Robert Fisk is right to question the centenary commemoration of the First World War (16 December). As soon as the idea of an official commemoration was mooted, the fear was that politicians would compete to convince voters that their patriotism was greater than that of the others, and their emotions more sincere, and the Prime Minister has set the ball rolling with his description of the war as “epic”. What next? Boris Johnson dressed in khaki re-enacting a charge across no man’s land in the gardens of Buckingham Palace?
Cameron also spoke of a “commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations”. Like the Jubilee celebrations! I`m surprised he didn’t announce the creation of a First World War theme park. No doubt there will be celebrities cashing in, with remembrance records, television series and books.
If remembrance is to be the “hallmark”, what exactly is it we should be remembering? Of course, we should annually acknowledge those who gave up everything in their belief their country needed them, but if Cameron and Co have their way, the acknowledgement next year will be more like a national circus of jingoism.
Should we be remembering the huge failure of governments to prevent a continent drifting into a needless war, or their willingness to send millions to their deaths. We should certainly remember the role the press played in confirming the feelings of superiority already engendered by the “history” taught in British elementary schools at the start of the century.
Commemoration will transform into celebration, remembrance into commercialised recollection, and the whole affair looks like it will, fortunately, be seen for what it is, electioneering masquerading as respect for the victims. Labour leaders need to be wary of falling into this “celebration” trap.
Robert Fisk may be interested to know that there was one significant British anti-war novelist during the First World War. His name was Hugh de Selincourt. His novels are out of print now, but I hope some enterprising publisher reprints the most effective of them in time for the centenary.
His anti-war novel, A Soldier of Life, was published in 1916, while his masterpiece, The Sacrifice, a novella, was also published during the war (available in Nine Tales from Amazon). De Selincourt sent A Soldier of Life to his friend Lieutenant Max Plowman, while he was at the Front, and it clearly influenced Plowman in his decision to refuse further military orders, which led to his court martial.
No other British anti-war writer ever influenced a particular soldier to repudiate his part in the war, while the war was in progress. That alone would make de Selincourt unique.
De Selincourt is particularly good in his devastating pastiches of the war-mongering sermons of the Anglican clergy.
Scars on the minds of Syria’s children
As Syria moves towards a fourth year of suffering, not only are children facing the immediate threats of starvation and freezing winter conditions (“The biggest emergency in the UN’s history”, 17 December), countless numbers are also enduring sustained and devastating psychological damage that could scar them for life.
Children are witnessing horrific violence, with many seeing family members killed in front of them. Others have lost their homes and had their education severed, with nearly 3 million Syrian children forced to drop out of school because of the conflict.
Organisations like UNICEF need immediate and unconditional humanitarian access to children trapped by fighting inside Syria without vital emergency supplies, psychological support and schooling. Aid is not just about saving lives, but also about giving children, and Syria, the chance of a future.
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK, London EC1
MPs: worthy or worthless
Ipsa’s chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, thinks the public are in favour of a pay rise for MPs (report, 13 December): what members of the public has he been consulting – bankers perhaps?
The basis for such an over-generous pay rise was apparently to bring MPs’ pay into line with other professions. But anyone can become an MP. They don’t have to undergo years of training and exams, such as teachers, doctors and nurses endure, in order to gain a qualification.
Nor does Sir Ian’s reasoning that the pay rise will balance all the other proposed reforms persuade me. Other people have to pay for evening meals, and for very expensive season tickets in order to travel to work.
Resettlement payments would only be available to those MPs who contest their seats and lose? No; they have been sacked by the electorate for not being good enough at their job. If anyone pays them for resettlement, it should be the parties they represent, not the taxpayer.
But as so few citizens are now paid-up members of any political party there would be no money for that.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Being a Member of Parliament is one of the most demanding and responsible jobs in a free society. There is no reason why MPs should not be paid a salary commensurate with their duties.
If we want to encourage talented and conscientious people to seek this high public office we should stop denigrating MPs, allow them reasonable privacy, and pay them properly.
It is unbecoming of a Prime Minister, with significant personal wealth, to lead opposition in a threatening way to an independent verdict on fair reward. It should not just be the rich who can afford to represent constituents but those from poor backgrounds as well.
Rochdale, Greater Manchester
Great National Theatre disasters
The article about the National Theatre (“Not all right on the night”, 2 December) reminds me of an incident I witnessed at the National over 30 years ago.
In a scene during a production of Shaw’s Man and Superman, a green mat was placed on stage to represent the lawn of a country house. This had a wire attached at the back in order for it to be pulled off stage quickly at the end of the scene.
A couple of characters were discussing travelling to Spain in a new motor car and a group came from the house to inspect the car. As the group ran off, one of them tripped over the wire. The performance was halted a few minutes while it was checked that she was all right.
The very next line, after the performance was restarted, was: “About this trip.” It brought the house down.
O’Toole’s version of Lawrence
Peter O’Toole’s performance in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia may have been terrific acting and may have rocketed him to stardom (Obituary, 16 December), but it was a complete traducement of the historical T E Lawrence.
O’Toole portrays Lawrence as a neurotic, boastful, effeminate, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty exhibitionist, shrill, show-offy and histrionic, whereas there is nothing in the actual records of Lawrence’s exploits in Arabia to suggest he was anything like this.
As one small example, take that absurd early scene where O’Toole’s Lawrence plays about with matches. I don’t know whether Lean, scriptwriter Robert Bolt or O’Toole himself invented this, but it is quite unhistorical and out of Lawrence’s true character.
Lawrence’s brother, A W Lawrence, said of the film on its release: “I should not have recognised my brother”, and also spoke of its “character assassination”.
How to make F1 less dull
An effective way of making Formula One more competitive would be a rule that every trophy a driver wins must be carried in his car for the rest of the season. Let’s see Vettel on pole in the Red Bull furniture removal van.
F B Dickens
Odd twin left over
You report that a study showing the importance of genetics in academic achievement (12 December) involved “11,117 identical and non-identical twins”. That would be five thousand, five hundred and fifty-eight and a half pairs.
The senders of de-personalised Christmas newsletters are under the misapprehension that their efforts will be read with interest or enjoyment. How can we give them a reality check?