Haig's troops, democratic protest and others

Click to follow

Endurance and commitment of Haig's troops at the Front

Sir: One central factor often forgotten in the endless debate about Haig and the Western Front ("Somme facts dispel myth of Haig the careless butcher", letter, 14 November) is that a prime purpose of all Allied offensives was to liberate territories and people under enemy occupation.

Ten French departments fell into German hands in 1914, together with much of France's heavy industry. In essence the situation was not dissimilar to that in the Second World War. No-one quarrels with the motives that led to D-Day and the drive from Normandy to the Rhine. The same motives lay behind France's passionate desire to retrieve her lost lands, to which cause Britain, as France's principal ally, was equally committed. Much of Belgium was also occupied, giving rise to a similarly urgent plea for liberation.

As for the notion that the ordinary soldier held the same disenchanted view as that of the war poets, it is arguably significant that on 4 October 1918 a Corporal of the York and Lancaster regiment could write (to his parents) of the fierce fighting that would lead to the Armistice just over a month later: "It has been a hard task of endurance. . . and really wants a strong will to carry one through it all, but thank God we are made of the right stuff, Jerry is now beginning to realise that we are the master, and before many weeks he will cry out for mercy."

Many if not most Tommies would echo the viewpoint of one of their number who wrote: "We have one great ambition, to see Germany smashed and have the time of our lives upon our return home".

Imperial War Museum
London SE1

Learning lessons of democratic protest

Sir: I thought part of the process of education was to enable and empower our young people; for them to question, rationalise, become responsible citizens, with the ability to express themselves. Yet when they attempt to demonstrate this skill, they are old categorically that they must not "strike" in support of planned anti-war demonstrations this week ("Anti-war pupils to face crackdown", 15 November)

Are our young people not taught what it means to live in a democratic society? If their teachers can threaten to strike, and, indeed, in the past have, what mixed message are our young people being sent? They have the same right to express their concerns as others. As Verity Marriott, the sixth former interviewed, said: "Education is not just about sitting in lessons". She and many of her peers should be supported for their contribution to the society they are growing up in.

Politicians, to the back of the class - you have a lot still to learn from the next generation of voters.


Sir: Those pupils planning to demonstrate against President Bush might better spend their time studying modern history. They could learn how often the US has come to the rescue of people, including those of us in western Europe, overwhelmed or threatened by tyrants.

Or perhaps they feel that the freedoms which we all take for granted are too good for the likes of the Iraqis?

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Sir: It's dead easy to defend pupils' attendance at protests against George Bush's visit. It's called citizenship, and this Government has made it a compulsory subject.


Sir: Michael Toomey believes that fairness is a uniquely American ideal? (letter, 14 November). I would suggest that this type of arrogance which is transparent nonsense to anyone without a zipcode demonstrates perfectly the difficulty of dealing with the USA. A population that knows little beyond its immediate boundaries (because it doesn't need to) leads to a world view that is fundamentally ignorant. And boy, does their president reflect this.

London SW17

Sir: I am delighted that Robin Cook (Opinion, 14 November) has attacked the simplistic identification of opposition to President Bush with anti-Americanism. I was recently having dinner with an American colleague who was filling the air with denunciation of George Bush. After half an hour I asked him whether he knew any American who supported the policies of Bush; I got the instant answer - "No". His opinions of President Bush no more make him anti-American than my opinions of Prime Minister Blair make me anti-British.

House of Lords

Sir: Jack Straw and a few allies spent the build-up to war reassuring the Iraqi people that their regime-changing plans were not anti-Iraqi, just anti-Saddam. Why do they find it so difficult to distinguish between being anti-American and anti-Bush? It's a profound relief that American democracy will give the US people a chance to effect its own regime change in a little over a year. This week, I will be among the British people demonstrating our support for their doing just that.

London SW17

Sir: Your American correspondent Mr Mate (letter, 14 November) gives his opinion that in the event of large-scale demonstrations in the UK against Mr Bush, his countrymen will turn against us and no longer consider us their ally. If only we'd known it was that easy!

Pembury, Kent

Iraq futures

Sir: If the West really wants to build a democracy in Iraq, they should aim for a bottom-up approach, gathering representatives from villages and town districts into assemblies, who in turn can choose representatives to send on to the national assembly.

The problem is that the main players, the USA and Britain are not true democracies, but elected plutocracies, where the leaders are more beholden to the big party donors than the electorate who vote them in. Maybe we should bring in German consultants, since they have experience of a designer democracy that seems to work fairly well, while at the same time looking at the Panchayat system that functions in several developing countries.

Congresbury, North Somerset

Sir: The Americans are not going to organise the election of a constituent assembly in Iraq for one simple reason (letter, 14 November): they used Saddam in the 1980s to attack the Islamic regime in Iran - strengthening it in the process - so they are not now going to let the Iraqis choose such a government for themselves. The only solution is to delay elections indefinitely or at least until a way is found to rig them. The only question is whether Bush and Blair have acted wickedly or just stupidly.


Sir: Charles Glass rightly points out that the US military occupying Iraq do not keep a count of Iraqis killed by terrorist actions or by their own trigger-happy and fearful soldiers ("There are so many echoes of Vietnam in Iraq", 13 November). But others are trying to do so.

Towards the end of May, just before President Bush prematurely declared an end to hostilities, the organisation IraqBodyCount.com issued figures based on assessment of morgue records, of around 7,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. At the end of last month, a US research institute, Project on Defence Alternatives, published figures - based on hospital records, official US military statistics, news reports, and survey methodology - suggesting between 10,800 and 15,100 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion.

Last week, another international non-governmental organisation, Medact, published a further assessment in Continuing Collateral Damage: the health and environmental costs of war on Iraq. It records that between 21,700 and 55,000 Iraqis died between 20 March, the start of the invasion of Iraq and 20 October (the date on which the report went to press).This figure includes between 7,800 and 9,600 Iraqi civilians.

When these figures are set against the 400 or so Americans who have died - along with several dozen British and Italian nationals - it may be understood why so many Iraqis are deeply unhappy at being occupied by a "liberation" army whose death count in just eight months in Iraq far outweighs Saddam's murderous regime at its worst.

Stoneleigh, Surrey

Sir: I am grateful for the figures setting out the involvement of the coalition troops in Iraq ("Iraq: the crumbling coalition", 14 November). It comes as a big surprise to me to learn that the proportion of casualties of British troops - 1 per 190 - is approaching twice that of the US troops - 1 per 327. And I thought our chaps were so superior!


Male protection  

Sir: I welcome the Government's new "Domestic Violence" initiative, as reported by Robert Verkaik in"Men face curb even if cleared of attack on partner" (13 November). Whilst I appreciate this measure as one proposal aimed at strengthening the law, I would like to know if the same protection will be afforded to male victims of domestic violence?


Insurance scam

Sir: Dr Steven Ford's comments about health insurance (letter, 8 November) apply in other areas too. When I started driving in 1972 I did not take out breakdown cover, but saved the premiums. Despite needing one recovery I still have nearly £1,000 in the account. Likewise for household appliances. When we bought a cooker in 1996 I started saving the premiums I would have paid for repair insurance; I now have over half the cost of a new cooker.

I recall discussing this matter with Malcolm Muggeridge years ago, and him saying, "Don't you think insurance is the biggest swindle going?". Spot on.


Trading partners

Sir: So Rupert Cornwall is surprised to hear George Bush telling the world that "more and more of our imports come from overseas". ("By George!", 13 November). His audience at Nafta, thinking about declining amounts of trade from Canada and Mexico, were probably less surprised.

One can accuse George Bush of many things but it seems that possession of an island mentality is not one of them.


And finally

Sir: I know you will think this is the sort of useless pedantry up with which you are not inclined to put, but two sentences, one starting with "and", and one with "but" in one short editorial (14 November)? For shame, sir!

Wigan, Lancashire