Letters: Army morale

Soldiers and officers quit as Army morale crumbles
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Sir: The Army as a great national institution is dying, hidden away from the public's awareness.

For the past five and a half years I served as an officer with the Light Infantry. I was a field soldier, proud to lead other young British men where our country sent us, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq.

When we joined we all knew that our job was unique, that we would be exposed to the hatred of people who would be trying to kill us or those we would protect. We accepted that we might have to take human life. We accepted that fathers would not see children grow up, that relationships might suffer under the strain of separation and friends might die in these foreign places. We too might die a painful death or return maimed and disfigured. When choosing our profession we do not ask for any great rewards. But in return for the sacrifices we make, we expect the trust we placed in our country to be returned.

The Army's morale has been shattered. The days of leave after a six-month operational tour are now gone; soldiers are more likely to come back from Iraq and go to Afghanistan than France or Spain. We expect that if we were sent to war it would be for an honourable cause, to defend a people from an aggressive foreign threat. We did not expect to go to war and be treated as common criminals on our return.

The famous, 300-year-old, family regiments that we belonged to have been carved up, blended into homogeneous civilianised organisations that fit the slashed budgets. At a time of chronic overstretch, where the gap between operational tours is measured in months, over 10 per cent of the infantry is being cut. And your life feels fairly cheap when you go to war without the correct equipment or sufficient ammunition.

The army is haemorrhaging. Tomorrow's company sergeant-majors and colonels are leaving as exhausted, shattered and betrayed young men. Once this experience has gone it cannot be replaced. You cannot put an advert in a newspaper for someone to lead 100 soldiers in the back streets of Basra.

Soldiers want the Army to be a career, spending a lifetime doing a honourable job with integrity, serving with their fellow countrymen and making the world a safer place. But the trust we placed in our country to look after our interests while we were looking after its interests has not been returned. The Army's personnel are voting with their feet. They will continue to do so until this country's leaders show the sort of honour and duty towards its soldiers that they show on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan.



Terror law opens the way to police abuse

Sir: Michael J Todd, the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, is a little disingenuous in his focus on the technicalities of obtaining detention authorisation for terror suspects (Letter; "Terrorism Bill was drafted solely to protect our people from attack", 5 November). Important though this is, a broader effect will flow from the Terrorism Bill and its ratcheting up of threat perception.

Over the past two decades the British police establishment has shown repeatedly its sensitivity to government attitudes in its application of the law. Consistently the police have misused powers to hamper the pursuit of interests judged inimical by the political establishment (miners' strike, anti-globalisation protests), while soft-pedalling on those of a more establishment character (fuel protesters, Countryside Alliance).

The symbiosis between a government caught in a terrorist dilemma largely of its own making and a police force charged to deal with it is obvious. The police advise to increase powers; the Government says this shows how serious is the threat. The theme is reflected in the media, and police and Government use the media pressure to justify their advice and policy. This kind of amplification spiral plays out on the streets in terms of hundreds of uninvolved citizenry being illegally detained for hours because of the "threat" from anti-globalisation protesters.

The Terrorism Bill will develop "mission creep" in its application, as we saw at the Labour conference at Brighton. Its provisions will be interpreted by police forces in line with establishment principles to stifle protest. The courts are no security against this, since their writ runs retrospectively and, whilst occasionally establishing the truth of the matter, they cannot prevent the original offence.



Sir: Watching the Prime Minister's Monday press conference, I was struck by the idea that he is completely missing the point. I'm inclined to believe him when he says that the police have made a compelling operational case for 90 days in custody for terrorist suspects. But that's not the whole argument.

Shouldn't he be telling the police that this is totally unacceptable for human rights and civil liberties reasons, and that, as the police's ultimate boss, he needs them to find a way of prosecuting these cases that does not so badly damage the country's hard-won freedoms?



Sir: The Terrorism Bill has serious implications for the civil liberties of anti-nuclear and peace protesters. Our main concern is with Clauses 10, 11 and 12 - the parts of the Bill that relate to nuclear facilities. We are aware that the Terrorism Act 2000 has been used to target activists and campaigners in recent years and we are deeply concerned that these new measures could criminalise the actions of peace campaigners as terrorist activities.

We welcome the recognition by the Government that nuclear facilities are a potential terrorist target. However it is alarming that the very people who have highlighted the terrorist threat posed by nuclear facilities in the UK could be classed as terrorists themselves.



Sir: If, at some future date, I am charged with an act of terrorism, will it be a reasonable defence to claim that my bomb was intended simply to "shock", and to inspire "awe"? I will, of course, claim that the regrettable deaths of civilians were merely collateral damage. Clearly, I will be a free man in 90 days.



The iniquities of coursework

Sir: Only a fool (or perhaps a government minister) would deny the nonsense that is the "all-my-own-work" coursework element of current GSCEs. But it only takes one parent, one teacher or one school to over-assist a pupil to put all the others at a disadvantage, so what would Johann Hari (Opinion, 4 November) have concerned parents do?

The erosion of teachers', schools' and examining boards' autonomy by recent governments has created this scandal and Mr Hari is right to point out the iniquities of the system. However, I fear that even if we returned entirely to final assessment by exams, the children of interested (and surely Mr Hari would not dare suggest that these are only middle-class) parents would still be at an advantage in that these are generally the children who do their homework, know how to pay attention and get taken on educational visits.

The only fair system to determine basic ability would seem to be the American SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), which is designed to be as impartial of class, education and upbringing as possible - and is difficult to prepare for apart from doing past papers. This would then allow teachers and schools to get back to the business of teaching subjects without having to worry about cheating and league tables.



Hunting packs defy the law of the land

Sir: Once again, we have hounds in the countryside ready to "flush out" mammals. Oh, and perhaps a fox or deer will spring accidentally across the paths of the hounds; and how can a pack of hounds be stopped, say the huntsmen. These are the very same people who have stated in past years that hounds are under complete control of the huntsmen. Can't have it both ways, I'm afraid.

Yes, the English law is far too vague, this being the fault of a prime minister. However, we are all told that to maintain a civilised society, we must live within the laws of the land. It is apparent that some of the hunting fraternity are unwilling to change their lifestyles, even with line or drag hunting as alternatives. In other words, they are giving the V-sign to the law-makers, and to the general public.



Roots of violence in French cities

Sir: I take great exception to your front page of 7 November, which certainly will not help your readers to understand the cause and nature of France's present problems. Suggesting that "French Muslims banned from wearing headscarves in school" has anything to do with these problems merely shows how you fail to understand the notion of laïcité which is central to the French republican traditions and ideals.

All "ostentatious expressions" of religious affiliation are banned under the current regulations, not just young Muslims' headscarves: Catholic crucifixes, Sikh headdresses and Jewish kippas are no more tolerated in French state schools than the headscarves are. You might also not be aware that such bans are not exclusively French: they are also in place in various German Länder, Hesse and Bavaria for example.

What is more, the young Muslim women who might feel aggrieved by this ban have absolutely nothing to do with the gangs of thugs who are currently setting fire to buses and primary schools in Paris and elsewhere. When they have protested, it has been with dignity, and within the law. They are very often the first victims of the violence which has become endemic in the quartiers.



Sir: The unrest in France has its root in the selfishness of the employed, and the trade unions who represent them, and the unwillingness of the French government to face down vested interest.

To reduce unemployment, an economy has to produce a surplus to allow investment and growth. The employed immediately consume any surplus produced by the French economy. By demanding higher pay, shorter working hours and improved pension provision, the employed ensure that the unemployed remain that way. Solidarity, a word much used in French political discourse, has a very hollow ring if you are unemployed



No soap operas, but I'm still British

Sir: It is patronising of Sadi Mehmood (letter, 4 November) to say that those new to the UK "need ... to be able to converse about sport, soap opera, UK current events, and reality TV" if they are to integrate into British culture.

As a British citizen who has spent almost my entire life living in Britain, I am not able to converse about sport, soap operas, or reality TV, though I am quite happy to talk about UK current events. I am simply uninterested in these topics. There is nothing un-British about this. No one "needs" to be able to talk about these things if they do not want to.



Free advertising

Sir: I was concerned by your report on peer-group pressure on children to buy designer clothing labels (3 November). Doesn't this make it important to ban advertising directed at children, as in Sweden? I never buy designer clothing. Designer labels are basically advertisements for a brand. If I am to advertise someone's products I expect to be paid for it.



Compassion fatigue

Sir: The President of Pakistan is wrong. Like others, I donated a significant sum to the tsunami appeal and I know precisely why - human beings were in desperate need. The presence of Caucasian tourists was not, as he asserts, a factor. We gave from our hearts and in my view disgraced our niggardly, inert government. The earthquake victims were unfortunate in that the tsunami occurred first and they are thus victims of "fatigue".



Drug crime wave

Sir: Your article "Cracktown UK" (4 November) describes most emphatically the terrible risk of drug use to society. Everyone knows that nearly all burglaries and car break-ins and a significant proportion of violent crime is perpetrated by addicts, desperate to finance their habit; or by drug gangs, who have no concern for anyone. Surely it is now time to give addicts a prescription and end the crime wave that threatens to engulf us all.



Annoyingly feisty

Sir: What a nuisance the Sun editor and former Sorbonne student Rebekah Wade ("The feisty first lady of Wapping", 5 November) must have been in her early job, not realising when she was working for The Post that she should have kept to her place as a "very bright, very intelligent" secretary and should have been concentrating on taking memos instead of "bombarding the features editor with ideas for stories" and being "burningly ambitious". That way she could have been, ooh, still a secretary now, probably.



Tolerant atheists

Sir: I am not sure that I understand what the Rev Paul Hypher means by " 'sectarian' secularism" (letter, 4 November) which he then goes on to assume is "intolerant of all belief". Atheists and agnostics don't belong to fanatical sects. They have no agenda to convert or make life difficult for religious believers. Their chosen lack of belief is no threat to anybody and Mr Hypher does neither himself nor his faith any favours by suggesting or implying that it is.



Huge mistake

Sir: Tony Parsons writes (Magazine, 5 November) that Iggy Pop "had the biggest penis I have ever seen on a man". Had he perhaps seen a bigger penis on a woman?