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I’m sentimental about a lot of things I probably shouldn’t be sentimental about, and World War II is one of them. I appreciate what seems, from this far remove, to be the moral clarity, shared resolve, and simple virtue of that awful global convulsion. I miss the stoicism of that era. Despite their relative impoverishment, Americans of 80 years ago lived a life in some ways richer than most of us live today.
Operation Dynamo, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” as it’s commonly known, was the heroic rescue, by a ragtag fleet of boats of every description, of more than 200,000 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force that had been trapped by the Germans on the beaches of France. More than 100,000 allied soldiers and civilians were also rescued. They faced almost certain defeat and capture but were saved by British sailors, civilians, and military alike, who mobilized hundreds of vessels, down to small fishing boats, to cross the English Channel and bring the men home.
The French deserve a big nod as well: they lost more than 15,000 of their own men while aiding in the evacuation.
More than a quarter of the 800 boats involved in the rescue were sunk; as much as 80% of the entire British military materiel inventory, from machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons to tanks and vehicles, was left behind.
It was a dramatic moment in a terrible war, a painful victory snatched from what would have been a horrific defeat, and at a terrible cost.
It was in its own way glorious — and nothing at all like what we just did in Afghanistan.Published in