April 19, 2013
Columnist George F. Will once wrote about the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France in 1940. The rapid advance of Hitler’s Panzer divisions, supported by the terrifying new air weapon of his air force, the Luftwaffe, was crushing French and British opposition. The Germans had broken through on May 10th, the same day that in London Winston Churchill had become Prime Minister. Churchill knew he would have to evacuate his surrounded troops from the embattled city of Dunkirk, one of the French Channel ports. He also knew that he would have to order some of his soldiers in Calais, another Channel port, to fight to the death to cover the BEF retreat.
We now know, of course, that Churchill and his War Cabinet had hoped to get as many as 100,000 troops rescued from the beaches and brought home. So desperate was their situation that they thought that might be the largest number they could hope for. Those 100,000 soldiers would have to abandon all their tanks, trucks, and artillery in France. Even their rifles. At home in England, elderly men of the all-volunteer Home Guard were drilling on village squares with only broomsticks in place of rifles on their shoulders.
George Will wrote of these desperate days in a column some years ago. He wrote not of the 336,000 troops of the BEF and their Free French and Polish allies who were eventually brought off from Dunkirk. This was hailed by Churchill as “a miracle of deliverance.”
Columnist Will wrote instead of some of those who guarded the rear of the BEF, those brave warriors French and British who made it possible for the great host—that third of a million--to be rescued. One of the commanders of that doomed division sent a short message back to Whitehall, in London. The War Cabinet read this three-word transmission.
BUT IF NOT
In those biblically literate days, as they faced the prospect of invasion and enslavement, the British at home were stirred as they had never been stirred in the two thousand-year history of their island home. They instantly recognized those three words. They were spoken by the three young Israelites in the Book of Daniel. The full quote follows the description of the fiery furnace into which King Nebuchadnezzar would throw the young men if they refused to bow down to his Golden Image:
“But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor the golden image that thou hast set up.” [Daniel 3:18]
The three-word message was all that these brave men could send to their commanders. Many of those defenders of the Dunkirk evacuation prayed, no doubt, that God would deliver them. But if not, they were saying, they would not bow down to Hitler’s New Order in Europe. Thousands of those who were not killed were captured and would spend the war in Nazi captivity, where not a few of them died.
Dr. James Dobson encourages us to read Five Days in London, by John Lukacs. That book tells the story of Britain in her hour of maximum danger. I read that short volume every spring. And Dr. Dobson likes to remind us of the National Day of Prayer that was specially called for by the British government as their trapped men gathered on those beaches.
Winston Churchill, it is true, was impatient, oppressed by many “hard and heavy tidings” from France. He really didn’t want to break away to attend the Prayer Vigil at Westminster Abbey. But he was not yet secure in his own political position. He had clashed with his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax. Halifax was a famous Anglican churchman. Halifax pressed Churchill for two things—a positive answer to “peace feelers” from Italy’s Fascist dictator, Mussolini, and a National Day of Prayer.
Churchill had to give Halifax—whom he called that Holy Fox—something. Oh, alright then, a National Day of Prayer. But the Prime Minister sent ahead word that he would only attend for 10-30 minutes. A vicar welcomed him and said he would so like to tell the faithful that their Prime Minister was a pillar of the Anglican Church, like Lord Halifax. Churchill puckishly replied: “You may say I am a flying buttress. I support the church, but from outside.”
Although Churchill had little faith in the efficacy of prayer, he may have had a mustard seed. The English Channel, that 23-mile anti-tank ditch, was usually stormy, even in May. During the Dunkirk evacuation, the Channel was, as many of the escaping soldiers testified “as calm as a millpond.” German U-boats were kept at bay. And Stukas dive bombing the soldiers hunkered down on the beach found many of their bombs’ explosions were muffled by the sand and surf.
Today, we are not being asked to stand up to Hitler. And I do not charge our adversaries with being Nazis. I do not hate them. But this much should be clear: The end of marriage equals the end of liberty. They cannot bring about this unnatural change without crushing freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of religion. The end of liberty equals the end of America. The stakes are that high.
We are indeed being asked to bow down to a golden image. It is President Obama’s fundamental transformation of the American Republic. And the avatar of that transformation is “Julia,” the White House’s fictional everywoman. Her entire life is lived in dependence upon the government. The only man in Julia’s life is Barack Obama.
George Will has long since given up. He says the opponents of unmarriage are literally dying off. That word did not reach the young French who attended our March for Marriage. Or the 400 young Korean-Americans who rode through the night by bus from Flushing, Queens to stand for marriage. Nor has it reached the young people of MarriageGeneration.org
I am younger, though not by much, than George Will. I named the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 because I wanted people to learn that marriage itself was under attack. I will not give in. I expect we will win, Mr. Will. But if not…