The attempt by Michael Gove to rehabilitate the First World War ahead of its centenary is utterly reprehensible. It is hard to see how anyone other than a sociopath would think the occasion was an event worthy of celebration and jingoism.
The war was not, as the Tories are trying to imply, some great and noble endeavour fought against German expansionism. It was a bloody slaughter fought because of the greed and stupidity of European imperial powers.
Gove and the Tories have been unable to cite any democratic or moral imperative in their justification for the celebration. They seem to be doing it so as to no longer make the First World War synonymous with the horrors and senselessness of human conflict.
The war was best encapsulated by the war poets such as Wilfred Owen, whose famous verse described as “the old lie” the Latin exhortation Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (How sweet and right it is to die for one’s country).
Alan Hinnrichs. Dundee
Congratulations to Sir Richard Evans for defending himself against Michael Gove (“Academic hits back at Gove’s ‘ignorant’ views on WW1”, 4 January).
How dare Gove, with his schoolboy and ideologically inspired view of the war, insult an historian, knighted for the knowledge and understanding of 20th-century history revealed in his superbly crafted and diligently researched works?
Gove has also frequently complained that film and TV comedies such as Blackadder have left the British public with little understanding of the war, as if teachers used them as an evidence base for facts, rather than a source for whetting appetites and increasing interest in the topic.
His complaint couldn’t have anything to do with more government-inspired tampering with history, could it, nothing to do with our perception of the privately educated, largely clueless, officers, the “donkeys”, making mistakes, repeating failed tactics time and time again, and actually causing thousands of deaths?
Why, it might even reflect badly on our present privately educated politicians and officers, who seem as keen as ever to spend billions of taxpayers` money on preparation for future, needless wars.
The First World War could have been avoided, had the politicians in power not included people intent on increasing their own country’s economic power at the expense of that of their rivals. Isn’t that the basic reason for modern wars? The “just cause”, as we know from Iraq, tends to be added as an afterthought, to persuade the populace.
There can be little doubt that, after an elementary education consisting largely of the three Rs and a smattering of nationalist history, which taught the inferiority of all other races, including that of the increasingly “barbaric” Germans, the youth of Britain were conned into volunteering for war by a government promising to have them home for Christmas.
Twenty-first-century experience in Britain tells us how governments still use information and data, often inaccurate, to support their own agendas. Wars can be avoided when the people and their representatives know the facts and are aware of the consequences.
Wouldn’t it be preferable for people to be given the facts about the First World War, rather than sanitised and politicised versions?
Bernie Evans, Liverpool
My father volunteered for the duration of the First World War in August 1914 and participated in the first battle of the Somme in 1916 and the fourth battle of Gaza in 1917. It occurred to me that there must be one fact I could quote that could convey to a young person of today the magnitude of the commitment and sacrifice that these First World War veterans made in serving king and country 100 years ago.
I think I have found one. The total number of the armed forces of the UK recorded as killed and missing in the war is 702,410. The war lasted for 1,561 days, giving a mean daily killed-and-missing rate of 450.
The total number of UK armed forces who have died during the current Afghanistan war is 447, which is a figure close to the mean of just one day’s UK armed forces fatalities in the First World War.
Of course, this total of fatalities in Afghanistan is a truly shocking statistic in itself, but it is also a clear indicator of the scale of the incredible losses sustained by the UK armed forces in the First World War and borne by families at home.
Dr David Payne, Penarth, South Wales
I didn’t call for satire regulation
Richard Berry (letter, 1 January), from the LSE Public Policy Group, took me to task for a comment made on Radio 4’s When Comedy and Politics Collide.
Unfortunately, Mr Berry did not do what he would require of his students: namely, actually to do his homework and in particular to have listened to the programme to which his comments referred.
I never suggested that satirical TV shows should “face tighter regulation”. I simply said that we needed to be aware of and take account of the impact of satire and its impact on attitudes to politics and politicians.
Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, London SW1
A lot to be said for election by lot
I was delighted to see Boyd Tonkin’s piece (4 January) advocating allotting seats in Parliament by lot. I would entrust lawmaking to a random group of conscientious fellow citizens over a collection of career politicians any day.
Tonkin, however, allows his suggestion to be undermined by the objection that many people would be reluctant to give up their time to serve as an MP. This is true but is not an insuperable obstacle.
I would suggest a system whereby anyone who meets certain requirements and would be willing to serve as an MP can submit their name to the ballot. Even if only one in a hundred adults was willing to join the lottery, we would still have more than enough to generate a random sample from each constituency.
To ensure that volunteers included plenty of expert professionals, annual compensation would be set at 15 per cent above the average income stated on the volunteer’s last three annual tax returns. This would ensure that a doctor or solicitor could volunteer to serve a term without risking a significant loss of income. The minimum salary would be, say, £50,000. For most, this would be a step up financially, so people with an interest in government would have a strong incentive to volunteer.
In a country as change-averse as the UK, a change as radical as a lottery for seats in Parliament will never get off the ground. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea, and worth serious discussion.
Ellen Purton, Twickenham
Who was fighting the miners?
The news that Margaret Thatcher considered employing troops to assist the police during the miners’ strike might just be 30 years out of date. During the strike, there were persistent rumours that soldiers were donning police uniform and joining them on the picket lines. Will any brave former police officer or soldier step forward and confirm this?
William Roberts, Bristol
Papers released from 1984 reveal that Arthur Scargill was correct to claim the Thatcher Government had a hit list of pit closures. I take it David Cameron will be making an official apology to Mr Scargill, the National Union of Mineworkers and miners’ families.
Keith Flett, London N17
No way to treat a great author
In your coverage of the death of the award-winning, bestselling, self-described “seething feminist” novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard (3 January), in what way was the fact that she “inspired Martin Amis” the thing about her most worthy of going in the headline? Why not go the whole hog next time and just say: “Novelist didn’t have penis”?
Louisa Young, London W12
Women should get writing
I’ve noticed a worrying trend on the Letters page. From 29 December to 4 January, out of 64 letters printed, only seven were from women, and one of those was part of a couple.
The editor may say that letters are judged purely on their content, but maybe that judgement is coming from a male perspective?
If there are so many more men contributors to the Letters page, may I be so bold as to suggest some positive discrimination towards letters from women.
Come on, sisters, start writing!
Penny Joseph, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Shock horror: it’s a Bulgarian invasion
Great Uncle Bulgaria to appear on British stamps – does the editor of the Daily Mail know?