We Shall Fight on the Beaches
Writing is abstract art. I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s a sentence that came to me so I wrote it down. It sounds true, but I’m not sure in comparison to what. When thinking about great writing and what it means to be a great writer, scale is always something I consider. The scale of a subject, problem, and solution. I find myself less interested in movies that conclude without having said much. “That’s all you had to say?” Is a critique the way I see it.
Last night I watched “The Darkest Hour” about the first month of the Prime Minister-ship of Winston Churchill during World War II. At the end of the movie, Churchill delivers his ‘We shall never surrender’ speech to the house/parliament. For context, this is the moment in the war a day after Churchill gave the “Dynamo” order, instructing civilians who had boats of 30ft or longer, to cross the straight of Dover and retrieve the last surviving soldiers of what was the English Army from Dunkirk. Of which, 800+ civilians made the trip across the straight. And we know the rest.
This is the famed section of Churchill’s speech.
“ I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.
That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
Writing is not abstract art. Writing is or can be, the depth of scale that is writing a speech to rally your country on pure patriotism to face such a direct threat as the degree of imminent Nazi invasion. One character, upon being asked, “What just happened?” (referring to Churchill’s speech) was answered with “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”
I conclude this week’s post by saying that Churchill’s speech is one of the greatest written works that’s come from the English language. And I learned that yesterday.