Public hand-wringing is no help to the Black Watch
Public hand-wringing is no help to the Black Watch
Sir: Those of us who supported the war in Iraq on the grounds that, whatever the motivation of the Americans, it would be the one opportunity to rid the world of a malevolent and dangerous dictator are now having to come to terms with the fact we may have inflicted a worse sort of misery on the Iraqi people, played into the hands of Islamic extremists and fallen into a quagmire from which escape will be costly to ourselves, the Americans and the Iraqis.
At the same time, if The Independent is going to devote its front page to every British soldier killed in this campaign and the devastating consequences for their families (6 November), then we may be headed towards a situation where we no longer find casualties in our armed forces acceptable under any circumstances. With casualties in both peace and war one of the inevitable consequences of maintaining armed forces, we could find ourselves in a situation of total military impotence.
Maybe this is a logical conclusion of an open and democratic society that puts a high value of human life, but faced with an enemy for whom such human life appears to be nothing more than a disposable weapon, it does make you wonder if we can afford to be that civilised. In the short term though, with our troops still in considerable danger, we may be doing them a disservice in conducting our hand-wringing so publicly.
Sir: The death of three Black Watch soldiers and their interpreter is especially poignant with Remembrance Day approaching. I am reminded of the description of British soldiers as "lions led by donkeys" in the First World War. Now surely the phrase should be "lions led by liars".
How tragic for men from such a proud regiment to be embroiled in such an ignominious enterprise. At least the men who died on the battlefields of Belgium and France could claim to be protecting King and country. Today's servicemen, sadly, are little more than mercenaries for Big Oil and armaments multinationals.
Sir: In mobilising his party for the invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair often illustrated the monstrosity of Saddam Hussein by pointing out that he had used chemical weapons against his own people.
In contrast, Mr Allawi, the new thug of choice but with no air force of his own, is outsourcing to US warplanes the attack on his own people in Fallujah. And they are killing civilians with conventional bombs and missiles and not counting the bodies. So that's all right then.
Vassals of US must turn to Europe
Sir: The time has come for Britain to dissociate itself completely from all things American. America's economic, social, cultural and political models are all disastrously flawed.
Its economy is imploding, with stratospheric deficits in part due to its colossal military spending. Its political model results in the complete dominance of all organs of government and the judiciary by one world view, even though it is opposed by nearly 50 per cent of the electorate. In social policy it is increasingly backward-looking; the enlightened and secular philosophy of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence has been replaced by a puritan fundamentalism, allied to a reckless contempt for international law. The society is a dystopia of enormous inequalities, presided over by corrupt megacorporations.
The "special relationship" has been replaced by a form of vassalage. We should reject this degrading dependence on a superstitious, illiberal and crusading America; and we should also reject those of our political leaders who, through falsehood and bad judgement, draw us into damaging alliances with this juggernaut. Instead we should embrace the rational, progressive and peaceful European movement.
We can then await the time when America returns to its senses, as its imperial adventures collapse, its economy contracts and its social intolerance becomes domestically unacceptable. The Atlantic has never seemed so wide.
Sir: If there is one thing Europe should know about the US elections, it is this: do not believe the gales of rhetoric emanating from the White House.
First, Bush has no mandate. A 3 percentage point victory that was not sealed until the absentee ballots were counted is not a mandate. While the Republicans gained ground in Congress, they lost ground at the state level, losing control of several state legislatures to the Democrats. This matters a great deal in our dual-sovereign system of government.
Second, support for Bush's private little war in Iraq is soft, and it will fade rapidly when the Iraqi elections fail to resolve anything and the US soldiers keep coming home covered with flags.
Third, although the economy is weak and has been for four years, it is not yet bad enough to compel people to vote their pocketbooks. As oil prices and interest rates rise, the deficit deepens, and the dollar destabilises, the effects will hit Main Street and suburban living rooms. Bush has no economic policy beyond cutting taxes for the benefit of the wealthy and so will be incapable of responding.
Europe is right, Bush is wrong, and it is you who must stay the course.
Bremerton, Washington, USA
Sir: Since the election I have been struck by the number of letters from Americans pleading with the rest of the world not to lose faith in the USA and stressing that they share the despair of many of us at the prospect of four more years of arrogant unilateralism and fundamentalist intolerance.
They need to know that those of us outside America who view the Bush administration with disgust recognise that our feelings are shared by at least 48 per cent of decent, thoughtful Americans. It is clear that this substantial section of American society now feels besieged by an emboldened neo-conservative administration poised (domestically and internationally) to move in an ever more intolerant direction ("I have earned new political capital and I am going to spend it" speaks for itself).
Is important for the tens of millions of Americans who voted and campaigned so hard against Bush to know that they will have the support of progressives across the world over the course of the next four years. It is more important than ever for us to stand together and continue the fight against the politics of intolerance, insularity and fear that that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others thrive on.
Sir: Do we assume a flood-tide of political refugees from Bush's new America? Anyone of colour, of diverse sexuality, of a low income or not of an evangelical Christian faith is presumably excluded. Will we grant them citizenship as returning prodigals, or herd them into detention centres and leave them there for 15 months while we bury their applications in a peat bog and recycle them as firelighters?
Sir: What a shame that Janet Street-Porter is allowing the double standards of Government reasoning to cloud her previously clear thinking on smacking (Comment, 4 November).
Imagine government defending the right to use a "gentle slap" while caring for older people suffering dementia, or the mentally disabled. If Ms Porter had spent two weeks working with either of these client groups, she might have experienced perhaps even greater frustrations and challenges than she did with primary school children, but one doubts we would be reading an article on her conversion to the cause of "gently slapping" them.
The equation drawn by so many people between a lack of physical discipline and modern problems of youth crime flies in the face of solid evidence. Still the vast majority of all children in this country are smacked at some time, many regularly - among young people who offend the rates are higher.
Quakers, on the other hand, have been raising their children, even running boarding schools, for hundreds of years without any physical punishment at all. And yet Quaker children don't appear to be a high-risk group for offending, and never seem to be identified as a problem by those who indulge in the tiresome but almost traditional adult practice of spreading moral panic about the unruly state of our youth.
Sir: Janet-Street Porter did not enjoy teaching children who come from homes where the parents have had complete discretion over disciplinary methods. By chance, I spent this morning with 90 Year Six primary school children trying to entice them into science.
They were attentive, keen to answer - some with wit. On a show of hands, the vast majority felt that parents should discipline by sitting down and explaining why something was wrong, not smack. Six felt smacking was "OK".
Interesting that the charming, reasonable, well-behaved children felt reasoning was better that smacking (so called reasonable chastisement!) - perhaps it reflects their own experience of being reasoned with.
Baroness FINLAY OF LLANDAFF
House of Lords
Threatened by chavs
Sir: Johann Hari springs to the defence of chavs (5 November). Nobly done and nice try - but I don't buy it. Chavs are not despised because they are working class. Working-class is not a term I would use to describe the feckless youth who loiter aimlessly around the train station near my home.
Chavs are despised because they behave badly. Chavs upset me because they shout abuse, spit, threaten, and, on more than one occasion, physically assault my daughter and her friends as they walk through the streets of the market town where they attend school. Johann is wrong to justify the "in your face" attitude of this youth tribe as an attempt to "develop a value system of their own". It is anti-social behaviour and it is unacceptable.
Nor should he blame this phenomenon on "decades of Thatch- erism". The late Keith Joseph was roundly criticised in the 1970s for expressing his concerns about the impact of a growing "underclass", which he argued was a symptom of the failure of socialism to eliminate poverty - in all its forms.
Sir: Being a chav is a cultural decision. Hari is wrong to portray it as a working-class phenomenon, and wrong to portray all working-class people as chavs. "Chav" is simply a post- modern urban tribe, no different from goths, trendies or indie kids. The rivalry between the groups isn't based on inverse class war. Teenagers feel happy when they can identify with their peers, and a common gang enemy is useful in forming that bond. Stop being so patronising, you middle-class snob.
What poverty means
Sir: Philip Thornton's article on the incredibly low rates of benefit raises for those on Job Seekers' Allowance and Income Support (25 October), strengthens the case for the Government to set up a commission to conduct research into a minimum income standard.
In its report, Child Poverty in the UK (April 2004), the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee called upon the Government to look at "budget standards with a view to adopting them as a tool for exploring the living standards and helping to fix poverty thresholds for the future strategy on child poverty". The Government has rejected this call.
It is clear that the existing method of increasing benefits is leading to the impoverishment of thousands of families in the UK. If the Government is serious in its commitment to end child poverty it must commission research into the minimum amount a family needs to live on, and update benefits and other income-related supports such as tax credits and the minimum wage in line with this.
Principal Policy Officer
Religion and morality
Sir: Mark Starr considers (1 November) that the blackballing of Rocco Buttiglione demonstrates that the EU is atheistic and "if you have strong moral principles you are not wanted". Since when was morality the exclusive preserve of theists? And since when was murderous religious persecution abolished? Mr Buttiglione needs a far better defence than his religious persuasion.
Brighton, East Sussex
Sir: Following the rejection of the plans of John Prescott to carve up England into nine regions, surely it is now time for a referendum of the people of England on an English Parliament. This could be achieved simply by removing the Celtic constituencies from Westminster, and reforming the House of Lords to become a British Senate in a federal UK. It seems unfair that England does not have the same status as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Under a cloud
Sir: The criticism of Myron Ebell (letter, 6 November) omits one possibly pertinent point. Mr Ebell has apparently dismissed the opinions of Professor Sir David King on climate change on the grounds that the professor is not a climatologist. But Mr Ebell (quoting from his organisation's website) "holds a BA from Colorado College and an MSc from the London School of Economics", so perhaps we should pay even less attention to what he has to say on the science of climate.
Right of return
Sir: The Israelis refuse to allow Yasser Arafat a burial in Jerusalem on the grounds that "it is for Jewish Kings". Presumably like His Royal Highness Robert Maxwell.