Letters: Moral dilemmas for the West over Syria



The Government called for a UN inspection team to be allowed to visit the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria, but now that Syria has agreed to that request they have apparently decided to go ahead and bomb the country as the permission to inspect came too late. However, when they called for inspectors to be allowed in they did not give any deadline.

It seems the UK, and of course the US, make up the rules as they go along. They took no action when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Iraq, and actually helped him to use them against front-line troops in Iran.

The UK/US are, to say no more, fundamentally inconsistent and that inconsistency is a major factor in the chaos and bloodshed so many people have suffered over the past 30 years.

Dr Brendan O’Brien, London N21

What you say in your leading article is true (“Western leaders seem worryingly unaware of the risks of military intervention in Syria”, 26 August), but there is a further point which should be made.

There is a real world interest in maintaining the posture that use of chemical weapons is beyond the pale, and anyone who uses them, whoever it is, should face a fierce international reaction. This prohibition dates from what happened in the First World War, and has somehow held for a century since, albeit only just and with a number of defiances being ignored. Drop all attempt to maintain it and they will soon become a routine weapon of war.

The trouble is that the world powers have behaved in exactly the way not to do it. Instead of agreeing on action that is irrespective of who used chemical weapons, and even agreeing to disagree on who that was, they have backed opposing sides from the start and are making their response an integral part of their support for opposing sides, and also part of their rivalries with one another. That is what is so deeply wrong.

Roger Schafir, London N21

I would be quite happy to see President Assad ousted from power in Syria. However the usual suspects currently agitating for intervention in that country aren’t able to explain how potential replacements in the “opposition” are a better alternative. The experience of Iraq and Libya suggests they very probably aren’t.

In all the warmongering talk I find no explanation of how it is planned to help ordinary people in Syria – those who originally took to the streets peacefully against Assad. I suspect that is because those who want intervention are interested purely in that, not what happens afterwards

keith Flett, London N17

Neo-liberals are banging the drum for war again because there is a suspicion of a chemical weapon incident in Syria. Britain’s professional political classes are suggesting sending in the US Military, who have relied on napalm, Agent Orange and depleted uranium ammunition. This has caused tens of thousands of birth deformities in babies in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Isn’t this like sending the Yorkshire Ripper round to a household already suffering domestic violence and expecting a positive outcome?

Gavin Lewis, Manchester


HS2 is the best way to avoid  a rail disaster

The economic case for HS2 may be weak, as you suggest (leading article, 26 August); but if you don’t build it, what do you do instead? The West Coast Main Line is full, so doing nothing is not really an option unless we’re happy to see more freight using the roads.

Or do we build another non-high-speed railway just for freight at a somewhat lower cost, and if so where? Through the Chilterns, or the old Great Central Line through Rugby and Leicester?

Any economic evaluation of HS2 ought to include the costs of (a) doing nothing and (b) alternative railway projects.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle


The growing campaign to discredit the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the North ignores the disastrous consequences if we do nothing.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) claimed that costs would soar by £30bn and that a swathe of countryside would be blighted by convoys of trucks rumbling through peaceful towns during the seven-year construction phase. And now there are reports that “upper echelons” in the Treasury are having doubt on projected costs – the same department which opposed building the M25.

Of course costs must be kept in check, and I have every faith that they will be following in our new-found ability to deliver projects like HS1 and London 2012 within budget. Britain desperately needs a new railway and HS2 is the right project at the right time.

In 2012 1.5bn train journeys were made, double the number of 20 years before. The West Coast Main Line will be full in a little over 10 years. A third of the most crowded trains in Britain depart from Euston; growth in passengers from London to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester is predicted to be up by 36 per cent, 44 per cent and 50 per cent respectively by 2026. Long-distance and commuter services are competing for space on the West Coast Main Line. Crowding is acute.

Taking significant inter-city traffic off the existing network, HS2 will free the existing lines to run more local and regional services. Space for freight will also be increased.

Birmingham’s position in the heart of the country will be strengthened, linking it directly with seven of Britain’s other 10 biggest cities. HS2 will provide a fast and direct connection from the North to the West Midlands, London and on to Europe.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England has expressed concern about how HS2 plans to transport excavated material during construction, and one report said it would cause “environmental havoc” along a 40-mile corridor. HS2 is working to ensure that over 95 per cent of excavated material is beneficially reused for the construction of the railway, including noise and visual screening.

Jerry Blackett, Chief Executive, Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group


It seems that most of the noises about HS2 come from people who would not benefit from it. One of the present “reasons” not to invest is that time spent on trains is productive. In my experience, and that of people I have spoken to, that is approximately 80 per cent nonsense.

As someone who spends a lot of time on trains I can tell you that a 45-minute journey from London would be a dream come true. Especially in the evening, when I have been up since 04:30, I am on the 19:00, and just want to get home to my family and a decent meal. Work? I’ve done enough, thanks.

There is so much capacity and potential once you get over 100 miles from London – people; natural resources; lower-cost land; lower prices generally. Fifty billion pounds is a “poor investment” only if you lack vision and imagination.

Michael Mann, Worcester


One state is the only solution

Alan Halibard’s letter (22 August) stating the settlers want to stay on the West Bank, as do the Palestinians there and in Israel, seems to me to lead to the most obvious solution to whole problem. There should be one state, not Jewish or Muslim or Christian, but one where all have the same rights before the law.

One problem is the name of such a country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. No agreement could be expected for Israel or Palestine, but a name that both should be able to accept is Canaan. Sharing the Land of Canaan is great idea, one that could solve the current problem. And sharing power is tried and tested, as shown by the Rev Ian Paisley who ruled with Martin McGuinness in Northern Ireland and Mandela with De Klerk in South Africa.

Peter Downey, Bath


Alan Halibard complains that the Israeli settlers in Palestine “simply want to continue to live in their historical homeland” . The problem, with the 120-odd settlements (which keep expanding) is that they put the kibosh on any hope of a two-state solution. It would mean Israeli troops surrounding the settlements, hundreds of road blocks, continuing Israeli control of water supplies, air space, borders etc.

David Simmonds

Epping, Essex


The right to  vote for no one

Whether or not voting should be compulsory, as the Institute for Public Policy Research suggests, I heartily welcome its other recommendation that a “none of the above” option should be included on ballot papers.

I first had the opportunity to vote in 1945, have lived in seven different constituencies as well as abroad for some years, and have yet to vote for a successful parliamentary candidate.

The suffrage was extended to all women aged 21 and over in 1928, and I remember the fuss and excitement when my working-class mother went to exercise her right that year, although being only six at the time it was not until many years later that I appreciated the importance of the occasion. 

I have in consequence never regarded not voting as an option, even when I do not like any of the names on offer. Nor is spoiling your ballot paper a solution, as they are not, so far as I know, subject to any statistical analysis.

PHYLLIS NYE, Bournemouth


From MASH to Manning

Being old enough to remember the Seventies TV series M.A.S.H, I find the resemblance between Private Bradley Manning and Corporal Walter “Radar” O’Reilly remarkable. Even more intriguing is Manning’s revelation that he wants henceforth to be known as Chelsea. 

Could he (sorry, she) be trying the same gambit as another M.A.S.H. character, Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger, who frequently dressed as a woman in an attempt to gain a Section 8 psychiatric discharge from the army? These  M.A.S.H. connections cannot be simply ascribed to coincidence.

Keith Giles, Middlesbrough


Central error

You so nearly got it right in your report on the smaller of the Irish Sea earthquakes (26 August): “Its epicentre was about 25km west of Fleetwood in Lancashire at a depth of about 3km.” So close – the epicentre is the point on the earth’s surface above the centre of the quake, so its depth is always 0km.

Colin Standfield, London W7


Republican bird?

It is tragic enough that the swan died (letter, 26 August), but to die as a possession of the Crown? These birds are glorious enough without having to lend lustre to our Ruritanian monarchy.

Ian McKenzie


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