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Approaching Dunkirk?

Amanda Farnsworth | 12:52 UK time, Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Exodus - it's not a word we've really been using on the evacuation of foreign nationals from Beirut... but what we were saying was that it was akin to the evacuation from Dunkirk.

This, of course, isn't really true.

BBC One/Six O'Clock NewsWhy did we say it ? Because government minister Kim Howells made the comparison... but as our Middle East editor told us this morning, in Dunkirk around 340,000 soldiers were taken off the docks and the beaches over nine days under heavy fire - and big though the Beirut evacuation is, it's not Dunkirk.

There are so many strands to this crisis that it's hard to get the balance right between covering it comprehensively and reporting other news. There's what's going on in Beirut, what's happening in the south of Lebanon where most of the bombing is, the North of Israel where Hezbollah rockets are landing, the international efforts for a diplomatic solution and the role of the US in the region.

Some have asked if we are doing too much on the British evacuation and not enough on other aspects. We are constantly asking ourselves this question and at the moment I think we're getting it about right - but we need to keep asking.

Amanda Farnsworth is editor, Daytime News


  • 1.
  • At 02:39 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

The comparisons to Dunkirk are a bit of a joke. The fact that the comparison was being made either points out serious flaws in the teaching of history or the integrity of balanced journalism.

  • 2.
  • At 03:05 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Steve H wrote:

What's the problem??

The quote from the linked article is "the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk" - that's not saying Beirut is *like* Dunkirk, but that it's the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk...

No big deal.

The fact that the Dunkirt evacuation was bigger is not why it is not similar. The evacuation of soldiers is nothing like the evacuation of people. Soldiers join up, are trained to fight and know the risks. The civilians have no choice or say. Once again there seems to be leaning towards Israel and its 'correctness' of action. Remember this started because of 2, two, 1 and 1 more captured soldiers. The Israelis have now killed hundreds of innocents and distablised a nation. Where is the BBC that used to be the flame of truth in the dark night of world journalism. Please I beg you start calling it like it is before it is too late.

  • 4.
  • At 04:18 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • ....... wrote:

"Once again there seems to be leaning towards Israel and its 'correctness' of action. Remember this started because of 2, two, 1 and 1 more captured soldiers. The Israelis have now killed hundreds of innocents and distablised a nation. Where is the BBC that used to be the flame of truth in the dark night of world journalism. Please I beg you start calling it like it is before it is too late."

The BBC is already on your pro-Islamic terrorism and anti-Jewish side.

  • 5.
  • At 05:07 PM on 19 Jul 2006,
  • Nathan Williams wrote:

I cannot believe that the Israeli reaction has been so passively accepted by the media, and thus almost completely legitimized. The reaction has been dis-proportionate to the extreme, and the focus on evacuation, and the human interest stories arising from it, distract attention from the calamatous situation and the hard questions that must be asked of Israel. It seems the BBC is afraid of becoming an 'apologist' for terrorism, when in reality the majority of terror is being wrought by Israeli tanks and fighter jets against a civilian population whose ability to escape the terror is infinitely inferior to that of Israeli civilians.

The best way to approach Dunkirk is by boat.

  • 7.
  • At 01:27 AM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • Su wrote:

i agree with comment 3....i miss that flame too...

  • 8.
  • At 02:42 AM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • goldstone wrote:

Colm, as Amanda says the Dunkirk line is a quote from someone at the Foreign Office - I don't feel the BBC were wrong to use it. It was clear it was a quote and the article doesn't even make a mention of it.

Personally I'd like to see more coverage of the reactions of foreign nations close to what's happening, particularly the US accused: Syria and Iran. The evacuation is interesting, but I don't think it deserves or needs prime placement on the front page anymore.

  • 9.
  • At 08:05 AM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • Dave Ford wrote:

I have watched the news of the past week about the evacuation of Lebanon. I am somewhat surprised that people are on holiday with young families. I have two small children and if I said to my wife this years holiday we were of to beirut she would take me straight to the local neuro surgeon to have my head examined. But now some of these holiday makers are complianing that the navy is taking to long to rescue them. And I guess us the taxpayer will be forking out for the cost of bringing them back. Still they can use the the time to plan a weekend break to Mogadishu. I am sure that there are many people with genuine reasons for being in Lebanon and I cannot begin to understand how it must be to live in a Country that has been invaded by all its neighbours repetedly, not to mention a civil war. The decades of uncertainty of what the Lebanise people have put up with just to be asked by a Brit on a package trip if there is any tomato sauce to put on his cous cous.

  • 10.
  • At 02:23 PM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • John Charman wrote:

Surely not getting it right when the main focus is on the tired old 'mercy dash by our brave boys' approach at a time when civilians are being slaughtered on a daily basis by armed forces. The real story is surely the legitimacy or otherwise of the conflict, with our local human interest angle a poor second.

  • 11.
  • At 07:45 PM on 20 Jul 2006,
  • Simon B wrote:

The junior minister who made the comparison should consider his postition.
It is an insult to anybody who was involved in the operation at Dunkirk to make the comparison. I feel it was only used to take the heat of the embassy in Beirut who have dilly-dallied in the evacuation of the British citizens stuck in Lebanon.
Why does the government continue to participate in these sort of historical comparisons to the press. Appeasing the British public's thirst for 'events in history you can recount to your grandchildren' is no way to deal with a serious situation which is making life a misery for Israeli and Lebanese alike as well as taking an increasing number of lives.

  • 12.
  • At 07:02 AM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

There might be more to that evocation of the Dunkirk evacuation than is generally appreciated. Watching the coverage from various nations of various different nationalities' separate evacuations, the very military nature of the use of pretty unsuitable British warships, making multiple trips, each one providing lots of footage of sailors being brilliant to young children, could be seen as being tailored to provide protracted and repeat images of UK government's "caring" for those citizens, in a sort of "cuddly Dunkirk".

Providing that sort of PR material must be costing a fortune over and above how it could have been done, whilst taking much longer to remove the full number to safety. Yesterday we were treated to footage showing a slightly more suitable British carrier waiting offshore, unused, as Chinooks apparently shuttled above it directly to Cyprus. Meanwhile the US has used a cruise ship, twice already.

When BBC reporters are getting those useful flights on Chinooks, and that lovely footage of children, do they feel bashful about asking if rather a lot of money in't being poured into doing things less efficiently, but more usefully for PR? PR that might be intended to provide some distraction from the fact that, by joining with the US against all other nations in blocking demands for a cease fire, our government is actively enabling the action that is so terrifying those people who are being rescued, killing others, and opening the way for far worse to be visited upon those, Lebanese and citizens of countries without the means to evacuate. Innocent civilians who will be left there when the citizens of all countries with influence or power have gone.

Incidentally, is it possible that I'm not the only British viewer who feels absolutely, nauseously lousy every time I see people being evacuated from Lebanon and others being left behind, "to their fate"? If anyone thinks it is "feelgood" footage, I have to tell them it doesn't work that way with me.

And neither do the forced efforts of BBC programmes to be "balanced" on this. From the News 24 newspaper reviewer being prompted to say that inside stories in 'The Independent' were more "balanced" than it's stark front page, or the only people on a political discussion show who called for an immediate ceasefire all being silenced with demands that they provide an "alternative solution". There are words for people who try to balance atrocities like these, balancing away the right to life of innocent civilians, and they are not one's that go along with "good journalism". Evoking "final solutions" doesn't help either.

And please, the next time an Israeli diplomat says they are operating on a cancer and cannot stop part way, and need the time to finish, won't someone, please, ask if Israeli surgeons do cancer surgery without the patient's consent?


  • 13.
  • At 10:18 AM on 21 Jul 2006,
  • John wrote:

What Kim Howells said was "If these numbers have to be evacuated, it becomes the biggest evacuation since Dunkirk." This is (presumably) factually true: Dunkirk was a big evacuation, and if the projected numbers are correct this would be the next biggest one.

Any other comparisons to Dunkirk appear to be solely in the minds of the media and the general public, who are ever keen to blow things out of proportion.

  • 14.
  • At 07:13 PM on 22 Jul 2006,
  • Brent Newsome wrote:

The comparison to Dunkirk is accurate. The Canadian Government is trying to evacuate over 50,000 citizens from Lebenon using chartered ships and boats. If Dunkirk was only 34,000, then I think this is going to be on the same scale by the time the 25,000 US citizens are also added to the totals.

Perhaps those of you in the UK have forgotten that there were a lot of Canadians involved in Dunkirk too. Perhaps you could spare one of your warships (or two) and help. Or are you too busy arguing with the BBC about the pronounciation of HMS Bulwark.

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