By Ronnie Smith
Dunkirk, another kind of Brexit
The big British blockbuster film of the summer is undoubtedly ‘Dunkirk’.
I am assuming that we all know what happened on the beaches around the French seaside town of Dunkerque, close to the Belgian border and I do not propose to go into details. It is one of those immensely significant events where we see, simultaneously, the very worst and the very best that people can do to and for each other.
I remember seeing newsreel footage of the evacuation at Dunkerque in the wonderful weekly Granada TV programme ‘All Our Yesterdays’, presented by Brian Inglis. I doubt that I will go to see the film as there is a limit to my willingness to sit watching a huge number of largely helpless people being bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe. However, I hope that many people do go to see it as, being a History teacher, I strongly believe that we should never forget the what and the who of momentous battles like Dunkerque, the Denmark Strait, the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbour, MidWay, Stalingrad and all the others.
I do wonder sometimes if had the Second World War not taken place and if Jane Austen had never put pen to paper, what would have become of the British film industry?
Imagine if Mrs Miniver, The Dambusters, Reach for the Sky, Angels 15, The Cruel Sea, The Battle of the River Plate, Sink the Bismarck, 633 Squadron, the 25 versions of Pride and Prejudice and the 36 versions of Sense and Sensibility had never been made. We would be left with Notting Hill and Love Actually. And what would have become of Jack Hawkins, Kenneth Moore, Ralph Richardson and Emma Thompson? They’d all have ended up in episodes of Dr Who.
And actually, without the War we would have only the 1966 World Cup, the Torrey Canyon and the Falklands to talk about as national events; because we certainly don’t want to talk about Northern Ireland. Come to think of it, we’ve been pretty quiet about Europe too, after the Nuremburg trials that is.
Washington, shock and awe
I’ve taken to watching the unfolding presidency of Donald Trump from behind the settee, with one eye closed. Each passing week seems crazier than the last and I’ve given up trying to predict what will happen next. This particular week has seemed utterly bananas but I now realise that, just as the Queen smells fresh paint wherever she goes, Mr Trump sees bunches of bananas.
Mr Trump appointed a new Director of Communications, Mr Anthony Scaramucci, whose name suggests that he is either a Mafia hit man or a relative of the bad guy in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’. Mr Scaramucci’s job is, in part, to co-ordinate and smooth out all White House communications with the outside world, to ensure that all of Mr Trump’s team are singing from the same song sheet. It may therefore seem strange to consider that one of Mr Scaramucci’s first acts was to call a writer from the New Yorker and fiercely abuse two of his most senior White House colleagues. Of course uproar ensued (there is always uproar) and we can safely assume that there is now a state of open civil war in Mr Trump’s utterly chaotic ‘administration’.
In addition, most people now think that, after just one week in the job, Mr Scaramucci is one of Mr Trump’s biggest bananas.
Mr Trump, the banana of bananas, this week addressed the national jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s normal for the President of the United States to be invited to this annual event, attended by around 40,000 boy scouts on this occasion, and of course the country’s head of state is expected to deliver a few pithy remarks on the importance of the institution and its members in the national life of the ‘greatest and most powerful country in the world’.
As one would expect, Mr Trump did nothing of the kind and set off on one of his disjointed, self-justifying, rants which culminated in many of the boys booing Barack Obama and chanting “USA – USA”. In a few short minutes Mr Trump had turned the National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America into something resembling a Nuremburg rally of the 1930s. In a strange way I was reminded of the madness created by the great Alastair Sim and George Cole in the St Trinians films.
I watched a video of Mr Trump’s performance which confirmed my thinking in that no matter where he is or who the audience is, Mr Trump only refers to himself. Whatever is going on in the world it’s all about him, his perspective is entirely inward and he doesn’t appear to see or want to understand anything beyond himself. I think that is one reason why his speeches are so ‘different’. He appears unprepared and poorly briefed because he doesn’t feel that he needs to know anything external in any depth, he’s just out there selling himself as he has always done. It’s utterly fascinating.
Many parents were, of course, upset and the Chief Scout Executive were forced to issue an apology for Mr Trump’s behaviour. I think the adjective we are looking for here is ‘unprecedented’.
But, Mr Trump wasn’t finished for the week, he wasn’t ready to hit the golf course just yet. By tweet he announced that, having discussed the issue with senior military officials, transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US armed forces.
I am not going to and I promise you that I will never comment on the intimate details of people’s private lives in this column but I can confirm that Mr Trump’s perfunctory announcement has upset a great many people. Senior military officials denied that there had been a change of recruitment policy and no-one had any idea of the details of such a proposal, because there are no details – only a couple of tweets.
Sticking to the politics of the issue, Mr Trump appears to be running his administration by tweet. In so doing he is ignoring the constitution of the United States, the United States Congress, the Judiciary and possibly his own cabinet members and surely this is unsustainable even in the short term. Right now I have two questions. What will Mr Trump do next week and will Alec Baldwin play him in the movie to come?
Oh and incidentally, despite all the bananas, the US economy grew by 2.6% in the second quarter this year, double the figure for the first quarter.
Southern France, seriously wildfires
This week has brought the world’s attention to the severe problem that wildfires create on France’s Mediterranean coast every year. They have been particularly fierce on Corsica and the entire area east of Montpellier, with many thousands forced to leave their homes and hotels. The fire service has been working flat out and the government has asked other European countries for assistance, with Italy sending two Canadair aircraft to supplement French resources.
So far the south west seems to have been spared and I have not heard the deep droning of Canadair engines to anything like the same extent as last year. I shudder when I think of the economic damage that would be inflicted on the region’s economy if we saw fires of the scale experienced in the south east this week. Fingers crossed…