Letters: Teenagers in the forces

Britain's armed forces are no place to dump feral teenagers
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The Independent Online

As a member of the TA, I find it difficult to understand why it is considered appropriate for the more feral elements of our youth to be made to serve compulsorily in the armed forces (Letters, 19 July). This would be like throwing petrol on to an already out of control fire.

These elements of our youth do not need to be taught how to use all manner of firearms and they do not need military-type discipline (which is not about breaking individuals any more). Such elements need to be shown that there are ways to resolve problems other than by violence. They need proper educational and social services with a strong police force and judicial system as a back up.

The armed forces' mission is to defend the best interests of this country, not act as a dumping ground for its social outcasts. If national service is to be reintroduced, then the armed forces should be permitted a strong share of the educated classes of society, not a strong share of people who will not contribute anything to, and be a burden on, their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen/women.

Ian Roberts

London SW15

Peter Lyth (Letters, 19 July) seems to forget that, except for the years between 1919 and 1935, Germany always had conscription. Compulsory military service is an unpleasant tradition there and indeed on most of the Continent.

As a libertarian conservative, I oppose conscription. It might in extreme cases be a necessary evil, but it's always an evil. Its being more "democratic" is irrelevant; having it has not stopped actual or attempted coups in various countries.

Countries should rely on volunteers for their armed forces; if they can't get enough of them, hiring mercenaries is more moral than conscription.

Mark Taha

London SE26

My experience of two years of national service was not dissimilar to that described by Steve Manning (Letters, 19 July). I also quickly learned to "skive," manipulate the system, drink more than was good for me and develop other bad habits. And I wonder how many of those who advocate the return of national service would welcome a camp, on their doorstep, housing several hundred 18- to 20-year-olds who were released to cause mayhem every weekend.

Graham Perkins

Bromyard, Herefordshire

The tragedy of our divided communities

Deborah Orr's article on the incident on her street in which 18-year-old Frederick Moody was stabbed to death (19 July) was very thought-provoking in its description of a community of people living side by side without knowing one another.

This is not exceptional, though. People are both gregarious and defensively territorial at the same time, so like joins like in protective groups. Normally this is beneficial to the members, but enmities with other groups can emerge, often due to religion, and other social factors, inherited from a conservative past, play their part in excluding unwanted individuals or types. People are just "not our sort". In cities especially, a general indifference towards other people completes the picture of isolation.

In the past, people of the same trade would congregate together for commercial convenience until prosperity enabled some to move to more expensive areas, where they might or might not be welcome.

Think also of village life in the past, where newcomers were viewed with suspicion whatever their status and people kept themselves to themselves unless the opportunity for gossip arose. Only major incidents or tragic events can break this self-centred attitude, as Deborah Orr has discovered.

James Snowden


Flawed ideas behind speed cameras

Speed cameras do not work (The Big Question, 16 July). They are always installed where there has been an unusually high collision rate. The consequent reduction in collisions and casualties is due primarily to statistics (as the rate returns to its normal level, known as regression to the mean) and the effects of road engineering and signage. The camera is often given the credit when it has probably not contributed to the improvement.

The speed camera strategy is based on the flawed concept that driving within the speed limit is safe and driving above the limit is not. Neither of these is universally true. A properly set speed limit is a coarse guide to the type of hazard you might expect along a stretch of road. To claim that it is an arbiter of what is safe or not is ludicrous. We drive most safely when we respond to hazards on the road, adjusting our speed and all other aspects of our driving according to those hazards. Cameras introduce an artificial hazard and make our roads less safe; the BBC recently showed footage from the Norfolk Camera Partnership in which cars crashed as a result of braking very hard when they saw a camera.

Many other approaches, such as police patrols, have tangible safety benefits, but they cost money. Cameras have no safety benefit but raise revenue for the Government.

Eric Bridgstock


Peter Greenhalgh of Swindon Borough Council describes the money raised from speed cameras as "a blatant tax on the motorist" ("Council may stop funding speed cameras", 15 July). That's strange because I understood them to be fines incurred by people breaking the law. Or am I missing something? Presumably Mr Greenhalgh will attempt to reclassify community service as a tax on thieves, or prison sentences as a tax on murderers. Or are the 1,000-plus deaths each year caused by excessive speed on British roads not by "proper" criminals?

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

UN referred Sudan President to ICC

Your leading article on the charges against the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, by the International Criminal Court (16 July) seriously misrepresents the court's role and mandate.

The charges against al-Bashir are not, as you suggest, an example of Western grandstanding. It was the UN Security Council, not "the West", that referred Sudan to the ICC in March 2005, after a UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that the evidence from the ground in Darfur warranted such a move. From that moment, the independent prosecutor was bound to follow the trail of evidence and to lay charges against whoever he concluded bore the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed in Darfur.

It is also unreasonable to blame the ICC for its current focus on Africa. Out of the four investigations under way in Africa, three were at the request of African governments and the fourth (Darfur) came as the result of a Security Council referral. It is a shame that The Independent, which did so much to bring the crimes of Darfur to international attention, should now be suggesting that the ICC should back down in the face of intimidation from the Sudanese government.

Thankfully, it is not up to the court to take threats and premature warnings of political disaster into account. But it is now up to the diplomats to support moves towards peace that do not undermine the independent judicial process.

Tom Porteous

London Director, Human Rights Watch, London N1

Italy's role in winning the First World War

Robert Fisk demeans himself with the observation that "the Italians were on 'our' side in the First World War, so it was perhaps only fair that the Germans should have them on their side in the Second" (19 July).

Italy's contribution to "our" side in 1914-18 was not on a level with the Tsarist Russia campaigns, but by bleeding the Austro-Hungarian empire so that Germany eventually had to commit precious strategic reserves to the Italian front, Italy did significantly delay the Russian military and political collapse.

Italy's share in the victory can therefore be considered greater than America's (at least as a combatant, rather than a supplier of munitions). Germany's alliance would quite probably have won, had the imperial possessions of Britain and France supplied troops to Europe as slowly as the US did after declaring war.



We need to detect and treat TB earlier

I disagree with Professor Peter Davies (report, 15 July). TB is not a problem in the UK because of people from Africa and India moving here. In fact, there are parts of Eastern Europe with incidence rates of TB similar to parts of Africa. Air travel is a bigger cause, with people venturing out to far flung places more and more and aeroplane cabins being perfect for spreading the bacilli around the cabins. The theme for World TB day back in 2007 was "TB anywhere is TB everywhere", which highlights the impact of the disease.

The rise in the UK is a combination of this air travel, the denial we seem to have about the resurgence of TB, and the slow/incorrect diagnosis and treatment of patients, allowing TB to spread and become drug-resistant. The fact that we now have XDR-TB (extensively drug-resistant TB), which is virtually untreatable, is down to these factors.

As Professor Davies said, TB takes hold when you have a weakened immune system. That's why the deadly combination of TB and HIV is such a threat. TB is the biggest killer of people with HIV. The TB/HIV combination is allowing TB to spread, which in turn means we need to detect and treat it even faster and more effectively. By not doing this, the TB becomes drug-resistant, making it even more difficult to treat.

Sanjay Vaja


Stage the Olympics in one place

Having just seen reports from China about the brutal eviction of its citizens and the destruction of their homes to make way for the Olympic games, I urge the international community to abandon its ridiculous four-yearly competition between the nations to build Olympic villages at vast expense and, evidently, considerable cost to the poor in some countries.

What is needed is a permanent Olympic village somewhere reasonably stable and secure – Greece or Scandinavia come to mind. Initially, this should be built to the highest specifications by an Olympic committee jointly funded by all countries, and the upkeep and refurbishment paid for by the same means, perhaps according to the number of athletes they have sent over the past 20 years.

Such a facility could perhaps be used as a holiday complex over the off years, requiring only refurbishment in the year preceding the Olympic competition.

Surely anything would be better than allowing (or is it "compelling"?) the host nation to beggar itself and destroy the lives of its own citizens in the construction of increasingly vainglorious Olympic villages.

Jennifer Zass-Ogilvie


French connection

I think there is something more sinister behind the A-level photos than Graham Hines realises (Letters, 19 July). We recently returned from a holiday in France and the regional newspaper where we stayed also had a photo containing only attractive young females looking at their results. I think it must be an EU directive or something.

David McNickle

St Albans, Hertfordshire

House rules

With an elected House of Lords ("Lords reform 'after election'", 15 July), a Government may end up with a majority in both the Commons and the Lords. What would then protect us from the Government using its majorities to force through controversial ideas, despite determined opposition from minority parties? We could learn from the US Senate: there, consensus between three-fifths of the chamber (not just one-half) must be reached if a controversial bill is to be passed.

Mohsin Khan

Wadham College, Oxford

Fairer pay settlements

An easier way to achieve Peter Jermey's aim of avoiding inflation-boosting pay rises (Letters, 19 July) is to give a flat-rate increase. Let us say that an offer of 2.8 per cent has been made to a set of workers. Instead of giving each person 2.8 per cent of his/her present salary, the total sum would be divided by the number of workers, thus producing the rise. This is clearly fair, but would give the lowest paid a much greater percentage increase than those on the highest incomes.

Rod Auton


Show the flag

Graham Beard (Letters, 18 July) is quite right that our flag should be flown the right way up on the Moon. However, unless they are planning to get there by boat, they will be flying the Union Flag rather than, as he suggests, the "Union Jack", which is only flown on the jackstaff on a ship.

Mark Hobbs

Fareham, Hampshire

In time of war

To John Roger Tardif's list of "restrictions of liberty" that were readily accepted by most people in Britain during the Second World War (Letters, 16 July), one could add: no street lights, innumerable shortages, and the rationing of petrol, clothes and most food, including a top limit on the cost of meals in all restaurants. Everyone had to carry a gas-mask when outdoors, and, of course, there was the mandatory National Identity Card, whose number I can still recall.

Ron ShuttlewortH, RCAO 1.55


Over-age sex

Amid the public horror and official amazement about over-age sex (Letters, 16 & 17 July), my husband remarked to me that if they knew about our love life, they'd probably confiscate our bus passes.

Julie Ives