LETTER : Plain truths about dreadful disasters

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The Independent Online
From Professor Geoffrey Best

Sir: Professor Dummett's puzzlement (Letters, 14 April) drives me to request space to make clearer the points made, too briefly it seems, in my letter of 5 April. They are too important to be allowed to dissolve in the steam of a clash of personalities.

1. I find no cause to regret my objection to his assumption of an entitlement to suggest that we are all "dead of soul" because our response to the Michael Foot television film on Yugoslavia had not come up to his idea of what was demanded.

2. My irritation was not because he was moved to feel deeply about Yugoslavia, it was because his emotional explosion about it showed none of the awareness sensible persons ought to have about the imbalance, the unreason one might say, brought into our thinking about our world's disasters by letting our response be triggered by the media's haphazard selection of them - or, it might be added, by the related phenomenon of the haphazard publicity given by the whims of "celebrities".

3. Responding with reason (a better antithesis, I concede, than the "intelligence" I posited), rather than passion to the world's dangers and disasters, demands among other things dispassionate and realistic thought about: construction of authoritative institutions of regional and international organisation; the placing of enough pro-active power in their hands to do the conflict-preventing things that palpably are not being done at present; recognition that instant or ill-conceived "humanitarian" responses may not only be self-indulgent or unhelpful but may be positively counter- productive; and acceptance of the fact that some conflicts in some places (Yugoslavia may tragically by now be one of them) can develop beyond the capacity of outsiders constructively to influence them.

These plain truths are not pleasant to have to bring forward because they offer no ready remedies for dreadful disasters, they demand long- term investments of political education and expenditure, and (not least!) they put upon their producers the unpopular appearance of seeming less "humane" than the expressors of "humanitarian" emotion. Nevertheless, they are so inescapable as to deserve to be much more widely thought about.

Your faithfully,

GEOFFREY BEST

Oxford

18 April

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