Bomber Harris, foreign doctors and others

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'Bomber' Harris was a hero to those who lived through the war

'Bomber' Harris was a hero to those who lived through the war

Sir: It is disappointing that such a respected historian as Antony Beevor should have classified "Bomber" Harris as a villain (The Independent Magazine, 21 May). That is a calumny which will be resented by many, not least the surviving aircrew of Bomber Command for whom Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris was a hero. He was a hero too for the wartime British people; as they heard the nightly drone of bomber streams heading for the Continent he came to personify the nation's determination to take the war to the enemy.

Yes, he was obstinate, single-minded, ruthless in his conviction, and occasionally almost insubordinate; what great commanders aren't? He was also intensely loyal to his forces, determined to secure the best equipment for his crews, and focused exclusively on the objective of defeating Hitler when for much of the war the only means of attacking Germany was with air power. Mr Beevor writes as if area bombing was the Command's only activity yet this represented less than half its commitment. He says nothing about the immense and costly effort devoted to mining, of the support for the land campaign, nor of the serious effect on German industrial production and lines of communication which led Albert Speer to write much later that the bombing campaign was "the greatest lost battle on the German side". Above all, Harris could never have undertaken his task without the authority of Churchill and the High Command - and that includes the attack on Dresden.

With the benefit of hindsight and the evidence now available of the true state of Germany during the war it is easy to criticise Harris; it is harder to visualise the scenario which Britain faced at the time.



Colonial attitude to doctors from Africa

Sir: I am an overseas graduate who has worked in the UK for two decades and have been involved with training in the UK. I am not able to comment on conditions in Ghana but must point out that the situation is far more complex that the one suggested by your reports on the recruitment of overseas doctors (27 May).

There is indeed a desperate shortage of doctors in Africa and the UK is not training enough doctors to meet its needs. However, there are a variety of factors which attract health-care personnel into many western countries including the United States, Canada and the UK as well as into Australia and New Zealand. These are professional as well as pecuniary, especially with regard to research opportunities.

One has to consider factors within countries of origin. What is being done there to ensure retention of staff? In many cases not a lot. This does not have everything to do with money, but also academic pursuits and professional links.

In my opinion, and this is what really surprises me, your articles are patronising of overseas health workers and reflect a remarkably colonial attitude. Are overseas workers in such thrall to their colonial masters that the mere dangling of a shiny object in front of their upturned and grateful faces will send them scurrying to the boats?

We are a highly educated and ambitious group of individuals who would wish to pursue our ambitions - that is the problem with intelligent people. We make some difficult choices (and being an immigrant is not easy) in order to further our careers. Many of us (and I include myself) would have been financially better off in our countries of origin.




Immoral to charge for ID cards

Sir: So the subject of ID cards has reappeared, after being hidden away during the election campaign, and with it the inevitable controversy about civil liberties. I have no problem with the concept of ID cards as I have nothing to hide and the information which any such card will contain is no more than the Government already has access to anyway. I do however, find it laughable that anyone thinks this is going to help prevent terrorist activities - it certainly hasn't in other parts of Europe - and maybe this is why the Government is now using identity fraud as its main plank of justification.

My real objection to the proposed scheme is the one of payment. Any scheme, to have any chance of being credible, is going to have to be compulsory for everyone and, with that premise, it is morally wrong for the Government to make any direct charge for obtaining a card. If something is in any way optional, such as a driving licence or passport, then it is reasonable to make a charge; if something is compulsory then it must be at no cost to the individual.

If this scheme ever materialises I would urge everyone to agree to the principle but refuse to pay.



Sir: How depressing that those opposed to identity cards should argue their case on cost grounds. What is at stake here is not cost, but the freedom of English identity. Without an ID card I can claim I am a free-born Englishman. But if the state forces me to carry a card then I become an object of the state, and whatever the state determines me to be.



Gay marriage law demands a divorce

Sir: On Wednesday you rightly celebrated the prospect of the UK's first "gay marriage", but spare a thought for those who still suffer from the Government's firm view that civil partnership is not marriage, however much the media and the public might perceive it as such.

I married my wife in 1980 with no inkling that I would eventually be overwhelmed by the need to live as a woman. My wife and I managed to cope with the trauma and difficulties of gender transition and our marriage survived because of our love and commitment to one another. Indeed our marriage is now stronger than ever before.

This year, for the first time, transsexual people can be legally recognised in their acquired gender. For me this would mean no more embarrassing admissions to the likes of insurance companies that I am not legally the woman that I appear to be, an end to the worry that I could end up in a male prison should I have the misfortune to end up on the wrong side of the law in a car accident, and would do away with the final indignity that it will state "male" on my death certificate.

However, because "gay marriages" are not marriages in the eyes of the law, a cruel quirk of legalistic logic means that I cannot be recognised as female unless I first divorce the wife I love and who loves me. The Government says that it has done its best to make the move from marriage to civil partnership as smooth as possible, but we would still need to go through annulment proceedings to do this. More fundamentally, we would both have to betray the vows we made to each other, for better for worse, in sickness and in health.

It seems iniquitous that a marriage strong enough to survive my gender reassignment should now have to be surrendered for my gender recognition, just because the Government cannot bring itself to admit that civil partnerships are truly the gay marriages that most people accept them to be.



Lenient punishment for hunt protesters

Sir: I feel compelled to express my dismay at the pitifully lenient sentences - conditional discharges, in fact - given to the hunting protesters who disrupted the business of the House of Commons.

These sentences are a slap in the face to those who, like me, are employed in the Palace of Westminster - the Number 1 UK terrorist target - and most particularly to those who work tirelessly to keep us safe within these walls. The morale of the staff of both Houses, and most particularly the police and security staff who keep us safe, has been deeply damaged by the derisory sentences handed down by District Judge Timothy Workman.



Sir: Had a group of miners, in defence of their jobs and communities, invaded the floor of the House of Commons during the miners' strike, would they have received as feeble a punishment as was given to the hunt protesters?



Good news on use of illegal drugs

Sir: It is ironic that an article which features my quote calling for more accuracy in the coverage of drug issues ("Cocaine use increases fourfold in past decade", 27 May), itself misreports the statistics.

It is certainly not the case that "nearly a quarter of 16-24 year olds admitted to using Class A drugs more than once a month"; rather that amongst those who do use Class A drugs, 24.2 per cent of them do so more than once a month. To put things in perspective, 4.3 per cent of 16-24 year olds say they have used a Class A drug in the last month, less than one in 20.

While the rise in cocaine use is indeed worrying, it is interesting that the media has concentrated exclusively on this trend. The British Crime Survey shows that illicit drug use amongst young people has fallen significantly since 1998, and that drug use across the population as a whole has remained largely stable since 1996.



Electoral reform: the New Zealand model

Sir: It is fascinating for me, a political scientist who specialises in electoral systems, to watch the debate on electoral reform in the United Kingdom.

There are many parallels between the UK's latest election results and New Zealand's 1981 general election, which kicked off the public debate on our first-past-the-post electoral system, and ended with the eventual adoption of MMP (mixed member proportional - that is, additional member) system.

Although I was the lead political science advisor to the 1993 Electoral Referendum Panel and an advocate of proportional representation, I am not, and never have been, a supporter of MMP because, in my view - backed up by more recent developments in New Zealand - it places too much power in the hands of political parties and party leaders, although this may be somewhat mitigated by the much larger number of MPs and looser party discipline in Westminster.

My view is that the single transferable vote (STV) achieves both broad proportionality and opportunities for public independence of views by individual MPs.



Sir: Thank you for your campaign for electoral reform. The winner-take-all travesty must be ended. In New Zealand, which has used an MMP system since 1996, all the usual arguments against PR have been disproved.

Instead of "unstable government", we see stable government - and even better, stable policy. Minority and coalition government tends to deliver a more evolutionary approach to policy change because several parties must co-operate and negotiate, instead of the disruptive back-and-forth we used to see as right and left took turns in power.

Instead of "back-room deals" we see parties declaring their interests publicly and occasionally leaking information. As a result we know much more about what is going on than we used to when negotiations over legislation occurred within one party.

Instead of voters being ignored for most of the electoral cycle, governments now heed voter reaction to policies, as evidenced by opinion polls. Those percentages now represent the precise numbers of seats they may win.



Sir: I have just signed up to your laudable campaign for electoral reform; this reform is one of many necessary constitutional developments. One lives in hope of: the replacement of the monarchy; a reformed, powerful and representative second chamber; a genuine separation of powers and a means whereby financial and lobbying interests vis a vis parties becomes crystal clear.



The call of the wild

Sir: Anthony Baynes' letter (25 May) made me reflect how times change. At one time the birds in this area imitated Trimphones. Now it's all Nokia starlings.



Whose forest is it?

Sir: Neil Bird states that "the Brazilian forests 'belong' to the people of Brazil" and Phil Pearn asks how we would feel if the Brazilians had told us to remain as simple hunter/gatherers (letters, 27 May). But the hunter/gatherers who live in the Amazon rainforests may never have heard of Brazil, and they aren't the ones cutting the forests down.



Progressive EU

Sir: As a supporter of the European dream ("It is time for Europe's supporters to speak up", 23 May), I hope the French and Dutch vote "no". Blind Euro-optimism is as damaging to the European project as xenophobic Euro-scepticism - and no pro-European who reads Part III of the constitution can fail to be concerned by its provisions on public services, civil liberties and military spending. It is time the liberal media in Britain stopped being cowed by the right, and started taking seriously the progressive arguments for EU reform.



No en-suite, no sale

Sir: Thanks to John Walsh (Tales of the City, 26 May) for highlighting the supreme importance of the en-suite bathroom to today's style gurus and house buyers. During the many months our house has been for sale we have learned that it is considered nothing short of effrontery to attempt to sell a house that does not boast at least one "en-suite". Original tiled floors and fine fireplaces cut no ice; the fact that one's house was built in 1896 is no excuse for this deplorable oversight by the builders of the day.



Sudoku addict

Sir: James Branch wonders whether the searing pain in his right arm and shoulder is the first reported case of Sudoku Elbow" (letter, 27 May). Maybe. It could also be nature's way of telling him to get a life.