Dunkirk’s Global Significance

German successes against Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France were a product of the geopolitical situation, thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which gave Hitler a free hand in the west. Dunkirk was a defeat, that’s true. But Churchill’s resolve to fight sowed the seed of victory

The appearance and success of the film Dunkirk have added to the list of war films that are both impressive and harrowing, but the film has not done much to explain the significance of the episode. Indeed, precisely because of the film’s overwhelming focus on the beach and on the immediate military conflict, there is a failure to consider the wider military context let alone the political one.

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  • Solo712

    This is an idiot’s view of history. My great uncle was a Czechoslovak military attache to Moscow in 1938, and he was very clear on the basics of post-Munich diplomacy. Stalin was absolutely interested in what his foreign minister in 1938 Maxim Litvinov touted as “collective defense” against Hitler. There was no other alternative for the Soviets. However, it became clear to Stalin after Munich that the West was not interested in building a military alliance with Soviet Russia to block Hitler’s aggression, and that France & Britain were going to let things slide. As late as May 1939, the two western powers sent military delegations to Moscow without any powers to sign agreements. It was at that time that Stalin – who had no illusions Hitler was going to move against him – changed tactics to buy time. He replaced Litvinov (who was a Jew!) with Molotov and instructed him to find a way to slow Hitler’s Drang nach Osten. So, the idea that the Ribbentropp-Molotov “non-aggression pact was an “alliance” between Germany and Russia is the greatest historical lie there is. Stalin was ruthless and cynical, but he had no friendly disposition to Hitler and the Nazis.

    • He did until Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

    • Hard Little Machine

      Stalin’s purge of the military leadership continued into early 1939. By the time he stopped it was too late. Stalin may have believed that a German attack was inevitable but it didn’t stop him from ensuring nearly the first year of Operation Barbarossa was the largest most costly calamity any country that did not actually lose a war, suffered. Stalin quietly agreed to not invade Japan, freeing up millions of troops poised to attack, move them west to meet the Wehrmacht. Stalin’s destruction of his own officer corps, and his refusal to tool up war production lead directly to the deaths of millions.

    • Frances

      Let us not forget the Soviet military purges of 1937 – 38 which removed Marshall Tukhachevsky during the “Yezhovshchina”, Stalin caused to have removed the cream of the Soviet military. Anthony Price, in his first novel, “The Labyrinth Makers”, gave an interesting exposition of that era – at the end of his book.

      • Solo712

        There were three marshals (of five) of the USSR shot during the 1937-39 purges. Tukhachevsky went first, a victim of an internal NKVD conspiracy that used Himmler’s SD to pass on forged incriminating documents via the Czech president Benes, on to Stalin. After him, Blyukher was arrested when one of his intelligence officers defected to the Japanese. Finally, Marshal Yegorov was executed early in 1939, on totally bogus charges. I am certainly no admirer of Stalin but of the books I have read on the topic, Ian Grey’s balanced account of the purges seemed the most believable. Of course, Grey agrees that Stalin was deeply paranoid of the senior leadership of the Red Army that was after all the creation of Leon Trotsky. But he also had big differences with the top officers on overall strategy which he saw as too defensive in nature. It is interesting to note that after the first year of war in Russia, the new top generals “got” Stalin’s strategy paradigm based on broad offensive maneouvres. Zhukov, Konev, Rokossovsky, Vatutin, Bagramyan, Chuikov, all became masters of the grand offensive planning and execution.