Letters: Charlie Wilson's War

Forgotten lessons of Charlie Wilson's Afghan war
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The Independent Online

Congressman Charlie Wilson was right to remain unrepentant about his efforts to arm the Afghan mujahedin during the 1980s Soviet occupation (Obituary, 13 February). Today's problems in Afghanistan lie not so much with his channelling of funds as with the lack of them after the Red Army's withdrawal.

For all the memories invoked of British campaigns in the 19th century, it's the 1990s which should be remembered and America's role between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers. The approach taken by Presidents Bush and Clinton of aiding no one and remaining equidistant to all was fatalistic.

As US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said upon the news of Wilson's passing: "After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatised country to its fate – a warning we should have heeded them, and should remember today."

Lee P Ruddin

Roundup Editor, History News Network

Moreton, Merseyside

It is time to acknowledge the unpalatable fact that we have got our strategy on Afghanistan badly wrong.

Embarking on a "hearts and minds" strategy eight years into a major conflict is nonsensical. No matter how many hospitals and schools we build, and how many bars of candy we hand to their kids, most Afghans will see our troops as an invading force, and the Taliban as their natural allies, solely for religious and cultural reasons. Add to this our previous lack of commitment to holding territory, and it can be seen that we will struggle to achieve any form of overt support from the Afghan tribespeople.

The current offensive in Helmand is reliant on an obliging enemy squaring up to us. Unfortunately, the Taliban are too smart for this, and will melt away to continue the fight through a campaign of roadside bombs and "hit and run" attacks, safe in the knowledge that sooner or later the US and UK public will tire of the war.

A fundamental shift in approach is needed, towards targeting terrorists rather than nations, reaching terms with groups who relinquish support for terror, and reaching some form of accommodation with the Muslim world. We also need to learn to fight insurgency with a ruthless insurgency of our own, rather than with the set-piece tactics of the Cold War.

Mark Campbell-Roddis

Dunblane, Perthshire

Condemned to life no one would want

I was born in 1940, when my mother was 42. She had told her father, a doctor, that if there was anything wrong with the baby, he knew what to do.

As Jeremy Laurance, commenting on Ray Gosling's story of mercy killing, indicates, 50 years ago informal decisions which would now be impossible were probably widely taken by families and doctors, with no questions being asked ("Do doctors ever assist suicide?", 18 February).

I have had a good and healthy life, but if now I were to suffer a catastrophic decline in health, I would no more want to be kept alive by drugs and technology than I would have wanted to have been preserved as a severely handicapped child.

Of course there are many heart-warming stories of people of exceptional courage and resource who overcome huge handicaps to live fulfilled lives; but there are also very many individuals whom technology enables the medical profession to preserve to live very painful, circumscribed and unhappy lives.

Framing laws to allow for any form of euthanasia is fraught with difficulty, and almost any legal provisions one can imagine would be open to abuse, whether it concerned babies or severely ill adults. People will say that we have rightly moved on from leaving weakling babies out on the hillsides to die. But perhaps, in no longer allowing doctors, the individuals themselves, and (in the case of infants) the families quietly and informally to take merciful decisions together, we have become a less rather than a more humane society.

Gavin Turner

Gunton, Norfolk

"All human life is precious", says the Rev David Stewart (letter, 19 February.) "Precious" is an apt description of such religious sentimentality.

Mr Stewart's life may be precious to him, as is mine, yours and your readers' today, but pain and senility devalue life in the cruelly extended experience of those who find themselves condemned to life by religious ethics and medical tradition.

Is there dignity in the mindlessness of dementia, or in static hopelessness supported by a ventilator? As an abstract concept in the comfort of pulpit and pew, as a good subject for sermons, there may be. As a reality of life and the discomfort of death, there is not.

Peter Forster

London N4

Ray Gosling has re-opened the debate on assisted suicide. The thing that I have found the most shocking is that there are apparently still some doctors who refuse to give morphine to a patient who is close to the end of their life and in severe pain, on the grounds that it might hasten their death.

Maybe there should be forms for the patient, or the family, to sign, agreeing that, while the pain-killing drug may shorten life, the greatest priority should be the patient's comfort and the relief of pain.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

Not happy? You need therapy

The creation of "disorders" for the next generation is nothing new (Terence Blacker, 17 February).

We are continually told that depression is increasing, and the Government, along with its "happiness tsar", Lord Layard, has created and funded a huge NHS programme under the umbrella of "Improving Access to Psychological Therapies" (IAPT) to deal with it. Now everyone who feels depressed can telephone a self-help line, speak to an IAPT "wellbeing adviser", and learn how to get rid of their "negative thinking" with a spot of cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Hopefully, the provision of such sticking-plaster "treatments", ensuring that large numbers of people will be encouraged to attribute their depressed feelings to "irrational thoughts" or "dysfunctional thinking", will distract them from the appalling economic and political problems in this country that have driven them into depression in the first place.

Dr Rosemary Rizq

School of Human and Life Sciences,

Roehampton University, London, SW15

Music for the real world

Oh dear, oh dear. Mark Steel in his very funny article (17 February) rather deliberately misses the point. In the cosy, rich world of BBC broadcasting that Mark operates in, he can produce reams of mediocre comedy, and get paid handsomely. Out in the real world, Magic 105.4 plays the songs that people really want to hear, enjoy and appreciate, and that make Magic 105.4 the most listened-to commercial radio station in London.

"This rot" (as he describes it) then is popular, more popular than the newspaper he writes for or the Radio 4 shows he appears in.

Chill out Mark, more Phil Collins on the way.

Pete Simmons

Programme Director,

Magic 105.4, London W1

Mark Steel is right about staff having to listen to the same "music" all day. A recent inquiry at my local supermarket to the cashier as to how he was intending to spend Christmas, brought the reply that he was hoping to be "spending it in prison".

After some gentle, but concerned, prodding, he explained that it was his wish that he would soon bump into Cliff Richard, and would happily throttle him for singing at him the same song all day. I could only agree. At least I was only in the store for 30 minutes.

Maurice Raphael


Mark Steel should count himself lucky that he only has to listen to Magic FM. Has he ever been forced to listen to Galaxy radio, a station loved by my eight- and 12-year-old daughters?

As a person who takes his music seriously, starting from Bob Dylan, I find that that particular channel reduces me to tears.

David O'Brien


Fantasy used to justify torture

Perhaps somebody could ask Jim Cordell (letter, 19 February) to re-read the last four days of letters published by The Independent, where your "preening correspondents" have certainly answered his question about whether saving hundreds of lives is worth torturing someone.

I would, to make it easier, ask him what he would do if the tooth fairy told him to rape a child in order to bring about world peace? The answer is obvious: who cares? It is an unrealistic scenario, just like the fantasy dilemma of the "ticking bomb" offered by Bruce Anderson and other apologists for torture.

Personally, I feel that it might well be better to die in a terrorist's bomb than to live in a country that used torture to terrorise us all, which is what torture is used for in real life.

Alice Sheppard

Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire

I cannot understand how anyone could think torturing suspects could possibly be effective in finding a "ticking bomb".

Assuming the authorities have caught a bomber while a mass murder operation is in progress, what do we expect the mental state of the detainee to be? This is a person who believes so passionately in their cause that they are willing to die for it. They know they have only to hold out for an hour or two. Even a half-witted mass murderer will have some planned cover story and prepared disinformation to confuse possible captors.

Can there be even the remotest possibility of obtaining reliable information in time?

Keith Watts


Mystic beauty of John o' Groats

I am amazed to see John o' Groats described as "Britain's most disappointing attraction" (report, 13 February). I am also horrified at the thought that they want to develop it.

We drove up from Inverness on a lovely sunny day. We arrived to find to the most breathtaking scenery, un-touched by commercialism. The knowledge that we were at the very top of mainland Britain only added to the sense of mysticism. A walk to the nearby lighthouse took us past some lovely beachy inlets with rippling waves along shingle beaches.

John o' Groats is a beautiful environment made special by its remoteness. Please leave John o' Groats as it is, with its few quaint little shops.

Nadia Keen

Ipswich, Suffolk

Freedom upheld

The Press Complaints Commission are right to uphold Jan Moir's freedom to criticise the death of Stephen Gately (editorial, 19 February). When "thousands of people complain", it is usually the result of a highly organised special-interest lobby and in no way represents public opinion. Trial by pressure-group demeans our democracy.

Stan Labovitch


Google's mission

Even if Google sticks to its slogan "Don't be Evil", ("Is Google gaining a monopoly on the world's information?", 19 February) we should note that, as with Cadbury, its shares are tradable and its corporate mission may one day fall under the care of a wealthy buyer with a long memory: China.

Steven Fogel

London NW11

Romantic politics

Blair, Purnell and Milburn are not "Romantics" as Steve Richards calls them ("The false promise of Romantic ideas", 18 February), but fantasists who think that espousing a policy magically makes it happen. Blair's backing for Bush's Iraq adventure was fantasy writ large. Cameron's policy pronouncements have a similar delusional "It'll be all right on the night" feel.

Andrew Whyte


MP on the train

I lived in Macclesfield for nearly seven years and had the dubious honour of being represented in Parliament by Nicholas Winterton. I see nothing surprising in the revelations about how Sir Nicholas views his fellow human beings and why he wants to travel first-class on trains. After seven years of this, and not wishing to put up with it a moment longer, I moved to Staffordshire, and am now represented by Bill Cash.

Robert Hall

Stone, Staffordshire

Halve the difference

Your correspondents have argued the respective merits of Summer Time and GMT. When we alter the clocks next month, why don't we just put them forward half an hour and leave them that way all year?

A W Macfarlane

Llanddaniel Fab, Isle of Anglesey