As only a soldier can
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1946
I recently saw the movie “Dunkirk.” This true event happened about nine months into World War II, from May 27-June 3, 1940. British and French troops fighting the Germans in France, after Hitler invaded, had been pushed back onto a beach in northern France, called Dunkirk, where they were trapped by German troops.
There were about 400,000 Allied troops at Dunkirk needing to be rescued, while being bombed and shot at by Germans. The movie shows this clearly — the fear and despair these troops faced while trying to stay alive on the beach, in the sinking rescue ships, and in the water, while being attacked.
What turned Dunkirk into a symbol of courage and faith were the hundreds of English civilians who took their personal pleasure boats, fishing boats, and anything that would float and headed across the English Channel to Dunkirk. These weren’t trained military people. They were ordinary people who realized their troops needed them, and they went. The movie kind of skims over this part, which is one of my criticisms, but the effect it had on the troops and on the people of Britain is clear. With their 850 small boats, these ordinary people rescued 338,226 troops. As a colonel in the movie said as these boats arrived, what he saw was Hope.
Britain had been on the brink of surrendering to Hitler. The rescues at Dunkirk, combined with Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech on June 4, 1940, inspired the British people to fight and “never surrender.” If they had given up, Hitler would have taken the United Kingdom, Europe would have been lost, and World War II would have ended differently.
I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind as I watched this movie, but one of the strongest was “What would we Americans do today if we were confronted with a challenge like this?” When we were attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, we had a strong president who rallied the country with powerful words. Americans understood the horrors of war. It wasn’t some game, but real life where people were really killed and countries were destroyed. Ego wasn’t a part of it.
What do we have today? We have a president who got elected with the greatest popular vote loss in American history for an elected president. Hey, at least it was the greatest! We have a president who shoots off his mouth and his tweets without ever considering the consequences. And now his infantile attitude could end up starting a war no one would win.
When President Donald Trump found out North Korea could possibly deliver nuclear warheads to the U.S., he didn’t deal with the threat in a calm, mature manner. Instead, he blurted out, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
In August 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. That’s a lot of fire and fury. Total deaths in WW II were between 40-85 million people, including millions of civilian deaths due to starvation, disease, and other effects of war. Will Trump try to exceed that to make North Korea look like something “the world has never seen?”
Trump supporters may see his bluster as a sign of strength, but world leaders see it as the cowardice it is. One foreign official said of Trump, “He’s the opposite of Teddy Roosevelt. He speaks loudly and carries a small stick.”
Trump treats the real danger of nuclear war as some kind of personal insult. He seems to have no comprehension of what could happen as a result of his irresponsible words. And don’t forget, Trump got five deferments during Vietnam so he could avoid fighting in an actual war himself. Maybe there wasn’t enough fire and fury for him.
Trump’s rants could get us into a war that could kill hundreds of thousands or millions of people, something Trump doesn’t seem to care about. He needs to listen to some real soldiers who have experienced war. Then, maybe, he will understand what General Eisenhower meant — war is brutal, futile, and stupid, and should be avoided if at all possible. I don’t expect miracles, but we can always hope.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.