Letters: The armed forces

An unreal obsession with 'punching above our weight'

David Speight (letters, 20 July) has it precisely the wrong way round. Rather than the country having armed forces unable to fulfill their role because of defence cuts, we have armed forces we cannot afford, because the government has imposed a role that is simply beyond our means.

Instead of complaining that we should throw even more resources at our bloated defence budget, Mr Speight would be better employed arguing that Britain should adopt its true place in the order of things instead of acting like an overinflated leftover from our imperial days. The ridiculous obsession with us "punching above our weight" is the real cause of the problems, and the sooner this is recognised the sooner we can join the real world. And it won't be before time.

Dr Richard Carter

London SW15

Does anyone really believe that further fighting will extirpate the Taliban from Afghanistan after eight years of war have failed to achieve this? Is it credible that this would make the UK less at risk from terrorism? Would it not rather provoke Islamic extremists further? There is no military solution to Islamic terrorism. Our defence must come from police work, and from a sustained demonstration to ordinary Muslims that western democracy is not at war with Islam.

Julian Gardiner

Elstree, Hertfordshire

How brave and generous of the Thatcher family to pass on the letters of their boy, Cyrus (front page, 17 July). I had been sending care parcels to Afghanistan; after reading those letters, I went out and bought long and hard. And I thought how pathetic my gesture was when measured against this sacrifice.

Karen Sanger

Enfield, Middlesex

Learn to rely on the professionals

As a new reader, I was very pleased to see your leading article (18 July) on regulation and trust. The controversy over the paedophile vetting schemes is one more symptom of the senseless application of regulation to public life which is destroying what little trust we have in public services.

During a career in health service management, I watched the development of regulation in the health service, and, while it has brought some benefits, it now risks strangling the system of trust and professional discretion essential to its proper and safe functioning.

Over the past few years, we have become obsessed with measuring the actions of all of those involved in providing public services and increasingly obsessed with measuring everything that they do until every last part of the process is recorded, documented, monitored and validated.

It is not surprising that those who have entered medicine, nursing, teaching or one of the other public service professions become disillusioned when their discretion for initiative and personalised practice is all but taken away.

It is clear that the processes that are being set in train to measure and regulate behaviour are providing us with more and more information. The problem now is interpreting and understanding the information and deciding what it is telling us. We stand in grave danger of failing to see the wood for the trees and increasing, rather than reducing, the alienation between those who receive and those who provide services.

To escape from this vicious downward spiral of information, (which tells us less and less) and individuals working harder and harder to look good under each new measure, we need to draw back and find a new way of looking at the problem.

We need to recognise that we cannot plug every gap with rules and regulations and we must restore freedom and discretion to respected highly trained and qualified professionals.

Dr Derek Mitchell

Ashford, Kent

Shocking example of education today

It is little wonder we are all ill-educated. My 16-year-old son has just left comprehensive school after having taken 12 GCSEs. A brief assessment of his "education" may explain. In English literature for example he has read no single English novel. He took German but on a family visit to Germany last year found it impossible to order in a bakery, and was very upset about it. His teacher wasn't surprised since she is obliged to teach, "My bed is next to my desk" and, "I have one older brother".

He has left school knowing no works by classical composers, has no idea how to cook a decent meal, hasn't visited any of the local museums or places of interest and struggles to find cities on a map of the UK. In a test, his fellow students failed to find Cardiff, Edinburgh or even London.

Sports lessons wholly avoided using the four tennis courts available, and rarely used the all-weather pitch or athletics track, concentrating on football. The two items he made in "Resistant Materials" (woodwork) had to be planned in triplicate before he was allowed loose on the equipment, not conducive to spontaneity or a mind that works by experimentation.

Although some have their doubts about home education, I would like to suggest that it goes on in every household where parents care about the education their child is receiving in school.

There are such huge gaps and oversights that not to play a part in equipping your child for life would be an abdication of parental responsibility. Rather than home educators being called on to justify their decision, perhaps it should be those parents who send their children to school, without questioning the education, or influences their child will receive, who should be asked how they will be making up the educational shortfall.

Helen-Jane Burton

Brinsley, Nottingham

Laughable loyalty to Iran's despots

Darius Guppy's letter (21 July) is a laughable piece of blind loyalty to the Iranian despotic theocrats, far from an impartial analysis of the diabolical events in Tehran (and across the country). He neglects to discuss the frankly pathetic attempts of the Iranian government to smear "the West" (who are simultaneously "mindless, McDonald's-munching slaves") as having orchestrated a revolt in the Islamic "Republic", the actions of a government with something to hide.

The inhabitants of Iran are, by and large, lovely people for whom the events of "the Revolution" (capitalised) are now firmly in the history books, and want little more than a prosperous state which functions as an elected democracy, but are beaten – and shot – for having the gall to take to the streets in protest.

The "recent times" that Britain, Russia and the USA have "meddled", in the words of the writer, by supplying Saddam Hussein, are more than two decades in the past. The recent detente between Barack Obama and Tehran demonstrate an intent to repair the damage done by past administrations.

Calum Rogers

London SE21

Darius Guppy's description of the Iranian elections as "an endorsement of the system" (letters, 21 July) is a studied insult to the thousands of Iranian leftists who were physically liquidated by that system, and the remnants who were judicially banned from standing in those elections.

As for "mindless McDonald's-munching slaves of Mammon", class arrogance is no substitute for social awareness. It is very clear what this particular Old Etonian thinks of the lower orders who "munch" at McDonald's, rather than dine at the Bullingdon Club.

Guppy's evident contempt for Iran's crushed workers' movement seems to be rivalled only by his contempt for the "western" masses.

Peter McKenna


I was pleased to read Darius Guppy's views, supporting the official election results in Iran. Mr Guppy has close relations in Iran, so I'm sure his information is accurate.

Given his history, I think he would be an excellent candidate to head the Iranian election commission.

Robert Sather

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

If Capa faked it, that doesn't matter

The unresolved debate about Robert Capa's Falling Soldier never ceases to amaze me (report, 21 July). It stems from the naïve presumption that photographs mirror reality. They seldom do. There is a gap between reality and representation.

Beyond the margin of every image is a reality that was present at the time, one that the photographer tried to eliminate from the frame and that we shall never see. Most of us taking photographs have staged images to some degree, selected our subjects, framed them in a particular light and excluded others. Is it so reprehensible – or indeed, important – that Capa might have gone a step or two further and called on an actor in a location as yet untouched by the war to represent what was, without doubt, the reality of the Spanish Civil War?

Photographs have a life of their own. They do not belong either to the moment when they were taken, or to the subject they frame or, indeed, even to the photographer who took them. Instead, they bear an import that is based upon their symbolic value.

What matters is not whether or not the facts surrounding the taking of Capa's photograph were real or staged: what matters is that the image of the falling Republican soldier spoke eloquently to the world of a war that was raging. The photograph does not offer veracity; it offers verisimilitude, the unreal appearance of a reality that is real. It remains a moving icon of death in the moment of making, and symbolises the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War.

Parvati Nair

Professor of Hispanic Cultural Studies at Queen Mary, University of London E1

Robert Capa's accusers reveal unclear motives in the language they use. To claim he has been "exposed" for "faking" his shot of the Falling Soldier, that it was "a flagrant fake, a setup", and that he is challenged by the "damning reminiscence" of a local resident (aged nine at the time), all this tells us more about the critics than about Capa.

Even if there are doubts about the authenticity of this "classic image of war", its functional impact surely matters more than to insist that "facts" are "sacred". Of course there are questions about Spanish Civil War narratives, descriptive or pictorial. But what of the hidden political bias which might also influence responses to such a photo?

John Manning


If Robert Capa's Falling Soldier photograph is a fake, we might remember Picasso's remark: "Art is a lie that helps us realise truth."

David Ainley

Matlock, Derbyshire


Trust the research

Your correspondent has diabetes, Type 2 (letters, 21 July). There is no evidence from trials that regular blood-sugar monitoring improves diabetic control (but using the bathroom scales might). He is under the misapprehension that he is suffering from a goverment cash-saving initiative, not from good clinical research.

Dr Martin Nicholas

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Christianity's martyrs

I am confused by Martin Hughes (letters, 21 July) who wrote, "The early defenders of the faith knew they couldn't afford to be on the wrong side of popular prejudice". This would have come as a surprise to the thousands of Christians martyred on the wrong side of popular prejudice. The early Church was a tiny minority in a hyper-sexualised, multi-faith, multi-cultural society. But, in the fourth century, the Roman emperors recognised political reality, the Church sold out, and Christendom was born.

Rev David E Flavell

Hexham, Northumberland

It's a western wing

Andrew Buncombe's interesting article about the potential migration of the dragonfly Pantala flavescans (report, 21 July) places the monarch butterfly emigration in north-eastern USA. Actually, they home in on California where they return each year to a particular small wood in Asilomar, covering the trees as densely as leaves. As Karen Oberhauser says, the wonders of evolution never cease to amaze.

Dr A R Williamson

Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Buck up, you MPs

The mantra of modern politics bangs on about efficiency, accountability, and ensuring best value. If the corrupt actions of (a few) political colleagues have marred the working ambiance within Westminster ("Holiday from hell", 21 July), the least they can do collectively is to stop whingeing about their lot and be more enthusiastic about the change that is called for.

Mick Collins


Not a pretty picture

The school holidays are here again and I'd just like to say how much I'm looking forward to the publication of exam results and seeing on TV and in newspapers those envelopes being opened by students who are universally white, female, slim, attractive and of middle-class appearance. Just where do all the male, black, Asian, overweight, plain, ugly, disabled or working-class students go at this time? It really is a mystery.

Stanley Knill

London N15