I saw Darkest Hour this past weekend for the second time and I plan to see it a third before it leaves the theaters. Like Dunkirk, this movie carries a powerful yet historical message of inspiration. It also has multiple lessons for students of Economic Warfare with significant application for today. This blog will provide a few thoughts without spoilers that hopefully will encourage you to go see this film. Check out the Trailer.
First, the movie is about Winston Churchill and his unlikely rise to power just when the United Kingdom need him most. In hindsight, there should be little doubt among believers that God placed him in that office to face the challenge of the day. My friend, Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College and one of the world's foremost Churchill scholars gave his unabashed approval of the film. That means a great deal to me and reinforced my appreciation of both the man and the movie.
Historians are well aware that Churchill was not a popular politician with the media or the political elite. This is strongly depicted in the film. What's also depicted is how the general public identified with him even though Churchill was himself raised as elite. Sound familiar? It seems an almost obvious theme of the film, at least to Trump supporters like Governor Mike Huckabee (as reported in The Hill):
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in a tweet Tuesday compared President Trump to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Huckabee said he had just seen the film "The Darkest Hour," which dramatizes Churchill's experiences as prime minister during World War II, calling it a reminder of "what real leadership looks like."
Of course, there were plenty ready to mock Governor Huckabee, whose daughter Sarah Sanders serves as Press Secretary. Nevertheless, at least one aspect of what Governor Huckabee says is true. Prime Minister Churchill, despite all of his lengthy government service, was widely disliked by the same type of people who can't stand President Trump today. Yet, Churchill was just what the times required. Will Americans one day look back on President Trump and believe that God placed him in the office for such a time as this? To many that seems an impossibility. But based on the movie, it seems apparent that many doubted Churchill for his time as well. Perhaps the attacks on Trump regarding his language are designed to turn off the religious right that helped him achieve electoral victory in 2016 as The Washington Post attempted to do.
There are plenty who thought Churchill crude as depicted in Darkest Hour. The media's obsession with behind-doors cussing and commentary from Trump makes it more than obvious about how blunt the current President can be. Of course, this same media was more than willing to overlook similarly crude remarks from President Obama. From The Hill, September 21, 2016:
President Obama admitted in a new interview that the frustrations of being the leader of the free world sometimes get him to slip out of his no-drama persona. "I curse more than I should," Obama told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in an interview published in Vanity Fair. "And I find myself cursing more in this office than I had in my previous life." "Fortunately both my chief of staff [Denis McDonough] and my national-security adviser [Susan Rice] have even bigger potty mouths than me," he said. "So it's OK." Obama, who has frequently offered strident criticism of his political rivals, also conceded that he "can be much more sarcastic and I think sometimes withering in my assessments of things than I allow to show in my public life."This admission was treated by the media more as a virtue rather than a vice. In fact, despite profanity-laced tirades, President Obama was given a pass. Does anyone remember CNN repeating a single expletive from Obama nearly 200 times in a single day and thousands of times in a week? That's what they did to President Trump's alleged use of a word in a closed-door meeting. Of course, the charge here is racism rather than just cursing. But, wait. Didn't President Obama call Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu a "Chickensh*t?" as published in The Atlantic? Or Libya a sh*t-show? SNOPES and the media seem intent on giving the previous President a pass while trying to hammer President Trump. But the fact remains that many leaders have been crude. Churchill was more crude than most as explained in a 2009 Daily Mail article:
Churchill was brutally rude, capricious and petulant as a child. Even his wife feared he was being corrupted by power
…Clementine — highly strung, intensely moral, sensitive to vulgarity — was often ignored, mauled and taken for granted. Yet beyond her fierce loyalty to her husband she rebuked his excesses and tried to repair the fractured china of his relationships.
In a famous letter to him, she wrote: ‘There is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner. You are not so kind as you used to be.'
That scene was artfully depicted in the film. What is not depicted is Churchill's constant swearing. Yet, it was so profound that his parrot carried on the tradition long after the Prime Minister's death in 1965. Charlie the parrot lived to well over 100 years old as noted in a 2004 article.
The point is this. Churchill had a foul mouth. He was hated by the media and political elites. Yet, he was the right man for the job at the time because he was unwilling to appease the true evil spreading across Europe and around the world. The film demonstrates that the people who rode the Underground were opposed to appeasement perhaps in a similar way to how Trump supporters in "flyover country" have remained loyal despite blistering media attacks.
Today's appeasers include those unwilling to denounce radical Islamic terrorism or to even call it by name. President Trump is willing to be blunt in this, even against the counsel of his advisors, according to Business Insider:
Despite the warnings of some of his top staffers, President Donald Trump railed against "radical Islamic terrorism" during his first address to the United Nations on Tuesday. In a wide-ranging speech, Trump singled out what he viewed as foreign policy threats, saying he may "have no choice than to totally destroy North Korea" and calling the Iran nuclear deal an "embarrassment" for the US.
But in describing the US determination to "crush the loser terrorists," Trump went out of his way to drop the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," a description of extremism that has been a source of controversy throughout his campaign and the early months of his presidency. "We will stop radical Islamic terrorism because we cannot allow it to tear up our nation and indeed to tear up the entire world," Trump said.
Of course, there will be many who don't care for President Trump and will find any comparison ridiculous. Only time will tell whether he will turn out to be a great President. Time did prove Churchill's greatness. No matter what you think about the current President, however, don't let anything dissuade you from seeing this film. There is so much to be learned from it. And there was very little cursing depicted in the movie (it is much cleaner than most films released today), deemed appropriate by Movieguide for teenagers and adults.
Economic Warfare Lessons
One of the key scenes of the movie is when Churchill is forced to call President Roosevelt for help. The Prime Minister is begging for delivery on some aircraft purchased by Britain using money borrowed from the United States. Roosevelt is forced to deny his request. The reasons are historically accurate and quite telling:
First, Britain was a debtor nation and America was her creditor. This changed the dynamic entirely. If it weren't the case, Churchill would have been able to demand delivery of paid-for aircraft. Later, after the war, the United States used creditor status as an economic weapon against the Brits and French in the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. By refusing to support the British pound in international markets, the U.S. effectively ended British superpower status. That was quite a shock to a nation that had been perhaps the most powerful nation on earth for much of the preceding century. The lesson for us today should be obvious. We are now the largest debtor nation in the history of the world, owing more than $20 trillion and dependent on China for a good deal of goods and services including technology production. The difference today, of course, is that we were allies with the UK in the 1940s. Most would agree that China is a serious adversary to us today.
The Chinese have threatened to cut off trade and to dump our Treasury bonds. In fact, they did this very recently and sent our stock and bond markets into a temporary tailspin. Only after impressing us with their capability did they pull back and say "just kidding." From Bloomberg:
China Weighs Slowing or Halting Purchases of U.S. TreasuriesBloomberg News
Updated on Bloomberg's Emma O'Brien reports on how China is said to be reviewing its foreign-exchange holdings.
China added to bond investors' jitters on Wednesday as traders braced for what they feared could be the end of a three-decade bull market.
Senior government officials in Beijing reviewing the nation's foreign-exchange holdings have recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasuries, according to people familiar with the matter. The news comes as global debt markets were already selling off amid signs that central banks are starting to step back after years of bond-buying stimulus. Yields on 10-year Treasuries rose for a fifth day, touching the highest since March.
China holds the world's largest foreign-exchange reserves, at $3.1 trillion, and regularly assesses its strategy for investing them. It isn't clear whether the officials' recommendations have been adopted. The market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive relative to other assets, and trade tensions with the U.S. may provide a reason to slow or stop buying American debt, the thinking of these officials goes, according to the people, who asked not to be named as they aren't allowed to discuss the matter publicly. China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange didn't immediately reply to a fax seeking comment on the matter. [CONTINUE READING at BLOOMBERG.]
The second lesson from the movie that applies today is intimately connected with the first. Leading up to World War II, America was conflicted. Serious propaganda efforts had infiltrated the ruling elite with messages of appeasement. It was clear that the British leadership prior to Hitler had been coopted. And, America had been infiltrated by Nazi sympathizers including aviation hero Charles Lindbergh. We've discussed how the Nazis worked their way into American higher education then as the Chinese are doing today. The reality is that the Neutrality Acts that tied Roosevelt's hands in 1940, and almost lost Europe, were the direct result of German political influence in the United States.
Can anyone deny the tremendous foreign influence at work in Washington today? Whether it's the Muslim Brotherhood, the Chinese, or even the Russians, it is clear that foreign governments have infiltrated our political process. This was true in the 1930s and almost kept America out of the war. Churchill knew that at best he could hang on until American might rose up to the defense of Europe. The struggle was to survive, as noted in the conclusion of one of his most famous speeches:
We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
This kind of resolve required a clarity that could not be coopted. The victory, however, required a similar resolve by the American people. It required Americans to call evil for what it was. In hindsight, it seems obvious that Nazi and Hitler are synonymous with evil but at the time it was quite the challenge. Likewise, President Reagan's calling the Soviet Union an Evil Empire was repeatedly mocked and challenged even by his own State Department and absolutely by the media. A NY Times writer stated with derision, "The Evil Empire speech was smug and a near proclamation of Holy War."
But this clarity and articulation was necessary to win the Cold War. And, as we have discussed, the victory was due in large part to Economic Warfare. As an aside, I was recently invited to speak to a group about Capitalism vs. Socialism. In that talk, I shared the story of how a Texas supermarket took down the Soviet Union. It is a powerful true story related to when then Communist Boris Yeltsin visited NASA in Houston in 1989. After years of an arms race with Reagan's administration coupled with an economic warfare squeeze, the Soviet economy was running on fumes. Yeltsin was not surprised to see the sophisticated technology of NASA. But he doubted that America could also have a robust civilian economy as well. He was shocked at what he saw at a grocery store he chose.
HOW RANDALL'S GROCERY STORE ENDED THE COLD WAR
April 1, 2013
The Cold War in part ended when Russian leaders realized how badly Socialism had failed. From the obituary for former Soviet premiere Boris Yeltsin, an anecdote about grocery stores:
…Yeltsin toured the Johnson Space Center, and on his way back to Ellington for a flight to his next stop, Miami, the lifelong commie decided he wanted to visit an American store. In his travels, Yeltsin did that a lot-suddenly altering his schedule to pop in for a visit. His entourage came to this shopping center, possibly because there is a liquor store here. He entered Randall's.
Except for the fact that he chose the time and place for his impromptu visit, the communist pol might have thought it was a set-up deal to impress him. After all, it was the Russians who invented the Potemkin villages-a term derived from Prince Gregory Potemkin who built model villages to impress Catherine the Great on tours of her vast domain. They were facades, fakes to impress the czarina with the prosperity and happiness of the serfs. Such suspicions reached to the highest levels of the Soviet government. When then-Soviet president Nikolai Podgorny visited Austria in 1966 and saw the bounty of Viennese markets, he remarked, "Look how well they set things up for my visit."
Yeltsin had no such illusions; but he discovered that he had other illusions, which needed adjusting. For 20 minutes he wandered the aisles and commented, "Even the Politburo doesn't have this kind of choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev."
…In his autobiography, "Against the Grain," Yeltsin describes the experience as "shattering."
"When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it."
Yale Richmond, in his essay "Cultural Exchange and the Cold War," quotes Lilia Shevtsova of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "After Yeltsin visited that Houston supermarket, he became a reformer."
Thus, we see from history, both World War II and the Cold War were deeply influenced by Economic Warfare. In the case of the Second World War, Darkest Hour provides a subtle yet powerful message in this regard. There is even a point made in the film that Churchill was personally in financial trouble that proved symbolic for the English people as a whole. His excessive spending nearly ruined him.
The movie ends with Churchill's speech and the awareness of the miracle of Dunkirk, also known as Project Dynamo. What is not depicted, but should have been was the fact that the British people responded to a call for prayer from King George. The line stretched for miles outside Westminster Abbey and nearly every church in the British Empire. This call, combined with Churchill's call for civilian boats, the "small ships," saved the British army and likely Western Europe, by rescuing the bulk of the British Army of over 300,000 soldiers.
One final note with a personal connection. Much of Darkest Hour is set in Churchill's War Room bunker. That location was the inspiration for a new television program we've been developing titled Economic War Room with Kevin Freeman. On this program, hopefully arriving in the next few months, we will look in-depth at many of the challenges and opportunities we face today. To learn more, and to register to be notified when the show airs, visit www.economicwarroom.com.
This blog is just scratching the surface of a powerful and moving historical film. Go see Darkest Hour and be inspired. It will provide a beneficial perspective when reading the headlines today.