I just saw the teaser trailer, and I am really looking forward to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. I’ve relished the developments in technology and filmmaking that allow us at least a little glimpse of what historical events might have been like. I know, I know, it is still filtered through perceptions and shaped by market demands and limited in so many other ways, but I say we have a chance of a glimpse at what we didn’t live through. Even if not, though, it allows for an expansion of imagination, and a sympathetic imagination that allows us to stand in another’s boots for a moment is halfway there to creating decent human beings. Perhaps I will be disappointed – it will neither be the first nor the last time – but fingers crossed.
And as for Dunkirk itself, I can’t ever finish Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose without crying. The bravery of all of those on the armada of tiny vessels, the fishing boats, the little sloops that sailed to and fro across the English Channel to rescue the stranded soldiers – just writing this gives me goose bumps. Unarmed recreational and commercial vessels up against the Luftwaffe. Thousands of men standing neck deep in water for hours, hoping to get onto a ship before the paused blitzkrieg begins again, before a dive-bombing stuka blows them to bits.
All of our lives are contingent on so many things, even just going back one generation, let along to the primordial slime: that our parents met, for a start. We could go crazy thinking about all of the things throughout history that led to us being here, all the happy accidents and the disasters which did not destroy our line. There is an infinity we will never know. However, I know this: my grandfather, serving with the BEF, was evacuated from Dunkirk. If history had been this tiny bit different, neither my mother nor me and my siblings would ever have been born.My grandfather never spoke much of the war, but one thing he did say was that if some bastard hadn’t stolen his boots, he would have drowned during the evacuation. So to that bastard, and to the good Lord who gave us all life, I say thanks.