The movie “Dunkirk” is finding favor with many people, and not so much with many other Americans because it skipped relative historical facts that would have added to its value.
We wondered in the theater where we viewed the film whether the young people there really had any understanding of the World War II significance of the event. It did show in graphic detail the plight of the Allied soldiers who were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk, and how they were under fire from Nazi Germany during the ordeal. Germany was not mentioned as the enemy, but the aircraft used in the film identified them as Nazi aircraft.
The only countries mentioned as being under fire on the beaches of the French city were England and France. Other Allied troops there were from Belgium and Holland.
The battle of Dunkirk occurred in May 1940 before the United States entered the war. The German troops had driven Allied forces to the beaches of Dunkirk, and could have caused more casualties than they did had they wished. The movie did show the evacuation of troops, under fire, and the use of military and civilian boats and ships to transport them back to England.
About 330,000 troops were safely evacuated out of a force of more than 400,000. Those troops lived to fight another day. Some were in the D-Day invasion in June 1944. The troops who weren’t evacuated either were killed or captured by the Germans. None of these facts were explained in the movie, which lacked a strong lead story. Instead several small stories were told of the battle and evacuation.
Winston Churchill, as The Wall Street Journal’s review of the movie said, was not mentioned in the movie. Churchill had just assumed the prime minister’s post, when Dunkirk occurred. It was Churchill who rallied the British people to fight on after what happened at Dunkirk. It is an important historical fact that was missing.
Germany’s decision, or Adolf Hitler’s, not to incur more killings on Dunkirk’s beaches, which it could have done, is something historians have debated and studied for years. One theory is that Hitler didn’t want to invade England. Rather he thought he could more likely bring Churchill to the surrender table by not annihilating more Allied troops at Dunkirk. Along with that, Hitler had been convinced that England could be bombed to the point where it would give up. Hence, the London blitz. He also was worried that an invasion of England would impair the planned invasion of Russia.
Hitler underestimated Churchill’s tenacity and his ability to rally the English people to fight on, regardless of the odds.
The director of the film said its purpose is to tell a universal story of individuals struggling for survival. That was done. But the importance of Dunkirk in World War II as influencing the British to fight on, and feeling somewhat embarrassed by being kicked out of France by the Germans, was ignored.
The Journal called the movie “The Dumbing Down of Dunkirk.” It really was an opportunity missed to tell a better story, with historical facts. We were disappointed in the movie. It could have been a historical gem.