Blast From The Past

Robert Fisk – the gassy far-left Brit columnist upon whose oeuvre the term “fisk” was launched – is back with a bit of virtue-signaling…

…that actually has a point, although I’m not sure Fisk knows it.

The headline – “When you watch Dunkirk, remember that it’s a whitewashed version which ignores the bravery of black and Muslim soldiers” – set off a bit of a teapot-tempest on social media over the weekend.

He’s got about a third of a point.

About a third of the French Army in 1940 was from France’s overseas colonies; black troops from Guinea and Cameroon, Muslim Arabs from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and Black Muslims from Senegal and Chad.    They were among France’s best troops, too – solid fighters who didn’t bother much with hardships in the field.  They were a significant part of the French First Army, the vanguard of the French armed forces which had joined with the Brits in advancing into Belgium, only to be cut off by the Blitzkrieg through the Ardennes.

And when Churchill decided to evacuate the “British Expeditionary Force” – the British Army in France and Belgium – with the original stated intent of sending them back to Franch to continue the battle – it was the French First Army that held the Germans off long enough to carry off the evacuation (and then, long enough to get about half of its own troops evacuated).

And among those troops – among the best and bravest of them – were the colonials.


A justly cynical revue of Nolan’s Dunkirk by Francois Pédron in Paris Match points out, correctly, that 18,000 French troops paid with their lives to hold the Dunkirk perimeter and 35,000 were made prisoner – almost 140,000 French soldiers were rescued from Dunkirk – but that not only do the victors write history. Filmmakers write the “history” too, Pedron wrote. He is right. The true story of the Algerian and Moroccan units has still to be filmed. It would make a terrifying drama. The Germans threw raw meat into the prison cages of Algerian and African troops – to show cinemagoers how they fought for the food and tore it to pieces like animals. Algerians were massacred by the Nazis on racial grounds – an act which strongly supports the suspicion of some intellectual Arabs today: that Hitler, after destroying the Jews of Europe and the Middle East, would have next turned his exterminating fury against their Semitic Arab brothers.

All true enough.


But if you remember the movie, there really was exactly one filmic depiction of the French Army holding the line; the squad of metropolitan French holding the roadblock in the town of Dunkirk, in the first two minutes of the show.  That’s it.

So yes – Christopher Nolan, in telling the story of three British people at Dunkirk, neglected the stories of black and Muslim French soldiers.

Also those of the rest of the French Army – Catholic, atheist, and otherwise.

It’s the French as a nation, stupid.

And just to show that Robert Fisk is still the fisk-worthy fella he’s been for a decade and a half:

Much has been made, inevitably in The Guardian, of Nolan’s failure to acknowledge the presence of Muslim troops at Dunkirk – Muslim Indian Commonwealth soldiers (from what is now Pakistan)

Which may be because Christopher Nolan is a racist.

Or, perhaps, because the British Expeditionary Force included no “Bengali” (what they called Pakistani) troops – or, for that matter, any of the much more numerous Indian Hindi troops that also served the Brits in the millions.  While the British military included millions of troops from colonies like India and Hong Kong, like the French, colonial troops served in colonial units.  The Indian and Bengal troops served in large numbers in North Africa, the Middle East, and southeast Asia – including defending India itself from a Japanese invasion – but only rarely did they serve in Northwest Europe during /world War 2.

While PC virtue signaling is easy, facts are hard.

2 thoughts on “Blast From The Past

  1. I enjoyed the movie even though I am not a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work, having watched three or four of his films prior to this one. I gave it an “A -” in a text to a friend afterward. I found the relative lack of dialogue to be a feature, not a bug. A few other comments:

    * Has there ever been a movie as “joint” (land, sea, air) as this one? I can’t think of one.

    * A few times during the movie the word “Brexit” flashed through my mind, even though I knew there was no way the movie could have been developed in the last 12 months. And in fact, Nolan wrote the script over 25 years ago. I was disappointed with myself for letting politics/current events intrude on a very immersive experience.

    * I have thought about the movie regularly since seeing it on a Saturday afternoon, always a good sign. I found it to be an interesting examination of simple manliness and the range of men’s emotions under trying circumstances (loyalty, selfishness, panic, fear, courage, betrayal, pride, determination, etc).

    * I read that the Mark Rylance/Mr. Dawson character was probably based on the experience of Charles Lightoller and his yacht “Sundowner” (in the movie the yacht is the “Moonstone”). In 1912, Mr. Lightoller was the second officer on RMS Titanic, and the most senior officer to survive the sinking. In 1915 he was the first officer of a passenger liner that was converted into an aircraft carrier (RMS Campania), then commanded two torpedo boats (one of which engaged a Zeppelin!) and a destroyer that rammed and sank a German U-Boat (and was accused 15 years later of firing on survivors in the water). A remarkable life. The teenaged family friend named George in the movie was in reality named Gerald Ashcroft. He later commanded LCT 517 at Juno Beach on D-Day. Ashcroft’s oral history describing both experiences is available at the Imperial War Museum website.

    * I think the key historical fact that was left out of the movie (because it would undermine the narrative of course) is that none of this happens if not for the major, all-encompassing error that either Hitler or one of his GOs made. There is no question German tanks were halted for days. There is conjecture that 1) Hitler was leaving the Brits to be destroyed by his most loyal Luftwaffe or 2) he was being congenial in prelude to possible peace talks. In either case Britain’s successful retrograde was more German failure than British victory.

    Patton said something about this…. (paraphrased) “many a battle is lost or won based on which bank of the river you stop.” The Germans blew it, and we should be grateful.

    This is why the movie isn’t a celebration of failure. But I would say one often learns more from failure than success.

    An interesting video about Zimmers use of sound in Nolan movies.

  2. Yeah don’t forget the Jamaicans and Barbadians. Barbados sent about a dozen guys. But some of them were white so you probably wouldn’t be able to tell.

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