time, rapidly increased the chaos at the beaches.  Incoming boats with drafts too deep for the shallow waters of the harbor proved inadequate and slow for the process, and were vulnerable to both air attack and u-boat packs, with brutal losses of ships and men.  The inner harbor was soon abandoned  for the outer breakers, or moles, where men could more efficiently organize and board, though no less vulnerable to strafing attack, as harrowingly visualized in the movie. The mythic part of the evacuation was the participation of many British citizen sailors manning hundreds of small craft, known as the “little boats”, including the motorized life boat pictured at the top of this essay.  This motley armada braved seas, minefields, u-boats and strafing aircraft to pick up and deliver home tens of thousands of additional soldiers.

The evacuation routes from Dover to Dunkirk and back –  Route X was laced with minefields and Y with u-boats, but the shortest distance Z was abandoned due to its proximity to German land based artillery. – map by wikipedia

The tremulous dribble of troops out of Dunkirk soon turned into a flood, with at its height as many as 2500 troops an hour evacuated.  By June 4th, in stunning fashion,  over 338,200 British and French soldiers had been rescued and returned to the homeland, to be positioned to help defend the homeland and, maybe one day, reverse the tide against the Germans.

The losses to achieve the ‘miracle at Dunkirk’ were immense. Losses of thousands of defender’s lives, over 100 airplanes and crew, and 226 of 693 participating ships were sacrificed to accomplish the stunning feat. The collapse of the residual French army and the established hegemony over the mass of the European continent by the Nazi dictator was soon achieved.   Churchill recognized the reality in his comments to the House of Commons on June 4th, 1940,  regarding the Dunkirk evacuation:

What has happened is a miracle of deliverance, but we must be very careful not to assign this deliverance the attributes of victory.  Wars are not won by evacuations.”

A movie like Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” provides a ‘you are there’ realism that can be achieved by no other medium.  The movie pulls at your fears and elevates your senses to bring the immediacy of an event alive and current.  What the movie does not do is frame the “how and why” of history, bringing  meaning to sacrifice and perspective as to the outcome.  The immense scope of the endeavor and a nation’s gritty and determined effort to succeed against all odds,  from its leadership on down to the most common of men, is the real survival story of Dunkirk.  The participation of the whole and the sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears for principles that define events such as Dunkirk in the stirring tale of history.  Our post – historical world can only emotionally experience the tragedy of individual loss, too superficially cognizant in their civilization’s history to acknowledge the bounty of human achievement preserved for future generations in such moments.  Our current willingness to be ignorant of history makes us susceptible to emotionally resign to a life of  personal security for the greater intellectual demands of a life of meaning.  Dunkirk reminds us that giving in when there is hope is giving up our humanity.  Across the ocean lies a better future, if we are willing to dream.

 

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