Fri, November 27, 2020 | By John Schroeder
Wednesday, because it’s a great move, I watched Darkest Hour (again) and saw Winston Churchill use a crisis to drag a nation to war. It was a defining moment in history and an amazing leadership achievement. Churchill expert Larry Arnn tells us that the film is more or less accurate, which only adds to its impact. This was not a time of national unity either. Churchill had to consolidate power while the British Army evacuated Europe.
In 1989 I visited a Soviet Union that was on the verge of its own destruction. Of the many conversations I had during these two weeks, one of the most memorable was with the man who ran the water supply system for the city of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. These gentlemen explained to me how there were so many rules for everything in the Soviet Union that no one could really follow them all. He had to choose, thread a needle – find out which rules were actually important at the moment and therefore enforced, as one was always a kind of ridicule.
Both of these things kept me busy as we wandered through this pandemic vacation. While Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” we are treated with banal platitudes from a basement studio. I’m going to give President-elect Joe an “A” for his efforts, but under no circumstances can you run out of a Delaware basement, even after a pandemic. In a world full of indecipherable colored “plains” with a series of rules and restrictions that even a lawyer could not fully understand and threats to almost weld us in our homes, nobody listens. People just do their best to be decent people.
There is a deep contrast here. Churchill appealed to the best of the British. Rules and pleasantly delivered scolding for staying home try to prevent the worst in us. The interesting thing is that Churchill got what he needed and won the war. The Soviet Union fell apart.
Here’s what I noticed the most when I watched Darkest Hour for the fifth time in three years. Churchill knew and was dull, there was no easy way forward. That there was much suffering ahead of them and the British people. He did not try to avoid this suffering – he tried to gather people not only to endure it, but to gain victory from it.
I have for some time compared efforts to fight the spread of the pandemic to trying to “hold jello in place with rubber bands”. It is impossible. The American people are decent and resilient. I can’t help but believe that we should better invoke this propriety and resilience. We are far better off turning a pandemic into victory than trying to avoid suffering.