I missed Darkest Hour when it played Norway, and The 15:17 to Paris never made it to my town, so I pre-ordered the DVDs of both films and watched them back-to-back the day they arrived. Both proved to be masterpieces. And thematically they made for a perfect double feature: Joe Wright’s movie about the early days of Winston Churchill’s prime ministership and Clint Eastwood’s picture about the three young Americans who took down a would-be terrorist on a French train in August 2015 are both about the existential threat posed to Western civilization, then and now, by two different varieties of totalitarianism – and about the massive difference that one man (Churchill), or three men (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos), can make in that struggle.
They’re also about something else, which is relevant to this 242nd anniversary of America’s founding. At the end of Darkest Hour, Churchill addresses the House of Commons on June 4, 1940. Faced with a considerable number of colleagues who – after a period of weeks during which the Nazis have conquered Denmark and almost completed the occupations of France, Norway, and the Low Countries – think that Britain doesn’t stand a chance and should work out a deal with Hitler, Churchill delivers his classic “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, the most celebrated passage of which reads as follows:
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. 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….
Only slightly less famous are the words that immediately follow these, and that form the speech’s conclusion:
…and 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.
In the event, needless to say, Britain was never subjugated. But those last words of Churchill’s oration proved prophetic: America liberated Western Europe. Since those last few dozen words come right after Churchill’s stirring call to arms, they can easily be overlooked – as can their import. What they represent, note well, is a remarkable conviction on Churchill’s part that America, however maddeningly hesitant (in his view) to enter the war, would ultimately, if push came to shove, behave in a way that great powers, as Churchill the historian was fully aware, had seldom if ever behaved: it would sacrifice the lives of countless numbers of its own young men, and spend untold sums of money from its own treasury, not to conquer other countries or to defend itself from an enemy but, rather, to fight for the freedom of its friends.
Think about that. Yes, too many Americans have swallowed the lies of the Howard Zinn-style revisionists who drain America’s actions in World War II of every last drop of nobility. But most of us still know better. America acted out of virtue. And Churchill was sure it would.
To turn from Joe Wright’s fade-out on the cheers following Churchill’s extraordinary exhortation to the fade-in of Eastwood’s movie is to leap more than seven decades into the midst of an episode in the lives of three real-life young American men who, born long after the end of World War II, performed an act of heroism that strangely and touchingly echoed their country’s wartime rescue of Western Europe. On a crowded train from Amsterdam to Paris – a train on which most of their fellow passengers were presumably Europeans, predominantly (one assumes) French, Belgian, or Dutch – a jihadist named Ayoub El Khazzani headed up the aisle firing an assault rifle; and while almost everyone went running in the other direction, it was those three Americans in their early 20s – one of them a member of the U.S. Army National Guard and another an Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force – who rushed toward the danger and took the son of a bitch down, thereby saving the lives of heaven knows how many people. Three days later the President of France awarded them the Legion of Honor.
Of course, this actual episode takes up only a few moments of screen time. The bulk of the movie is devoted to the back stories of these three young men, who had been close friends since their schooldays in Sacramento. Most of the mainstream media reviewers were clueless enough about the world we live in today, and about the importance of such things as human values and human character, to find this material superfluous. Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter dismissed it as “filler.” Richard Roeper called the movie “padded.” On the contrary, seeing these heroes as schoolboys helps us understand why they, and not somebody else, saved the day on that train. We discover that while they weren’t bad kids, they could be unruly, chafing at their teachers’ authority. They attended a Christian academy. (Two of them had deeply religious mothers.) They shared a love of guns. They weren’t especially polished or book smart, but they were quick-witted, adventurous, and good-natured, and they shared an appealing combination of pragmatic, alpha-male can-do-ism and old-fashioned manners and decency. They were, in short, Americans.
America! Those of us who live in Western Europe nowadays – and who aren’t in denial about the Islamic threat – have a special reason to be grateful to it. When it comes to the topic of Islam, our regular news media lie to us. If we want the facts, we have to go online. The Internet is (with some exceptions) a free-speech zone. And that’s true only because it’s an American product. Thanks to the First Amendment, the United States has greater freedom of speech than any other nation on earth; and thanks to the Internet, the First Amendment – or something close to it, at least – has spread to countries where freedom of speech is otherwise quite seriously restricted, particularly where the topic of Islam is concerned. Yes, the Islamization of Western Europe is still an ongoing reality, but if not for the boon of alternative online news sources, that vile process would have advanced much further by now than it has, and the people of Western Europe would be far less well informed about this crisis than they actually are. It’s chilling, in fact, to think just how brainwashed the average Western European citizen would be on the subject of Islam (some of them are brainwashed enough as it is) if they didn’t have the truth about it available at their fingertips.
Thanks to the gift of the Internet, then, America may once again help save the Old World. But there’s another contribution that America is clearly making on that front. In President Donald Trump, millions of Western Europeans see a leader who, to a greater extent than the overwhelming majority of politicians on either side of the pond, says it like it is, keeps his promises, and puts his own nation’s citizens first. Almost every major country in Western Europe is run by Hillary types – establishment hacks who don’t mean a thing they say, who view ordinary citizens as deplorables, and who think that those deplorabes should keep their opinions to themselves. Look, for example, at Merkel’s pathological effort to play guardian angel to armies of Muslim thugs – and her utter indifference to the impact of her actions on her own people. Look at the British political class’s appallingly tepid response to grooming gangs – and their obsessive hatred of Tommy Robinson. Look at the cynical attempts by Dutch courts, which mollycoddle Muslim malefactors, to destroy Geert Wilders. Look at the leaders of Finland and Ireland who, apparently more eager to please their EU masters than serve their own people, call for increased Muslim immigration and insist, quite insanely, that it “enriches our cultures and societies.”
After only a year and a half in power, Donald Trump has already done a great deal for America. But he has also done something crucially significant for Europe: he has opened the eyes of Western Europeans to the possibility of giving their mediocre, pusillanimous, appeasement-happy leaders the bum’s rush and replacing them with strong, smart, genuinely patriotic men and women who might still manage to deliver their continent from evil. Yes, America First, by all means – but that very slogan, that very sentiment, is emboldening people all over Western Europe to raise their own voices to say “France First!” “Germany First!” “Sweden First!” We may yet hope that Western Europe’s salvation is at hand – and if it is, the people of these devastated countries may once again have America to thank for it.