Michael Gerson began his July 28 op-ed, “The deliverance of a nation,” with the statement that one of the greatest victories of World War II was the mass evacuation of British and French troops from the beach at Dunkirk in 1940. Most historians would disagree. Indeed, Winston Churchill himself said of this episode: “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”
Gail E. Makinen, Arlington
In his Aug. 1 op-ed, “The Brits knew their enemy at Dunkirk,” Richard Cohen lamented that the movie “Dunkirk” did not explicitly identify the “enemy” (Nazi Germany).
Cohen was correct to note the evilness of the Nazi ideology. But it was more: The early years of World War II were an existential struggle of those holding humanistic values treasured by all religions — predominantly Judeo-Christian among the English; Hindu and Islamic among the Indian — against a perverse, exclusionary European ideology that sought to obliterate races and values.
In an online WorldViews post, Ishaan Tharoor pointed out the film’s myopic exclusion of Indians.
People of many faiths share in the struggle for humanistic values, such as those of the Islamic faith who fight the Islamic State, which shares many of the aspects of Nazi ideology.
To exclude through oversight, as happened with “Dunkirk,” or through deliberate policy, as with the various immigration policies being instituted by our government, fails a key tenet of humanism: inclusion, which serves to strengthen us all.
Jim Cassedy, Hyattsville
I disagree with the Aug. 8 letter “The relevant lesson from Dunkirk.” The run-up to World War II featured German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, in violation of the Versailles Treaty; the return to Germany of the Saar as the result of a free election; the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria in the spring of 1938, with the support of perhaps the majority of Austrians; and the annexation of the Sudetenland, as a result of the Munich Agreement. Only the remilitarization of the Rhineland offered a clear pretext for British and French intervention, and we now know that the token German force in the Rhineland had been ordered to retreat if such intervention occurred.
England and France had no military obligation to protect Poland. After the Germans entered Prague in March 1939, despite Adolf Hitler’s having assured British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain that he did not want a single Czech, it was obvious that Poland would be Hitler’s next target. This led Britain and France to sign a treaty with Poland to come to its aid in the event of German (but not Soviet) intervention, despite the inability of Britain and France to get any sizable military force to Poland prior to the German attack on Sept. 1, 1939. Before that, Germany pressured Poland to return Danzig and the Polish corridor that separated most of Germany from East Prussia. When Poland did not, Hitler opted for war, having been assured by his foreign minister that Britain and France would not come to Poland’s aid. Also, the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 made it clear that anyone coming to Poland’s aid would confront Germany’s new ally, the Soviet Union.
The “defensive walls” — i.e., the Maginot Line — weren’t as bad an idea as commonly thought. The key problem was Belgian neutrality, which prevented the extension of the Maginot Line northward into Belgian territory, through which the German attack had come in 1914 and would come again in the spring of 1940. We will never know what might have happened if the Maginot Line had been completed along the entire Belgian-German border and if the French military hadn’t regarded the Ardennes as impenetrable.
Dunkirk happened because the Germans were simultaneously able to smash through Belgian defenses and penetrate the Ardennes . Historians still dispute why the Wehrmacht allowed the Dunkirk pocket to remain open as long as it was, which made the retreat of much of the British army and some French and Belgian forces possible.
Steven Shore, Columbia