[Marxism] Dunkirk, the War and the Amnesia of the Empire

John Edmundson johnedmundson4 at gmail.com
Wed Aug 2 21:16:58 MDT 2017

David wrote:

"Yes...there were Indian Muslim troops at Dunkirk. 4 companies to be exact.
That equals approx 1,000 to 1,600 troops...out of 400,000 or, about 1/4 of
1% of the total."

Technically, if 4 companies is correct it would have been more like about
4-600, because a British (or British Indian) company was only about 150
strong. But Khan's point is still a valid one. She really only uses Nolan's
film as a topical way to raise the issue of the "invisibility" of Britain's
colonial/Empire troops. As a New Zealander, I'm very aware of the role of
NZ troops', including the Maori Battalion's, role in the war, fighting at
El Alamein, Monte Cassino etc. I'm well aware of Australia's involvement
too, in the Desert War and later in the Pacific. I'm aware of the Canadian
Army's role in Normandy on D-Day and beyond. I've even seen reference to
the South African troops at Tobruk etc. But what do these British
Commonwealth/Empire countries all have in common? That's the point Khan
wanted to make and I think it's valid. Of course, film makers can't
incorporate all minorities into every film they make and watching Dunkirk,
I was just relieved to see the French being depicted as other than cowards
or irrelevant. Without knowing the specifics of which French units were
involved in holding the line while the Brits were evacuated, I couldn't
comment on David's suggestion that French colonial troops could plausibly
have been depicted in the film.

But the point remains that the role that Britain's non-white Imperial
possessions played and the price they paid, is not part of the mainstream
narrative of Britain's experience of WW2 and if the release of a big budget
movie by a celebrity director like Christopher Nolan presents an
opportunity for someone to make that point in the NY Times, then I say good
on Yasmin Khan for getting herself published there.


On Thu, Aug 3, 2017 at 9:00 AM, DW via Marxism <marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu>

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> The reviewer in criticizing C. Nolan, for his film 'Dunkirk' made a rather
> interesting omission. In deriding Nolan over his lack of people of color
> (save for one of the two scenes of *French* troops in the film). What the
> reviewer fails to draw on are any...facts. Yes...there were Indian Muslim
> troops at Dunkirk. 4 companies to be exact. That equals approx 1,000 to
> 1,600 troops...out of 400,000 or, about 1/4 of 1% of the total. I have no
> doubt that Nolan wanted to enforce the collective amnesia of Britain over
> the role of the Colonial Troops of which, the review noted, were over
> 2,000,000. But there were not 2,000,000 at Dunkirk OR in the whole British
> Army...most of these were recruited after Dunkirk.
> There were then two scenes that *should* of included the various South
> Asian and African participants that WOULD of made sense: the crews of
> various ships which is noted to have been over 50% and were not shown, and
> the scene of the one the British soldiers who makes it to French lines
> guarding the rear at Dunkirk, they could of shown the double-digit % of
> French African troops. That would of made sense. But on the beaches? I
> don't think so it was necessarily deliberate based on what I know about the
> composition of the British soldiers seeking to escape capture.
> David
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