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Tuesday 7 August 2007
Letters: Post-traumatic stress
Old soldier still haunted by the horrors of the Second World War
Sir: I am glad that, belatedly, the problems of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) visited on those who served their country are being recognised ("Troops' mental health suffering", 3 August). The Government must be held to account to deal effectively and speedily with the mental health problems incurred during present and earlier combat operations.
PTSD is a cunning villain. It creeps up on its victims, a timebomb in the mind. I was 19 when my tank was blown up near Bremen on 23 April 1945. Many years of flashbacks, nightmares and mood swings continue. Vivid reliving of the body of Edward Moulding falling across me in the bloody chaos and of the troubles that still plague from the face-to-face guarding of Joseph Kramer (the commandant of Belsen) and Irma Grese (the Belsen SS woman who ordered lampshades to be made from the tattoed skin of her victims). Both were in Hanover prison awaiting execution.
The position of traumatic-stressed Second World War veterans is not being addressed. We are a diminishing number of 80-year-olds. The Ministry of Defence's offshoot, the Services Personnel & Veterans Agency, seems unable to take our concerns on board.
I am proud to have served my country in our defence of democracy. Perhaps the Government will offer my generation adequate recognition before the last Last Post sounds.
(EX-LIEUTENANT, ROYAL TANK REGIMENT) BRECON, POWYS
Sir: Your report has researchers for the British Medical Journal say: "The intensifying demands of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are leading to mental health problems in the Armed Forces."
They should also help the Iraqi civilians who are barbarised daily. Their only crime is to live in an oil-rich land ruled by a warmonger not of their choosing.
EASTBOURNE, EAST SUSSEX
Menezes officers acted like heroes
Sir: The facts on record about the shooting of the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes support the argument that someone in the chain of command should be held culpable; nothing has emerged to justify Fred Litton's ill-informed and unfair attack on the officers who shot Mr Menezes (letter, 6 August).
Mr Litton "speculates" about a shoot-to-kill policy, although the existence of Operation Kratos had been publicly acknowledged by the Government a week before tragic shooting. His attack is unfair because the officers deserve to have their actions judged according to the facts as they believed them to be on the day.
SO19 officers had been told Operation Kratos had been reviewed by the highest legal authorities and sanctioned as legal. They had been provided with (incorrect) intelligence, which they were not in a position to second-guess. Acting with great courage, they moved towards a person they believed to be armed with a bomb. They did not open fire from several metres, which would have been much safer for them but perilous to other civilians on the train; they closed to a distance at which, had a bomb been detonated, none of them would have survived.
If the intelligence had been correct and they had prevented a bombing, they would now be decorated heroes. How many of their critics would have the courage to act as these officers did and voluntarily place their lives in danger to protect others; for there can be no doubt this is what they believed they were doing?
The action of their fellow SO19 officers threatening they would no longer volunteer to act as firearms officers - not "refuse to go on duty" - if these men were charged, is open to debate. On one hand it can be represented as blackmail; on the other as a perfectly reasonable refusal to risk being charged with manslaughter, or even murder, for following orders they were told had been validated by the highest legal authorities.
We should be grateful that there are officers prepared to place themselves in harm's way to defend the rest of the population.
Sir: Shoot-to-kill has undermined professional judgement. Of one thing Sir Ian Blair, the Met Commissioner, is most certainly guilty: profound lack of curiosity ("Unanswered questions", 3 August).
A major incident involving the killing of a civilian by police, and Sir Ian appears not to have made the slightest effort to find out for himself even the basic facts. That alone suggests he is not fit for the job. And why didn't his subordinates inform him? Did they lack confidence in him?
At the heart of the matter lies the "shoot-to-kill" policy which the Government decided not to bother Parliament with. This has given the police an enormous safety net which seems to have led officers to suspend their professional judgement. The Government's apologia about exceptional circumstances cuts no ice. Professionals are trained to cope. That is their job.
BEXHILL ON SEA, EAST SUSSEX
Muddled approach to pornography
Sir: A famous actor downloaded horrific child pornography. It seems likely he was motivated not by lust but by a kind of appalled curiosity resulting in part from certain distressing events in his own childhood.
As a consequence, he has been labelled a sex offender, remanded in custody and will almost certainly be jailed. Yet thousands of other British citizens watch, apparently with guilt-free pleasure, films and DVDs such as the Saw series that comprise little but scenes of extreme torture with no claims of artistic justification.
Of course, there is an important difference: the downloaded material showed real suffering, the films show performance. But what if people watched DVDs of simulated child abuse? Would that be acceptable? And if not, why not, since representation of adult torture is apparently OK?
I recently found a link on a respectable political website to film of an actual judicial stoning. If I watched that, albeit with dismay and disgust, how would that be morally different from what Chris Langham apparently did? And of course there is no shortage of real suffering to be seen daily by anyone on our news channels.
The NSPCC's head of policy and public affairs, Diana Sutton, said: "The number of pictures on the internet showing children being sexually abused is growing at a phenomenal rate." Clearly, someone is watching this stuff with impunity, but how much is being done to find and prosecute the producers of this material? And how much is being done to deter or prevent people from producing it? Should these not be greater priorities than punishing end-users? The "phenomenal" increase in such material would suggest present policies are hopelessly inadequate.
Until we evolve a more coherent and principled view of pornography, pornographers, paedophiles and paedophilia, our interventions are bound to remain misguided, piecemeal and depressingly ineffective.
How we saved tonnes of CO2
Sir: In David Prosser's analysis of British Gas's return to profit (Outlook, 3 August), he says gas consumers don't have the luxury of reining back their demand to any significant extent. We suspect he underestimates the potential savings homeowners can make in the medium term through energy efficiency measures.
We had an A-rated condensing boiler installed in August 2004, which after a year had decreased our annual consumption of gas from 22,200 to 15,800 kWh. By August 2006, consumption was down to 15,200 kWh, despite the cold winter, because we had fully insulated the loft. This year it's down to 11,800 kWh after a mild winter.
A saving of 5,000 kWh of gas is equivalent to about one tonne of CO2, so we're saving on emissions as well as bills. Now that we've had cavity wall insulation installed, can we go below 10,000 kWh?
Finally, although our cavity wall insulation was subsidised, this was more than offset by the 17.5 per cent VAT we paid on the new boiler and DIY loft insulation. Perhaps it's easier for the Government to talk about future homes being "zero carbon" than it is to remove the financial disincentives that face homeowners, tenants and landlords if they try to improve energy efficiency.
Success in treating child cancers
Sir: We have made tremendous progress with children's cancer treatment ("Cancer care for British children criticised", 1 August). The number of children successfully treated for cancer has increased from 25 per cent in the 1960s to about 75 per cent today.
The data used in the Lancet article is between 10 to 30 years old. We announced the development of a cancer reform strategy last November to help ensure our services match the best in Europe. Our national cancer director, Professor Mike Richards, listened to the views of young people and convened a group of experts who told us what they wanted to see from children's cancer services over the next few years.
ANN KEEN MP
UNDER-SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH LONDON SW1
Timebombs tick in our laboratories
Sir: Regardless of whether the foot-and-mouth virus did or did not escape from the Merial Animal Health laboratory or the Institute for Animal Health laboratory, just that the Government is considering that possibility is scary enough.
Given the undisclosed number of private and government-run animal research facilities in our hospitals, universities and in other centres throughout our towns and cities, it is not surprising for people to be concerned about the potential for a human-based virus or disease to escape because of human error.
It is not only terrorism that we should be worried about, but also the timebombs ticking inside animal research laboratories.
Sir: We have a disease, highly contagious, wind-borne and usually fatal. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation into the present foot-and-mouth outbreak, it is the height of idiocy to put a laboratory researching such a disease in an area with a high population density of potential victims.
R L GALLOWAY
Oil addiction must be conquered
Sir: The irony of the Russian claim to the Arctic (3 August) is that global warming, which is melting the ice and making it possible to explore for oil, will be fuelled by burning the very oil under the Pole.
In the Cold War, Russia and the US raced towards nuclear destruction, and at various times came near to full-scale atomic war.
Now the Russians, Canadians and Americans seem to be indulging in climate-change war, obssessed with getting as much oil out of the ground as quickly as possible. This threatens the survival of humanity just as much as nuclear war.
If all existing oil reserves were burnt for fuel, the parts per million of CO2 and other climate-change gases would move from an uncomfortable 380ppm, up from 280ppm in pre-industrial times, to 700ppm or more.
This would lead to a series of frightening feedbacks from the melting of permafrost which would release methane, 20 times as potent as a greenhouse gas as CO2, to the acidification of the seas which would switch from being a carbon sink to a carbon release mechanism.
The news of the Russian conquest of the North Pole is sobering. We need an international agreement to go beyond Kyoto that ends oil addiction and keeps fossil fuels in the ground. Otherwise we face a stormy future.
DR DEREK WALL
Briefly... Save Bristol Old Vic
Sir: The historic, beautiful Bristol Old Vic under threat? Unbelievable. For me, schooled in Bristol in the 1950s, Shakespeare, Dekker, Eliot and Julian Slade at the Theatre Royal were formative experiences, as was director Denis Carey's injunction "to go on the stage". Seven million pounds needed? Seventy million would still be worth it, to ensure good theatre at this unique venue. Besides, it's a stage I long to play on.
Sir: Interesting to read the article on Terminal 5 (4 August). Personally, I avoid LHR like the plague, T5 or not. Getting to LHR by road or rail from anywhere out of London remains a dreadful experience. Flying long-haul every week-end, I use Birmingham as my feeder, and Amsterdam is a much better hub than anything LHR will ever be able to offer. The £4.3bn project is, and will remain, dead in the water as far as I am concerned. I have been put off LHR for life.
Wind energy facts
Sir: Dick Keane (letter, 28 July) claims that two-thirds of wind-farm output is "wasted" by being generated when it is not needed. In fact, most studies have found that "spilt energy", as it is known, will not exceed 7 per cent of output from renewables, at least while these supply under 20 per cent of network electricity.
Just the ticket
Sir: Those angered by the extortionate cost of tickets for Ricky Gervais's one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (report, 6 August) are missing the point. True to the avant garde spirit of the event, the pricing is an "extrinsic feature" of the performance that Gervais is, brilliantly, transforming into an intrinsic part of his comedy. And very successful it is too. That people have forked out £37.50 to sit through one of his shows is the funniest thing I've heard in ages.
Gulp, up, up and away
Sir: Passengers flying from Lauriston airport on the Caribbean island of Carriacou are prevented from taking the wonderfully strong local rum in their baggage because of its potential hazard as an explosive (letter, 6 August). If you drink your final supplies at the airport, you can probably fly without a plane anyway.
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