Her "finest hour" is forgotten history
By Patrick J. Buchanan
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and
so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its
commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still
say, 'This was their finest hour.'" So declaimed
Churchill to Parliament as the Battle of Britain
Six weeks before, on May 10, 1940, the Battle of
France had begun suddenly when Hitler's Panzers,
bypassing the Maginot Line, slashed through the
Ardennes and cut to the Channel to isolate the British
Expeditionary Force on the French-Belgian coast.
In the last days of May and first days of June, there
took place the miracle of Dunkirk, the greatest
evacuation in war history, as over 300,000 British,
French and Belgian troops were taken off the
continent. A vast flotilla had sailed from English
ports to save the island's soldier-sons - truly a
glorious page in British history.
Yet in a poll of the British people, asking them to
identify the most momentous events in their 20th
century history, Dunkirk was not even in the top 10.
Nor was Normandy, the Nazi surrender, the sinking of
the Bismarck, the fall of Singapore, the collapse of
the empire or the Suez crisis of '56 that led to the
fall of Eden's Cabinet.
What was chosen as "the most momentous event in
British history"? The death of Princess Di in a car
crash in a Paris tunnel, while fleeing with lover Dodi
from the cameras of the paparazzi.
The start of World War II for Britain, Sept. 3, 1939,
was No. 2. But ahead of the armistice that ended World
War I (No. 5), in which 750,000 British gave their
lives, was "Women getting the right to vote" and the
"Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement" of 1998.
Was that diplomatic deal, brokered by George Mitchell,
really as momentous an event as the sinking of the
Titanic or the Somme Offensive that produced 60,000
British casualties on the first day?
More amazing is that ahead of Montgomery's victory
over Rommel at El Alamein, which does not even appear
on the list, the British put their 1966 World Soccer
Cup victory as the sixth "most momentous event in
No. 7 is the Queen's coronation in 1952. No. 8 is the
start of the Falklands War. No. 10 is the abdication
of Edward VIII. The ninth most momentous event? The
assassination of John Lennon in 1980. This would be
like Americans placing the death of Elvis among the
most momentous events of the 20th century.
According to UPI, the poll that produced the list was
conducted by a British offshoot of our History
Channel. What it tells us about our cousins across the
pond is disheartening. The Brits, who not so long ago
ruled an empire upon which the sun never set, have
contracted Alzheimer's. They seem not to know who they
are, what they did or where they came from, and to
recall best those events that are shown repeatedly in
movie clips or on TV - those twin creators of visual
A soccer game, the shooting of a middle-aged Beatle,
the death in a car crash of a divorced princess - can
this be momentous history to the present generation of
Brits? So it would seem.
On the top 10 list of most significant events of world
history in the past century, the Brits did better. But
here, also, they seem tied to the "telly" and to the
present. They chose as the most significant event the
attack on the World Trade Center. No. 2 was Hiroshima.
No. 3 was the fall of the Berlin Wall. No. 4 was man's
landing on the moon. No. 6 was the end of World War I.
No. 7, the assassination of JFK. No. 8, the downing of
Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. No. 9, the Vietnam
ceasefire of 1973. No. 10, Tiananmen Square.
And the missing No. 5? Nelson Mandela's release from
What does this tell us? That the Brits may be as
ignorant of their history as U.S. high school
students. How can one put the Tiananmen Square
massacre, where a few hundred died, ahead of Mao's
triumph in 1949, which resulted in 30 million dead?
And is Mandela's release more important than the
Russian Revolution of 1917, which gave us Lenin,
Stalin and 70 years of tyranny, terror and Cold War?
Nor do Brits seem to consider their own history that
Not one event in all of Britain's 20th century was
judged to be as significant as Mandela's release,
which was considered more important than Munich, the
Hitler-Stalin Pact, the invasion of Poland, the fall
of France, Stalingrad, the Holocaust and the
fire-bombing of Dresden.
What can one say of a generation that thinks a Vietnam
ceasefire, which led to Hanoi's invasion in 1975, the
murder of South Vietnam and the Cambodian horrors of
Pol Pot, was anything but a fraud and a delusion?
No wonder many of Britain's best are migrating over