Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Is the spirit of Dunkirk still alive?
Sixty years ago, at the beginning of World War II, Britain snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when hundreds of thousands of its soldiers were rescued from the beaches at Dunkirk, in northern France.
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The soldiers had been trapped by the advance of the German army. They would have been imprisoned or killed had it not been for the extraordinary effort of thousands of Britons, who put their lives at risk by crossing the Channel and ferrying the soldiers back to the UK.
It was a huge mass rescue that brought out the courage and unity of the British in the face of great adversity and fear.
We asked you whether such heroic action would be possible today - and whether peace and prosperity has blunted our capacity for selflessness and co-operation. Here are some of your email highlights.
Dunkirk made me feel ashamed of turning our back on the Commonwealth for the supposed gains of joining Europe.
As a serviceman I would definitely say that the "Dunkirk Spirit" is very much alive in the UK today. I have always found 99% of people in this country to be generally honest, responsible and decent. Unfortunately, constant carping by the media about the 1% who are not, presents a distorted picture which necessitates asking such a question in the first place.
I think the Dunkirk spirit will be part of every British citizen. We owe it to the amazingly brave people before us to be prepared to fight for the things that we believe in
Ben Sammons, UK
I think the Dunkirk spirit will be part of every British citizen. We owe it to the amazingly brave people before us to be prepared to fight for the things that we believe in. They gave their day so we could have ours. This should never be forgotten.
I was in Cherbourg, France the other day when I was accosted by an elderly French gentleman. My French isn't brilliant, but it was pretty clear that this chap was saying thanks for what the Allies did in WWII.
It occurred to me that I had never said thank you to the people that did the work for which I was being congratulated. I don't know how many WWII veterans read this web page, but for those that do, thanks. I owe you a debt I fear I can never repay.
My recently departed grandfather fought as a 19 year old volunteer in the BEF and was fortunate to be rescued at Dunkirk. Not once in his lifetime did he seek to glorify his actions or seek pity for his experiences, rarely would he even talk about the subject. I had no real understanding of what he went through until I recently read his war diary. It tells of the optimism, single-mindedness and bravery of everyday people, the sense of decency and fair play which is the backbone of the British nation. I think that we all know that this still exists and if faced with adversity the British people would show the same combination of bravery and humility which is the embodiment of the Dunkirk spirit
Only by remembering the evils of war and the holocaust can we ensure no repeat
There is nothing anti-German about celebrating human endeavour of this kind and only negative reporting by German tabloids can make it so. It is something we should never forget. Only by remembering the evils of war and the holocaust can we ensure no repeat.
In response to Mr. Lisle's comments, I would ask him to stop and consider what it would be like to be shot at on an open beach watching your friends dropping like flies before condemning this week's memorial services as pointless drivel. It was thanks to the commitment and sacrifice of men like these that Germany did become a stable and civilised country.
Germany (from UK)
My grandfather was on the beach at Dunkirk but what I don't understand is why the German forces did not make an all out effort to prevent the escape of 300,000 soldiers.
The tale of Dunkirk is one that inspires, in this 50 year-old Canadian at least, admiration for and gratitude towards the people who were there (as well as, I must confess, a sneaking sympathy for the military professionals of the Wehrmacht, who must have found the whole thing extremely frustrating). As to whether we could do it again, I consider myself extremely fortunate in being able to say that I wouldn't know, and I hope very much that I never have to find out.
Perhaps in adversity things may change but today's society is insular and selfish. The concept of duty and responsibility is lost in the vacuous rush to proclaim our rights.
Mankind has reacted surprisingly in certain events throughout history. Dunkirk was one of those events. Britain has pulled together as a nation time and again, although I doubt in this day and age that we will ever see war on a scale equal to 1939-45. However, it is important for man to remember, his/her mistakes (to prevent repeating them) as well as remembering our triumphs, to remind us that we can overcome anything if we work together.
Britain has pulled together as a nation time and again
John Griffith, USA
Does the Dunkirk spirit fit in with New Labour's idea of Britain?
I think Britain does still have this spirit but its not really allowed to be mentioned
now because of Blair's new philosophy which seems to put less value on anything which
has happened in the past.
The Government should be doing more to commemorate these events
in British history such as the Dunkirk evacuations or other events such as the Act of Union which
looks as if it will pass us by without so much as a whimper.
A nation's sense of self sacrifice and selflessness can only become apparent during a period of dire emergency or national crisis. For Britain's sake, I hope they never have to be tested like that again.
I trust that the same spirit of Dunkirk still lies within every British person.
In these post war affluent times some selfishness and self interest has emerged.
I believe that this is largely a veneer and that the true British spirit is still within and could still be awakened.
Patriotism is not dead, it is just currently misplaced.
Patriotism is not dead, it is just currently misplaced
Pat van der Veer, Canada
Pat van der Veer,
A Northern Brit in Canada
I believe the spirit of co-operation and selflessness to be very much alive. In today's society while we see many incidents of selfishness and brutality we are also fortunate to be surrounded by a people who are willing to reach out and help others along.
For example every year thousands of people ring in and pledge money to Children in Need, are these actions of the selfish? Last year with the crisis in Kosovo, hundreds gave blankets and food to aid workers for refugees in the war stricken country.
We are not the selfish and uncooperative nation many would have you believe. Spend time with the teenagers of this country in their schools and areas of recreation and see them working for the good of many.
Yet again, we have to put up with the pointless drivel where we are forced to remember events over 60 years old and rub our German cousin's nose in it once again. All it does is create an atmosphere of British jingoism and shows the rest of Europe that we are so backward in being good neighbours. My grandfather fought hard in WWII to stop the Nazis and for that I am proud of him. But he moved on and eventually forgave the Germans for the conflict which to all intents was just a resumption of the 1914-18 War. Germany is now a civilised and stable nation with extreme loathing of all things fascist and it makes me sick to think that yet again we go on about the war. It's like reminding your grandmother about the mistakes she made when she was 10 years old.
Germany is now a civilised and stable nation with extreme loathing of all things fascist and it makes me sick to think that yet again we go on about the war
Germany (UK citizen)
Germany (UK citizen)
It would be appropriate for the elected officials to remember this moment in time and to increase the size of Her Majesty's Forces instead of decreasing them. We never know when such an operation may be required again.
Off course we would do the same again. As someone who has grown up in Northern Ireland, I can speak from experience. The Dunkirk spirit was what carried people through the bombs and killings there.
We do have a warm side in our hearts, but we refuse to recognise its potential because it's fashionable to complain these days
The Spirit of Dunkirk was brought about by the fact that Britain was standing alone, against the Nazi war machine. Never had Britain's survival as a country been as threatened. I have no doubt that the "Spirit of Dunkirk" is very much alive in today's Britain and would be seen if Britain faced another threat to its security.
Eighteen years of Tory greed totally destroyed any sense of selfless devotion that was at the core of the "Dunkirk spirit".
Selfishness and the "I'm alright Jack" mentality are the legacy of Thatcherism, and those of us that still have a shred of decency and consideration for others have to tolerate the consequences.
Mark Laurence Scott,
Brit in California, USA
Here in northern urban "Europeanised" Russia, where people complain about how selfish and disbelieving everybody is nowadays, nearly everyday, among with news of brutality and often absurdity, you can read little stories of humanism, caring, and even heroism from the Chechen war. Military doctors risking their lives to save local babies at birth, romance between soldiers and locals, Chechens hiding Slavs from rebels etc.
We do have a warm side in our hearts, but we refuse to recognise its potential because it's fashionable to complain these days. Perhaps Brits need something as impressive as World War II to open their souls up but God save Britain from such fate.
Eighteen years of Tory greed totally destroyed any sense of selfless devotion that was at the core of the "Dunkirk spirit"
Mark Laurence Scott, USA
The good thing about Britain is that when the chips are down, the nation responds. However, given the quality of our current politicians they'd probably sign a surrender treaty before the nation had a chance to respond.
I'm afraid to say that most people would take the view that it's not their problem. As a nation we've collectively become superficial, greedy, ignorant and believe in precisely nothing. In future, this period of our history will correctly be referred to as "the zeroes".
Of course we'd do it again, and the next time the response would be quicker and bigger. Everyone would want to be in on the act and the words "Dunkirk Spirit" would be on everybody's lips. That is, unless the military were left to organise things it would be an unmitigated disaster. The peacetime British government of any hue would ruin the whole thing and look how badly non-governmental organisations cope with major crises until the British Army steps in to sort things out for them.
When your average UK citizen has no sense of responsibility for their own actions, it is unlikely that they could be bothered to accept any responsibility for others
David Morris, UK
A resounding NO, I'm afraid. When your average UK citizen has no sense of responsibility for their own actions, it is unlikely that they could be bothered to accept any responsibility for others.
Only until Hollywood hijack it, move it to Guam and have Julia Roberts rescuing Mel Gibson in a Polynesian out-rigger in which they sail off into the sun and feeble little Britain is once again saved by the mighty US.
Although that summer 60 years ago is still unquestionably Britain's Finest Hour, I have no doubt that all of the qualities demonstrated then still form the core of the British people today. We saw it manifested in the Falklands, during the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, Princess Diana's death, the quiet courage and resolve of the forces in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and now Sierra Leone. We see it in the everyday lives of ordinary Britons who, despite all the self-doubt and cynicism of today, are remarkable for their decency and sense of fair play. There is still much great in Britain and maybe you chaps need us foreigners to point that out occasionally. Be British!
I don't think we could comment on how the British nation would react today as things have changed drastically in 60 years
Mark Massie, UK
Peter C. Kohler,
I don't think we could comment on how the British nation would react today as things have changed drastically in 60 years. However, I think it would probably be unexpected. Who'd have expected the reaction when Princess Di was killed?
When the chips are down, any self-respecting nation would try to do the same. Whether it would be as successful as what was achieved at Dunkirk is less certain. Contrary to what some might think, much of Britain is nowadays more united than 60 years ago, with class barriers coming down and much greater tolerance of ethnic and other minorities. This more inclusive society does not mean that we are not all moved to act by the same principles and forces.
Contrary to what some might think, much of Britain is nowadays more united than 60 years ago, with class barriers coming down and much greater tolerance of ethnic and other minorities
Alas this is the spirit of a bygone age. The present generation are the "what's in it for me" brigade, having been brought up to have great expectations and to "know their rights" but no idea of duty. If Dunkirk happened today they would expect high payments for rescuing the troops.
It is a great shame, but I have to admit that I don't think it could happen again if the situation were the same. People these days don't have the neighbourly spirit and willingness to help others as they did during World War Two. My grandad was at Dunkirk and refused to talk about what he witnessed. Let's just remember and celebrate the memory of those who did what they did and relish our resultant freedom.
People these days don't have the neighbourly spirit and willingness to help others as they did during World War Two
In this politically correct time, I doubt the government would allow us to stand up for our country in case it offended the enemy.
The spirit of Dunkirk is certainly not dead. When Britain's national interests are at stake we will always stand up for them. The re-capture of the Falkland Islands from Argentinean invaders was the most recent heroic example against all the odds. Our national psyche will always lead us to rise up against wrong and to fight for what is right.
The spirit of Dunkirk is certainly not dead. When Britain's national interests are at stake we will always stand up for them
In the unlikely event that masses of British troops would require evacuating from French beaches in this day and age, of course the British nation would respond with equal gusto. More to the point, would the British nation permit such a large army go to war on such a scale in the first place? That is a more interesting question.
Mark M. Newdick,
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