Letters: Julie Burchill needs humility

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I feel that Julie Burchill needs to develop humility before she accuses anyone who is anti-war of being a coward (11 August). It would help immeasurably if she was to experience the effects of war first-hand rather than through a mix of media misrepresentation and government spin.

Stepping through body parts and witnessing the utter trauma suffered by survivors, in most cases civilians caught up in what is euphemistically called "collateral damage", would possibly broaden her mind wonderfully. After one has seen this, smelt the stench of cordite, seen your home obliterated, your father laying dead with his severed arm next to his dusty body and seen your mother begging for someone to move him so that she didn`t have to keep stepping over him (my experience in 1944), one does have a different view of war and its aftermath.

I have marched from the outset against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not because of any desire for appeasement but because we invaded both countries when neither posed a threat to us. It was obvious that our actions would inevitably send countless thousands to join the fight against us.

No occupying army is welcomed. In my youth, Churchill said, famously, "We will fight on the beaches . . . we will never surrender", and I know he was right. Why should we imagine that the proud Afghan nation feels any differently against their occupiers?

We shall eventually have to get out, with as little loss of face as possible of course, but I fear many more of our troops must die first and hundreds more Afghan civilians. Julie Burchill with her rhetoric is only postponing what should have been done long ago.

Don Newton, Okehampton, Devon

When I read Julie Burchill's tirade against those of us who would like to see our troops in Afghanistan return home , I should follow my mother's advice on how to deal with a curious wasp, or my brother's goading taunts when we were children: ignore it, and it will go away. But since Ms Burchill repeats the same facile characterisations used against objectors to war since the introduction of conscription in 1916, perhaps some response is necessary.

Calling the death of one of our boys (a term of affection, not diminution as she erroneously assumes) meaningless is not an attempt to belittle the extraordinary work they do. We call these deaths meaningless precisely because they do not achieve the high-minded objectives which Ms Burchill, and J S Mill, rightly glorify. When the firefighters come to Ms Burchill's house, their objectives are simple: put the fire out as quickly as possible and save as many lives as possible. But the objectives of the Nato forces in Afghanistan are not so clear-cut.

We got rid of the terrorist-friendly Taliban regime, but the risk of terrorist attacks in the UK is higher than ever. We removed the mullahs with their vile misogynistic attitudes, and in their place the Afghans now have a president who signs in a law allowing men to rape their wives. We bring security and stability to one region, only to find that insurgents move to another region.

What exactly are we fighting for?

Andrew T Barnes, Bristol

Julie Burchill is right that the aid workers murdered in Afghanistan were brave and doing important work. But her claims that all the people opposed to keeping British troops in Afghanistan are "appeasers" and "cowards" who think the aid workers were "asking for it" are ludicrous.

Soldiers such as Corporal Joe Glenton, who served in Afghanistan, have been jailed for refusing to return to a war they say is wrong. Glenton is no coward. Another veteran told an interviewer: "All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British ... if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would".

This is supported by US intelligence reports, which estimate that 90 per cent of the people Nato is fighting in Afghanistan are not Taliban, but people resisting what they see as foreign invasion. A report by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found a strong link between attacks on Nato forces in each area and Afghan civilians killed by Nato forces in that area.

Duncan McFarlane, Carluke, Lanarkshire

Tory cuts likely to wreck society

When a mortgage-holder has fallen into arrears, the responsible solution is not to demolish the house (Leading article, 12 August). Rather than continue to invest in our social fabric and pay off the national debt, the coalition is acting like a dodgy 1960s landlord, stripping the roof tiles and giving council tenants notice to quit.

These Scrooge-like measures are already undermining the foundations of our nation's house by cutting education, playgrounds and training for job-seekers. This is promising another "lost" generation of youth akin to that created by the draconian Conservative economic policies of the early 1980s.

The proposed brick-by-brick dismantling of social services and courts promises that victims of domestic abuse and crime will be denied justice and miscreants go unchallenged. The Cameron Demolition Company is also removing the nation's roof by cutting the police budget and abolishing basic security measures such as CCTV. This will encourage social disintegration and breed crime.

This shift to a pre-Victorian model of a laissez-faire, "do-nothing" state is immoral and unprincipled. The army of charitable volunteers meant to replace so-called "top-down" statutory provision will never materialisewithout Govrnment support. This is unlikely.

The national household was near bankruptcy under Labour but the walls were still intact. There was plenty of dry rot and subsidence under Labour but wise economic measures could achieve a cure without causing a collapse. There is still time to turn back from the abyss, if public action and common sense can encourage the coalition to rescind the demolition notice they have served on Britain.

Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex

The unnamed author of "Who is to blame: the bankers, regulators or politicians" (12 August). considers that the bankers are "not guilty" because the Government should have stopped them from following their "natural instincts". This is an astonishing conclusion.

The corollary is that anyone can commit any wrongdoing but argue that they were just following their natural instincts and that the Government should have stopped them. Clearly, this is a recipe for anarchy.

Surely the reason for senior bank executives being paid such huge sums is that they are supposedly taking responsibility for their highly complex organisations. Their initial duty is to their shareholders, but they also have a wider obligation to operate in a socially responsible and sustainable way.

If they are not taking such responsibility and the buck actually stops with the Government, as the writer is suggesting, then there is no justification for their massive remuneration.

Keith O'Neill, Shrewsbury

You admit that your "not guilty" verdict on the bankers is a shock. Far more than that, it is illogical and perverse. The jury may still be out on whether bankers are more genetically greedy than the rest of us, but they are certainly functionally and systematically so.

They are the ones who caused the present global crisis, directly and of their own free will, through their greed, hubris and myopia. Now bailed out by taxpayers, they continue to pour vast sums into their personal bonus schemes as rewards for catastrophic failure.

To judge Gordon Brown guilty and the bankers innocent is the equivalent of letting all thieves and burglars go free because, after all, it's not their fault the police failed to stop them committing crimes.

Steve Edwards, Haywards Heath, West Sussex

How will the records of the credit reference agencies be audited to ensure that there are no errors, duplications or omissions in their reports on alleged benefit fraud?

I once worked in an audit department with a fraud investigation section that scrutinised benefit claims for error, duplication or fraud. If overpayments were discovered, the effect on the weekly or monthly payment was calculated and multiplied by the period that benefit would normally be payable. That figure was then added to the total of savings supposedly made in the current year.

Some of the incorrect claims were probably fraudulent but in most cases no further investigation was made or prosecution undertaken after the benefits paid were corrected because the cost would have been uneconomic and the difficulty of proving fraud in court considerable.

In my opinion, to classify any claim as fraudulent there should at least be enough evidence available to give a reasonable assurance of mounting a successful prosecution in court. Without this, I suggest that claims for fees for "reducing fraud" could themselves be defined as fraudulent.

Victor Lawrance, London N12

Homeopathy hits back

Homeopathy receives another bashing from Steve Connor ("Government ignored our advice on homeopathic remedies, say experts", 3 August) not long after the BMA agreed with a junior doctor's description of homeopathy as "witchcraft".

We need to be careful that media focus on homeopathy doesn't become a witch-hunt. A £4m annual total spend on NHS homeopathy is a drop in the ocean compared to the £291.5m spent on anti-depressants alone in 2007.

As the CEO of Wiltshire PCT said in a BBC interview on 3 August: "Not everything we do is empirically verifiable. We should think about people holistically and therefore their sense, and their feelings are as important as what you can measure in hard scientific terms."

So the NHS really cannot afford to ignore the evidence of 6,500 consecutive patients studied by the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital. Looking at 23,000 patient appointments in a six-year period, 70 per cent of follow-up patients reported improved health, and 50 per cent reported major improvement. These patients were referred within the NHS after conventional treatment failed, or was contra-indicated.

Zofia Dymitr, Chairwoman, Society of Homeopaths, Moulton Park, Northampton

I'm glad Zayda Kebede, practising homeopath, "did the maths" (Letters, 11 August), but regardless of percentages, £4m spent on sugar pills is still £4m that could be spent on drugs that have been proved to work. Don't even get me started on the £42m the NHS spends on hospital chaplains (as an NHS nurse, everything I do has to be measured using evidence-based practice). And whether the cost of a homeopathic consultation is £150 or £60 or even £6, it is still money down the toilet.

Stan Broadwell, Bristol

Zayda Kebede writes that the £4m cost to the NHS is 0.0048 per cent of the total NHS budget. This is irrelevant. A single pound spent on treatments for which there is no evidence of efficacy is one pound too much. This is money that could be spent on evidence-based treatments that we know work. With the budget under such pressure, it is indefensible to provide homeopathy on the NHS.

Ben Bawden, Epsom, Surrey

Zayda Kebede calculates the cost of homeopathic treatments to be 0.0048 per cent of the total NHS bill. If, based on homeopathic principles, that cost were diluted to a smaller percentage, would the treatments become more effective?

Colin Stacey, Manningtree, Essex

Cheers, it's the train for me

I can sympathise with Steven Slater ("Angry air steward slides to freedom", 11 August) departing from his plane clutching beers from the refreshment trolley. Having all but given up on air travel after several bad experiences, I've spent the last year travelling around the UK entirely by train.

Covering about 10,000 miles on 80 trains, while researching a forthcoming book, 98 per cent of my journeys have been pleasant, relaxed, on time and hassle-free. Best of all, on a few trains (and at pubs near stations) I've enjoyed cask-conditioned real ale, unlike the universal canned fizz from the trolley Mr Slater escaped with.

My advice is, avoid airplane pain, and it's much easier to get decent beer that way. Also, you don't get arrested.

Bob Barton, Hayes, Middlesex

Marilyn Fletcher (Letters, 12 August) questions why the Government is even considering spending £17.8bn on a high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham. It is extraordinary that in these difficult times, the rigour that is applied to cutting public services seems not to apply to ministerial "pet projects".

The Government plans to spend £1.57bn over the next five years developing plans for the HS2 network. That is enough money to provide hospital, community and mental health care for the whole of Coventry, a city facing cuts in health and council services, rising unemployment and completely by-passed by HS2. How is this fair or equitable?

The Department for Transport claims passengers will gain most from the new ultra-fast trains. But it is clear in the business case that HS2 passengers will not pay the real cost of HS2 through ticket prices, making the project uneconomic from the outset. How can subsiding train journeys by £12bn possibly be a public-sector priority when front line services – health, police etc – face cuts?

Kyn Aizlewood, Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Poison plant can 'sleep' for years

Twenty years ago, during a long-term botanical survey of a large private estate in Oxfordshire, I recorded four specimens of the highly poisonous plant known as thorn-apple (Datura stramonium) (Letters, 7, 9 August). These arose from the ashes of a bonfire of conifers. The plants had never been seen on the estate before, and how the original seeds arrived in this secluded woodland clearing is a mystery.

The largest specimen measured 4ft in height and 5ft in width. Before the plants were destroyed, I removed one of the large, oval-shaped, spiny capsules and found it packed with seeds. The white, trumpet-shaped flowers are sweet-scented and open in the evening to attract night-flying insects. In the 18th century, it was used as a narcotic, for the relief of asthma, and as a cough remedy.

In the USA, it is known as fireweed, because it often appears after fires. Sir Edward Salisbury's 1961 book, Weeds and Aliens, stated that the results of the Duvel Experiment on the viability of buried seed, published in 1946, showed that 91 per cent of thorn-apple seeds remained viable after dormancy of 39 years.

Jo Dunn, Charlbury, Oxfordshire

Sing yourself out of boredom

To help Rhodri Marsden through the long periods of boredom, could I suggest that he sings along with the lyrics to "I'm bored" by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band, written by Vivian Stanshall. That should help him through a period of ennui; alternatively, he could learn the 117 words for boredom in the thesaurus. Maybe I've too much time on my hands myself. Hmm, now where's the lyric sheet?

David R Pollard, Heckmondwike, Yorkshire

Having read Rhodri Marsden's article, I cannot help but wonder whether people would be less inclined to boredom if they tried engaging with real life instead of virtual relationships through the ever-present multi-media of Facebook, Twitter etc.

Miriam Brown, Stretham, Cambridgeshire

Not all philosophers find boredom boring. Bertrand Russell considered it a vital problem for the moralist "since half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it" (Conquest of Happiness, 1930).

Roger Hewell, Bath

Make rich pay

If, as Dominic Lawson pointed out (Comment, 10 August), Bill Gates wants to direct his tax-exempt dollars to the fight against malaria, then that is up to him, I guess. But why can't he and his like pay their fair share of tax and donate to charity as well? They can afford it. Maybe if the American tax system was fairer there would not be so many ghettos in the United States.

Ben Saunders, London SW17

A moving tale

Interesting to learn from Jack Parnell's obituary (11 August) that he retired to Southwold in Essex and died in Southwold in Sussex. But you didn't mention that in between these events he lived in Southwold in Suffolk.

Malcolm Addison, Woodbridge, Suffolk

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