Darkest Hour – Why People Need to Watch It, Why Politicians Need to Make Decisions and Accept Consequences

Hey 3.5 readers.

I reviewed it last year, but Darkest Hour has been on HBO, so I’ve been watching it constantly, leaving it on in the background whenever it is on while I do other stuff.

I don’t think people really understand the bind England was in at the height of World War II.

First, and I don’t mean to dump on the French, but France screwed the pooch.  Part of me doesn’t blame them.  It’s easy for backseat drivers almost eighty years later to say, “I would have fought those Nazis!” but for the people who actually had the Nazis coming for them, I get why they surrendered.

The problem is the Brits had sent their army to France on the idea that it would be better to back the French up and stop the Nazis in France before they reached the French coast, thus gaining access to the English Channel.

So…with 300,000 British troops in Dunkirk, on the coast of France, the Brits had to make a decision.  Negotiate a surrender or lose the Dunkirk troops and lose the United Kingdom.

Amidst this backdrop, Sir Winston Churchill has been recently named Prime Minister.  Churchill is wise and experienced, having served in war himself, but also intelligent, having written a number of books.

Unfortunately, personality wise, he’s boorish and considered a buffoon.  He drinks non-stop, he’s chubby, overeats, smokes too much, and doesn’t have much of a filter to hold back from offending people.

Here’s why people need to watch it.  It really illustrates why politics suck.  They really do. Essentially, it’s all just a big game played by scheming scoundrels, all trying to get something done, everyone prepared to take the credit for a job well done but also trying like hell to avoid any blame.

The problem is that anything worth doing comes with good and bad consequences.  No matter what you do, there’s always room for celebration and blame.  You’ll never avoid a bad consequence unless you hide in a closet for the rest of your life.

Churchill understands this.  As a former military man, he understands war is hell and victory can’t be wrapped up in a nice little package.  He has been haunted by the failure of Gallipoli, where under his command, Brits died in World War I.  Throughout his life, his political rivals hold it over his head.

At any rate, while Churchill maintains that surrender to the Nazis is not an option, he is henpecked by politics all the way.  Parliamentarians Neville Chamberlain (the previous prime minister) and Viscount Halifax, constantly try to browbeat Churchill into negotiating “peace” with Hitler, though Churchill knows “peace” is code for surrender and a UK under Nazi rule is an unbearable idea.

Sorry to be longwinded.  Halifax and Churchill want to surrender.  They have a point.  Why risk so many British lives?  Defeat looks inevitable.  To save 300,000 army men in Dunkirk, Churchill must sacrifice 3,000 to draw the Nazis attention and buy some time for civilian ships to reach Dunkirk and pick the Army up.  Halifax argues why sacrifice 3,000 when defeat is inevitable?

So, here’s the thing.  At any time, parliament had the ability to boot Churchill and name a new prime minister.  Halifax and Chamberlain know this.  Churchill knows this.  Not in so many words, but he basically tells his detractors, “Come at me, bro.”

If Halifax and Chamberlain want to surrender to the Nazis, they can make it happen.  They can go to parliament and make the case.  Tell them that Churchill is a dick who is going to get us all killed and it would be better to be a Nazi subject than to be dead.  Halifax and Chamberlain can say they’d be willing to become the prime minister and do the surrendering.

By that they don’t want to do it.  They believe strongly in surrender but they do not want the blame for it.  They feel Churchill is a dummy that they can push and bully into surrendering, make him be the fall guy, harass him into giving in and then when all the Brits are in leiderhosen, staring at a swastika flag flying over Buckingham palace, then Halifax and Chambelian can stand around and be like, “Well, Churchill’s the one who surrendered!”

Churchill suffers a great deal of internal anguish until….SPOILER ALERT…he gets out of the office and gets around London, talking to common folk.  Do they want surrender?  No.  Would they rather die in an invasion than let Hitler win? Yes.

LESSONS:

  1. If you’re a politician and you think you are right, you MUST be willing to stand up and push your idea yourself.  It’s understandable that Halifax and Chamberlain fear Britain will lose, but if they felt that way, they should have stood up and been willing to wear the, proverbial “I support surrender” badge.
  2. If you’re a politician under pressure to do what you think is wrong, you must seek out what the people think and hopefully, they’ll support you even if what is right might lead to a bad result.
  3. The people have to be willing to support leaders in doing the right thing even if it results in a bad end.

BOTTOMLINE: Politics is the game of how decisions are made and unfortunately, making a decision is like a hot potato.  A decision, and the ensuing responsibility, is passed around and around.  No one wants the potato when it’s burning hot.  They only want it when it is warm and smothered in sour cream and bacon bits.

Politicians push each other to decide how they want, but they won’t make the decisions themselves for fear of backlash if the decision goes wrong.  If it goes right, they can say they supported it.  If it goes bad, they can say they avoided it.  Meanwhile, the people are schizophrenic.  They’ll shout to do this or that and if it works out, great and if not they complain.

Churchill made a decision.  He said we’re going to fight the Nazis.  He knew it could lead to certain doom.  He decided it would be better to risk seeing the UK bombed into the ground and conquered, its citizens dead,  if there was a chance the island could be saved and Hitler beaten back.

In a stirring scene, he shouts, “I will take full responsibility!”  No one else around him was willing to.  That’s what politicians need to do.

Deciding to fight the Nazis could have easily lead to the total destruction of Great Britain, just as deciding to not fight them could have lead to thousands of years of subjugation to Nazi rule.

All decisions have consequences.  I can tell you in my personal life, my biggest failing has been putting off decisions, avoiding that role of the dice and letting life pass me by rather than to just get in the fight and find out what happens at the end.

Bottomline is Halifax and Chamberlain weren’t willing to accept the consequences of the decision they wanted to be made.  They wanted a surrender, but they didn’t want to go down as the dorks who surrendered.  Meanwhile, Churchill wanted victory, but had that led to ruin, he most likely would have stood up and said, “Well, hey I tried.  Sorry fighting the Nazis didn’t work out.”

OK I’ll stop ranting.  I just see this a lot even today.  Politicians fight and demonize each other but when it comes to, you know, actually writing and passing a law that backs up their vitriol, they rarely do it.  “You should do what I want!” but few, if any, are actually just willing to step up and make it happen, put their name on a decision and accept the credit if it goes well and the blame if it goes bad.

 

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2 thoughts on “Darkest Hour – Why People Need to Watch It, Why Politicians Need to Make Decisions and Accept Consequences

  1. I have that movie on my counter right now. I’m gonna watch it this week. Wanted to see it in the theater, but life did that stupid thing. I’ll have a double-history night with Dunkirk and Darkest Hour (haven’t seen either one)

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