Tyler Cowen, economist at George Mason University and curator of the blog Marginal Revolution, linked to an interesting piece a few days ago: an alt-right review of Dunkirk that is precisely as distasteful as you would expect. Leftists, writes the reviewer, “fear Dunkirk because it gives white men a glimpse of a nice white country we could someday restore, and the virtues we must find again if we are to defeat the real enemy this time.”
Perhaps it is unsurprising that the alt-right would like Dunkirk. It is not an ideological film, but it is a patriotic one: a celebration of England, and of Englishmen helping other Englishmen. Arguably, its central theme is that of obligation to country, not out of ideological concerns — Nazism is never once mentioned — but out of duty to one’s countrymen. Its most moving scenes are powered by the attachment the English soldiers feel to their homeland: a general declaring to a subordinate that he can almost see Britain from the beaches of northern France, soldiers gazing at the White Cliffs of Dover from a rescue boat returning home.
It’s not hard to understand how this celebration of national attachment, through no fault of Christopher Nolan’s, could be taken as “a glimpse of a nice white country we could someday restore” by alt-righters. The sentiment is racist and obnoxious, but it does get at the film’s unique patriotic zeal, which has not gone unrecognized by liberal critics, either. At The New Republic, Christian Lorentzen complains that “in Britain the pious death cult around the World Wars remains a feature of daily life, memorialized on each anniversary of a heroic slaughter” and that for Nolan “Dunkirk is akin to checking a patriotic box and securing a pass to its permanent pageant of nostalgia and weepy self-congratulation.”
I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with nostalgia, let alone with Britain celebrating its role in the defeat of the Nazis, but Lorentzen is at least analytically correct: Britain’s national identity is, even now, tied to its performance in World War II. Perhaps this is why the patriotic impulses behind Dunkirk, generally so noxious to the trans-Atlantic liberal elite, have gone so widely unremarked, a bad review or two at The New Republic notwithstanding. You don’t have to lay on the Anglophilia particularly thick to wring patriotic sentiment out of the evacuation of Dunkirk; it comes with the territory, just as it does with Shakespeare or C. S. Lewis or even The Shire.
damn man, and here i thought it was just a
damn good WWII movie from Christopher Nolan… along with a little history, since i’m sure most people (including me) knew little about “Dunkirk” before seeing it — got me curious, so i read up on it a little bit… and i figure if it makes some people read, and maybe learn something, then that’s a good thing in my book.