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Correspondence

Identity and Appearances

Seen from certain angles, Dover Castle looks like the most formidable fortress in the world.  Far below, the English Channel is a vision in ozone and aquamarine—the deeps dotted with shipping, the Pas-de-Calais shimmering with memories, the chalky cliffs ant-tunneled with ancient emplacements, a pristine Cross of St. George snapping in the breeze from the topmost walls.  Kings, queens, field marshals, and prime ministers have stood here and stared out, wondering what the east wind would bring, and whether England could withstand it.  The Kent motto, Invicta, exhales defiance, and the county’s white horse emblem (although Jutish in origin) somehow seems to paw specifically Anglo-Saxon air, evoking the atavistic horse carvings of the South Country, the fierce steeds of a free people.  This ensemble of national tropes is made complete when Spitfires fly past in a Rolls Royce roar, commemorating the halcyon months when they upheld an empire on their wings.

But all this is an illusion.  Look inland, and far higher than the castle you see the real power in the land—tall media masts glinting in the sun, hazy with energy, transmitting neuroses instead of pride, and weakness when once they might have sent strength.  Look down, and there is the town of Dover, bombed by the Luftwaffe, shelled by long-range German artillery, and scurvily rebuilt, where ferries disgorge endless imports,...

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