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SCOTT DREYER: “Wars Are Not Won By Evacuations”

During the Spring of 1940, much of the world watched in horror as the Nazi German war machine rolled almost unopposed through much of Europe, from above the Arctic Circle to the shores of the Mediterranean. Falling in rapid succession to the evil swastika system were: Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, tiny Luxembourg, and finally, the former superpower of France.

That blitzkrieg was largely a result of the colossal failure of a seven-year policy called appeasement whereby the British and French largely bent over backwards in order “not to upset Hitler.” The most hapless individual connected with that failed appeasement policy was then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. I delved more into appeasement in the 1930s and compared it to our current world mess in my Feb. 21 column, Presidents’ Day, à la Biden & Putin.

Of course, when I wrote that, I had no idea a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was only three days away. This makes it, tragically, the first case in Europe of a large power crossing a border, invading a smaller independent nation, and triggering a land war since WWII ended in 1945.

But back to 1940.

As the Nazi army rolled toward Paris and the rest of France, most of the British forces that had been dispatched to help France –400,000, about four times the current population of Roanoke City–retreated to the seaside town of Dunkirk. In what many attribute to a miracle from God, most of those forces were able to evacuate from France across the English Channel in an impromptu, ragtag flotilla and get back home to England, where they could regroup, prepare to defend their island homeland, and fight another day.

Had those forces not been able to evacuate, they would have all become German POWs and England would have been left defenseless for the Nazis to simply waltz in and take over.

(When teaching history, I usually suggest “read a book” instead of “watch a movie,” but two fine films that will give you a better grasp of these critical moments are Dunkirk and Darkest Hour.)

Realizing they had been fed lies for years and that the appeasement policy was a catastrophic disaster, the desperate British public clamored for action. Thus, Parliament ditched the disgraced Chamberlain and replaced him with Winston Churchill as Prime Minister.

Known for his eloquence, Churchill drew on all his rhetorical skills to seek to rally the terrified British people.

Addressing Parliament, on June 4, in the dark year of 1940, Churchill delivered his now famous “We will fight them on the beaches” speech. However, to avoid any over-confidence about the recently-completed Dunkirk rescue, he also added: “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

That famous line — “Wars are not won by evacuations”–came to mind today as I read the headline that, according to the Associated Press (AP), the US government had offered Ukrainian President Zelensky an “evacuation.” I can see the sentiment, as Zelensky has claimed that the Russians have named him “Enemy Number 1” and seek to kill him if given the chance.

However, instead of selfishly just seeking to save his own skin, the bold Zelensky responded: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”

He is claiming to still be in Kiev, the capital, and leading the resistance. Such courage and patriotism! How much we need more of that in our country!

When you think about it, what a contrast: in the past couple of years especially, how often have we heard other Americans (including many in the media) tell us what a hateful, racist, unfair, nasty country the US is? Meanwhile in Ukraine, people are hiding in subways and fighting tanks with homemade bombs to defend their nation that has only had some measure of freedom since 1991.

As war clouds have been gathering around Ukraine for some time, their government has been pleading with the West for more arms with which to defend themselves: anti-aircraft batteries, anti-tank weapons, etc.  However, we turned down many of those earlier requests with the rationale: “we don’t want to upset the Russians.” As it was in the 1930s, that approach is still called “appeasement.” How is that working for us? More importantly, how is that working for the embattled Ukrainians?

Last night I saw on the news that Ukraine TV is broadcasting instructions how to make homemade Molotov cocktails in their heroic attempt to defend themselves.

When candidates Obama and Biden ran for office under the mantra of “Change” in 2008, I did not realize they meant they were going to “change” the peaceful status that had largely reigned in Europe since 1945.

When ABC news gushed after the November 2020 elections and Biden took office that “America is Back,” I did not realize they meant “America is Back to 1939.”

No historical events ever reoccur with 100% identically. There are always differences. However, as I have tried to do in some previous columns and many other writers have as well, there are eerie parallels to today’s world and WWII.

Some see Vladimir Putin as the Adolph Hitler figure–the dictator seeking to regain his country’s former glory and forcibly bringing unwilling neighbors under his heel.

Some see Ukrainian President Zelensky as the Winston Churchill figure–the bold leader defying all odds, rallying his embattled people with the cry “Never surrender!”

Tragically, now some see President Biden as the Neville Chamberlain figure–hapless, out of his depth, and stumbling from disaster to disaster. Regardless of your views or who you voted for in 2020, Biden is currently our president and commander in chief. We need to pray for him and all our leaders, and the leaders of the world. The stakes are high.

Source/learn more:
Churchill’s famous “Fight them on the Beaches” speech

Zelensky’s response to offer of evacuation: I need ammunition, not a ride

–Scott Dreyer

Scott Dreyer M.A. in his classroom. Dreyer, of Roanoke, has been a licensed teacher since 1987 and now leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. Their website is

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