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Saturday 5 June 2004
D-Day, postal voting, transexuals and others
Remember D-Day, but my medals are staying in a drawer
Sir: I'm tired of old men with medals. What a shocking sentiment, many will say. But hold on, I am an old man, and I fought and survived two tanks, and somewhere in a drawer I have some medals.
I think there was a right and wrong in that war, more so than in most. I think Hitler was wrong and resisting him was right. But the war was fought, as all are, by young men with little chance of critically evaluating "their" side's virtue. They went because they where told to, because it was their "duty", because their mates where going and because to stand against the tide was too lonely and to scary to contemplate. And so millions of young Brits , young Germans, Russians and Americans went off to foreign fields, there to kill each other.
Let us remember their bravery and their loss with sadness. But put the medals away and silence the drums, for these are all part of the apparatus of seduction by which our leaders lead us into such follies. If pictures of the Nazi rallies send shivers down our spines, then so should the annual solemn military theatre of the Cenotaph, which in the guise of regret for the last war glories in the military ethos. Still appalled by the Nazi regime, I have to remember that just as Hitler was telling the German young that they were a master race, destined to rule the world, that is exactly what I was being taught about being a Brit in the British Empire.
Sir: Mary Dejevsky argues that we in Britain could start "examining our own national history and identity as critically as the Germans have been forced to examine theirs" (Opinion, 2 June).
The main focus of history taught in British schools continues to be the 20th-century atrocities committed by Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia, rather than the way in which Britain's imperial policies have shaped the modern world. The national preoccupation with Britain's role in the Second World War begins in the classroom, and contributes to a stilted view of the role played by our nation in recent world history.
An honest and balanced appraisal would lead us to examine the injustices committed by Britain in the world, as well as our more noble achievements. It might also help us to learn from the successes and achievements, as well as the vices, of other nations.
London E3 4RT
Sir: I have just returned from northern France, where the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" have bedecked their towns and villages with the flags of the D-Day allies, and are preparing to commemorate, on a most extraordinary scale, the heroism of British, Canadian and American forces who took part in the landings in a genuine war of liberation.
It was rather sad to return to Blair's Britain where the greed, megalomania, vanity, deceit and stupidity of the Bush/Blair adventure provoke a sense of shame rather than pride.
Arriving back in the UK, I was briefly, pleasantly surprised by a sprinkling of national flags which suggested that not everyone had lost their sense of history. My mistake. It was for some football match. Says it all, really.
The complex thrills of voting by post
Sir: I wonder if your readers would like to share with me the excitement of living here in the East Midlands, where we not only have the chance to vote for Robert Kilroy-Silk, if we are so inclined, but have to do so by post. The skills required might possibly have been learnt in childhood gluing together Airfix kits, or, if you missed that, assembling Ikea furniture. I am talking about the art of understanding obscure instructions.
Innocents living elsewhere might assume that postal voting was just a matter of putting a cross on a paper and sending it back. Oh, no! Apart from actually voting you have to prove your identity by getting A N Other to sign that you are who you say you are on a Statement of Identity.
You then have to wrestle with the intricate problem of envelope A and envelope B. One of these goes inside the other. You have to put your identity statement inside the outer envelope but not the inner one which contains the ballot paper. Then you have to line up the back of this form so that a bar code shows in the outer envelope window. This might be all right if there were not more than one bar code. Anyway, after a minute or so footling around I managed to get one to appear in the window without folding the form into odd shapes. Now, having posted this, I think I have voted but I am not entirely sure.
Two questions arise. First, how many of these forms get binned not just from voter apathy but because the necessary Airfix/Ikea experience is lacking? Second, what is a spoiled ballot paper under this system? If I mix up the envelopes or put my identity form in with the ballot paper or fail to line up my bar code, is my vote not counted?
Anyway if you hear that Robert Kilroy-Silk has been elected next week don't despair. It may be just voter fatigue or a lack of a proper education.
North Kilworth, Liecestershire
Sir: I have consistently cast my vote in national and European elections. Putting my ballot paper in the box has made me feel part of something, a feeling enhanced by travelling with others the three miles to the polling station. Conversely, the act of voting itself has seemed reassuringly private.
This year the arrival of my postal voting forms has instead produced paralysis. Three reasons make it much less not more likely I shall vote.
First, I have lost too much correspondence in the post to trust my vote to it, and the journey to deliver it would now be 12 miles.
Second, however unreasonably, I find the format of sending the ballot paper and declaration of identity in together (albeit in separate envelopes, the one placed inside the other) has reduced my sense of security.
Third, the information leaflet declares, "This all-postal vote will make it easier and more convenient for you to vote." If democracy is about being told what I think and feel then I am not totally sure what I am voting for.
Sir: Dr Nick Maurice (letter, 2 June) raises an issue which is very pertinent. He asks why cannot hospitals provide full service on a bank holiday if supermarkets and newspapers can. This discrepancy applies on each Saturday and Sunday throughout the year.
Ideally the NHS would be a seven-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year organisation. Unfortunately the cost would be prohibitive. Supermarkets and newspapers generate income by providing services on weekends and bank holidays. They would not do so if they failed to make a profit on these days. Public services (the NHS and others) would only consume extra resources.
Indeed the situation may get worse. As Dr Maurice is probably aware, until recently medical services in hospitals at weekends were provided by junior doctors working excessively long hours. However, as the European Working Time Directive is enforced it is becoming more and more difficult to ensure full clinical cover, and "shift" systems, which are now commonplace, inevitably lead to a lack of continuity of care, and, in the opinion of many senior doctors like myself, a poorer quality of service.
Dr PETER KIRKBRIDE
Clinical Director, Radiation Services
Weston Park Hospital
Sir: All my patients were seen every day over the bank holiday period by myself and the specialist registrar of the day. When a two-year-old required an emergency procedure performed by myself, a senior consultant anaesthetist came in from home.
The samples I obtained were analysed that day by laboratory staff and the results returned that evening. Specialist physiotherapists were busy on the ward all day. I hope Dr Maurice had a fine day for his bank holiday shopping and his newspaper.
Professor of Paediatric Respirology
Sir: The World Health Organisation's survey on the world's youth shows some distressing trends (report, 4 June) but in a society where parents, schools, teachers, advertisers, government and the media all refuse to accept responsibility for the problem, what do we expect?
Children will mirror the world as they perceive it. As long as parents continue to feed their children junk food, they will be obese. As long as the media cry out for contestants on Big Brother to "do it on air" there will be underage sex; as long as television shows people smoking, it will be cool to do so.
Lib Dems against war
Sir: It is nonsense to suggest, as John Whitelegg did (Opinion, 2 June) that my party supported the war in Iraq. While the Conservatives were the principal cheerleaders, I led a substantial contingent of Liberal Democrats on the anti-war march, I continuously challenged the Prime Minister in Parliament and Lib Dem MPs were united in voting against military action.
Although we strenuously opposed the war, we lost the vote and supported the troops who were ordered into battle by the Government. That did not indicate any support for the military action itself and I have said that we want the troops to leave Iraq as soon as it's safe and practical to do so after democratic elections have taken place.
When I refused to take part in the Butler inquiry because the Prime Minister wouldn't allow it to be an inquiry into the political judgements leading up to the war, he told me such an inquiry would be "undemocratic" and the British people should express their views at the ballot box. The first opportunity for doing so will be on 10 June.
CHARLES KENNEDY MP
House of Commons
Sir: I cannot recall reading a more twisted article than the one by Green Party candidate John Whitelegg.
Charles Kennedy was the only main party leader to maintain opposition to the invasion from the moment it was proposed, and the need to maintain the primacy of the UN Security Council, in contrast to Messrs Blair, Duncan Smith and Howard. Only the Security Council can mandate member states to enforce its resolutions; enforcement by member states acting without the support of the Security Council, as the US and UK acted, cannot be lawful.
The Greens and others criticise Mr Kennedy for supporting the troops once they were sent into action, characterising this as in some way "supporting the war". What else could any responsible politician do? Express a wish that they would all be killed because they were being ordered to pursue an action with which he profoundly disagreed?
Sir: Reading Michael J Stone's patronising letter (2 June), I was intrigued as to the nature of the "help" he envisages transsexuals receiving for their "psychological disorder". Presumably not the treatment that has allowed many transsexuals to live successful and contented lives in their preferred gender role?
There is no prospect of hordes of helpless church ministers being required to conduct marriages against their will. We will not meekly continue to accept second-class citizen status. It is that discrimination that the Gender Recognition Bill seeks to address.
Transsexuals seek only to be honest with themselves and others about their identity. It's not about "legislating a lie". It's about not living a lie.
Free market in popcorn
Sir: Yvonne Roberts ("Now showing; a story of excess at the cinema, 3 June) complains about paying out nearly £10 for popcorn and Coke. The answer is not to buy these products at exorbitant prices; if we all did it, the prices would have to come down.
St Ives, Cornwall
Why US fought Hitler
Sir: Robert Readman admonishes those who fail to recognise the "incredible generosity in terms of both lives and money" displayed by America towards Britain in the Second World War (letter, 2 June). America joined the war in Europe on 11 December 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor, not in order to rescue us, but because Hitler declared war on the USA. Until then, Roosevelt had been promising his people that nobody's sons would be sent to fight someone else's war.
Sir: So, Michelangelo (report, 1 June) found communication difficult, was bad tempered, sarcastic, paranoid and narcissistic. Also "preoccupied with his own reality". Are our television chefs the new artistic geniuses?
Sir: Thank you for Michael Craig-Martin's touching thoughts on the Momart warehouse fire (2 June). "This disaster .... will have a lasting impact on the cultural history of our period." I'm not ashamed to say that I wept when I read those words. In fact, I'm still laughing.
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