Letters: Iraq

Suddenly, it seems everyone knew Iraq would be a disaster
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The Independent Online

Sir: Congratulations to Mary Dejevsky ("Shame they were so quiet when we went to war", 4 September) for highlighting the lack of bottle shown by this country's top military brass and senior officials when Iraq was invaded four years ago.

The stream of limp "I told you so" stories which are now being trumpeted from the safety of retirement do little to enhance the reputations of those who were, at the time, in a position to express their "deep misgivings" etc but chose not to say anything or even – heaven forbid – resign.

Two who did resign in similar circumstances but in a different era were Keith Speed and Peter Carrington.

The former was Navy Minister under Mrs Thatcher and refused to accept draconian cuts in the Navy. When he walked down the steps of the Ministry of Defence for the last time in May 1981, I was one of more than 100 officers, of all three services, who gathered to cheer and applaud him.

Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary when the Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina in 1982. He took full responsibility for the complacency and failures in the Foreign Office to foresee this development and promptly resigned.

Their honourable action had no ill effects on their subsequent careers. Later both could hold their heads high. Whether the same can be said for those who only now are prepared to be counted must be in some doubt.

Roger Paine

Commander RN (Ret'd), Hellingly, East Sussex

Sir: Having read Dominic Lawson's wise words on Ming Campbell (4 September), I wonder whether we have entered a parallel universe.

If Iraq has become the defining moral and political issue of our age, then Ming stands out as a man whose voice has, from the beginning, been in accord not only with that of the majority of the British people but also with what looks increasingly like being the verdict of history. And yet he is struggling in the polls, and largely derided and dismissed by the media.

Messrs Brown and Cameron, on the other hand, are put up for our admiration as political giants, engaged in an epic struggle for our vote. Can anyone explain to me when either of these two titans raised so much as a squeak of misgiving, let alone protest, when the Bush/Blair adventure was launched?

Increasingly, the leitmotif for our politics seems to be that it is much less important to be right than it is to be young, and preferably pretty, with a plausible line of banter. They say that we get the government that we deserve. I only hope that next time they turn out to be wrong.

Henry Lawson

Reading, Berkshire

Coal, gas and the energy of the future

Sir: Johann Hari (3 September) is wrong to claim that "clean coal is a medium-term investment that won't work". There are projects around the world which are up and running and demonstrating how the varying concepts of clean coal can and do work. These can include retrofitting supercritical boiler technology to ongoing coal stations, new integrated gas combined cycle stations, which gasify the coal, and underground coal gasification. These processes substantially reduce the carbon emissions from coal use.

Coal gasification is the cleanest method for converting coal's energy potential into electricity. This is the future for coal, the world's most abundant energy asset. The process takes coal and turns it into a hydrogen-rich synthesis gas which can facilitate the separation of the carbon dioxide before combustion in the turbine generators.

Importantly, given Britain's overdependence on gas imports, coal gasification allows us to create natural gas from coal, providing an important bulwark against import price hikes. For these reasons the Government should encourage investment in clean coal technologies and back new clean coal power stations. Coupled with new nuclear stations, clean coal can provide crucial baseload electricity and avoid a looming energy shortfall.

Ironically, over-support for renewables can lead to a rise in carbon emissions, as older, less efficient coal stations have to be brought back on stream to plug the gap left by underperforming renewable sources, such as wind. One example of this is in Denmark, which has the most intense concentration of wind generation in Europe. At peak output the Danish wind farms can account for nearly 64 per cent of Danish peak power demand, but this rarely occurs. Last year Danish carbon emissions rose as the Danish grid fell back on older fossil-fuel generation to plug the gap left by underperforming wind farms. The Government must learn from the Danish experience and pursue a balanced and secure energy policy.

Tony Lodge

Centre for Policy Studies, London, SW1

Sir: It is a pity that Johann Hari spoiled an otherwise excellent article by his intemperate remarks about carbon-dioxide capture and sequestration. This is proven technology and has been employed with notable success for several years in the North Sea by Statoil at the Heimdal Field.

Furthermore, carbon dioxide can be a valuable product for enhanced oil recovery from existing fields, as has been demonstrated in the United States, notably by Denbury Resources, a Texan company run by an Oxford-trained geologist. New clean coal-fired technology can bring great benefits to Britain in increasing oil recovery and providing power competitive in price with any existing form of renewable.

A government that lets the lights go out is likely to be far less popular than one that, while fully acknowledging the need for environmental best practice, provides the nation with low-cost energy. A conference I chaired in 2005-6 concluded that not only would we need as much renewable energy as possible, we would need clean coal and nuclear electricity.

Richard Hardman

Former President, the Geological Society, London SW8

Sir: Europe's difficulty in dealing with the challenge posed by Gazprom ("How Gazprom turned up the heat on the west", 3 September) derives from Europe's inability to consider Gazprom's impact in pan-European rather than national terms.

Requiring that all acquisitions of EU energy assets with potential cross-border relevance be automatically referred to the EC for competition approval, rather than handled by national regulators, will help address this problem by establishing a body that can monitor Gazprom acquisitions which may not comprise anti-competitive behaviour within one nation, but, when considered alongside other moves around the continent, form a pattern of Kremlin-sponsored abuse of Europe's energy markets.

It is imperative that the forthcoming legislation on unbundling recognises the need for European-level regulation of the single pan-European energy system in order to achieve the best prices and services for the consumer as well as security of supply.

Helen Davison

Research Officer, Stockholm Network, London N18

Exiles longing for the same land

Sir: Howard Jacobson in his article on 1 September appears to say the Jews' historical longing, "next year in Jerusalem", is the same as the longing of all disparate peoples but then that it specifically outweighs any longing of the Palestinian Arabs for their homeland.

The right to existence of Israel, or Zion, which Blair and the West, and presumably Brown, have demanded that Palestinians recognise before negotiations are possible is not the same right as that of Poland or Germany or of Tanzania or Kenya. Israel's right is unique in depending on the religious statement that it is the land given by God to those descendants of Abraham who accepted his unquestioned worship. The celebrated UN resolution 181 depends on it. Any historical or ethnic claim is at best tenuous. A similar claim by the inhabitants of Cardiff to occupy London on the grounds that Celtic ancestors once lived there would only be regarded as comical.

Don Bromley

Lee on the Solent, Hampshire

Sir: It seems that Howard Jacobson is in a fix . As a good Zionist, he has taken the rich and varied religious-cultural significance of the Jewish exile and appropriated it for narrow, colonial purposes, while purporting to speak for all Jews. But as a good liberal, he would also love to reconcile his "comprehension" of "the sorrows of Palestinian exile" with continued support for their dispossession both in theory and practice.

Ben White

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Across the border by rail and air

Sir: In comparing rail and air fares between London and Scotland (letter, 3 September), Mike Poole is not comparing like with like.

The £50 return air fare, on a no-frills airline, would probably have to be booked about two weeks in advance, with no refunds and a charge for each change of booking. He appears to be comparing it with a fully exchangeable and refundable all-inclusive first-class return fare valid on any train. This fare would be more appropriately compared with a fully flexible return fare from London to Glasgow on a full-service airline – just under £400 travelling with British Airways.

The cheapest available sleeper rail fares between London and Scotland are £19 one-way, or £38 return.

Alex Macfie, Oxford

A 'stupid' rationalist stares at the moon

Sir: It's never nice to be told you are irredeemably stupid, but I am apparently so because of my "faith" in rationality. If you cannot prove it I will not include it in my thinking about the world. Clearly this is the height of madness and I should rely on an invisible, omnipotent, and usually taciturn deity to get me through the day.

Like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Opinion, 3 September) I liked the "Heaven and Earth" programme, as I also enjoy learning about religions. But to use her reasoning that without faith you cannot understand something, I imagine she found any sections on religions to which she is not in thrall tedious in the extreme.

As a scientist, there I was thinking, naively, that my understanding of the vast distances and delicate balances of forces that keep the moon in orbit added to the beauty of a full moon. Wrong. Unless I think God painted it on the firmament I am entirely missing the point. Thank you, Ms Alibhai-Brown, for pointing out my foolishness. I shall now look out for the dung beetle rolling the sun across the sky when I bask on a summer's day instead of, as previously, marvelling at the subtleties of nuclear fusion.

Ben Gazur

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Sir: I wonder, with reference to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article, whether perhaps all of us should be a little more cautious with regard to our deeply held beliefs.

The pre-Socratic philosopher and poet Xenophanes has something cogent to say here: "Indeed, there never has been nor will there ever be a man who knows the truth about the gods and all the matters of which I speak. For even if one should happen to speak what is the case especially well, still he would not know it."

Neither believers nor atheists can circumvent the truth here expressed, and – in view of the eternal shtoom that God keeps – we are constrained to live with uncertainty. If we cannot admit this to ourselves then we are committed to endless, and mostly fruitless, controversy.

Peter Hart


Sir: There is surely no more evidence (scientific or otherwise) for the non-existence of God than there is for the existence. So atheism is as much a matter of faith as any opposite view. The really interesting thing about Professor Dawkins is that he appears to be a crusading atheist.

Chris Noël

Ledbury, Herefordshire

Sir: Ella Hewison (letter, 4 September) seems to have an odd view of the duties of the tooth fairy. His job has always been to take the tooth and leave sixpence, not the other way round. Her hopes are surely doomed to disappointment.

Eamon Hamilton

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands


The age of youth

Sir: I think Guy Keleny is over-censorious about the use of "youth" (Errors & Omissions, 1 September). Many people use the term "boy" only for young males up to the age of puberty, around 13 to 14, and use "youth" – with no negative connotations – for those who are older but have not not reached manhood.

Peter Calviou

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Death by doctor

Sir: Iatrogenic disease is sadly no great rarity but it does not, as Tony Hill asserts (letter, 3 September), lack investigation and notification, as the catalogue of often remote risks listed on packets of prescribed drugs shows. No preparation of proven efficacy is without dangers, aspirin and penicillin included. On balance the withholding of accepted therapies in the absence of a specific contra-indication is more hazardous than prescribing them, as seen in the resurgence of measles following the MMR scare

Dr Bob Heys

Ripponden, west yorkshire

Boy's suicide

Sir: I read your item "Boy's suicide sparks call to review restraint methods" (4 September) with incredulity. For vulnerable children to be struck in the face by an adult hard enough to draw blood and possibly break bones is utterly unacceptable. Those responsible should be charged with assault and barred from ever working with children again. What poison taints our criminal justice system that allows such cruelty to take place?

Andrew C Blundy

London SE7

Keep us apart

Sir: The Rev Duncan Macpherson claims that having specific religious or racial groups dominate specific countries is "unjustifiable" (letter, 3 September). The justification is that this policy helps preserve individual cultures and ways of life: it preserves worldwide cultural diversity. Globalisation and migration are destroying one language every ten days. Tibet's culture has been all but destroyed by the Chinese. Muslims and Hindus nearly destroyed our right to mock religion under the religious hatred bill. I could go on.

R S Musgrave


Haddock and chips

Sir: Ah, but if Bill Hammond lived in Aberdeenshire and asked for "haddock and chips twice" (letter, 4 September) he'd get a piece of fish and two lots of chips. He'd need to ask for "two haddock suppers" to get what I think he wanted.

Sue Clapham

Ythan Wells, Aberdeenshire