Letters: The failed generation

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The Independent Online

'If it's hard, dinnae bother' could be the motto for some schools

Sir: At the end of each month, I receive a payment in my bank for the years I spent educating the children Johann Hari writes about with such passion (Comment, 2 August). They are indeed as he says, the failed generation.

I taught in a large Scottish comprehensive school in an area with few going to fee-paying schools which had some of the advantages of social mix he speaks warmly about.

It also remained consistently near the bottom of the league tables . How we wished we could improve to being "average". But we never got there despite having a gifted and hard-working staff. Yet we had pupils who got into Russell Group universities, and won prizes. What was wrong? It was the balance of the intake. We had so many from homes with no tradition of ambition or curiosity which Hari correctly identifies as essential for achievement.

I would sum it up in the words of one parent who spoke for thousands, "If my lad enjoys a subject , I say go for it as high as you like. But if it's hard, dinnae bother". Nothing penetrates that barrier, the refusal to make the effort which leads to success in any subject or enterprise. All the staff had to battle against that obstacle and broke through only occasionally.

When the money arrives in my bank, I think I earned it for the few hundreds whose minds I helped to open to the real world.

But I deserve nothing for the thousands who poured through my classroom without caring for the "how?" or "why?" which open doors and starts a lifelong process of learning and growing.

Comprehensives work only with a fair balance of abilities and social background. Overloaded with homes without stimulus and "If it's hard, dinnae bother" will become the school ethos, or even its unwritten motto.



Demand for swift action in Darfur

Sir: The young boy's illustration of the atrocities in Darfur depicted on The Independent front page (2 August) poignantly reminds us of the psychological, emotional and physical impact that the conflict in Darfur has made on so many innocent lives.

For more than four years, terror has raged through these communities, as the people in this western Sudan region have been subjected to mass rape, torture and brutal killings. Such horrific war crimes have been committed largely with impunity.

Amnesty International has persistently called for an effective peacekeeping force for the people of Darfur. Now at last, with a fresh UN resolution agreed, it would seem there's a glimmer of hope.

Good news it would seem. But agreement is just the first step; without delay, the next move is to ensure that an adequately resourced UN-led force is on the ground as soon as possible. Equally important is the continued co-operation of the Sudanese government which has previously been loath to allow a UN force into Darfur.



Sir: Gordon Brown should follow his instincts. Adrian Hamilton ("Why Brown should follow his instincts", Comment, 2 August) restores a lot of faith in the high reputation of the British media, which is known for fairness and level-headed analysis.

That reputation, based on the solid democratic traditions of the UK, was evident after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when British media did not follow just one Soviet-style editorial line.

Uncharacteristically (and unfortunately), there seems to be a unified "line" on Darfur and Sudan, demonising Sudan and unwilling to consider any factors apart from those likely to fortify a preconceived condemnation. The contempt which one reads between the lines often conjures up old concepts of condescension when dealing with another culture which is considered inferior or less worthy of upholding humanitarian standards.

In the wake of the financial scandal which rocked the US-based "Save Darfur Coalition", it turned out that NGOs had a "code of silence" to cover up each others' warts when dealing with Sudan. A British charity blew the whistle.

Mr Hamilton blew another, comparable, whistle when he pointed out the double standards, and called for a policy which promises "real aid and reconstruction" in Darfur. He was probably referring to the fact that African Union peacekeeping officers in Darfur have not been paid for several months, despite EU promises. He is probably aware that the "international community" reneged on promises made in the donors' conference of Oslo in 2005.

The Sudanese government has signed a peace deal in Abuja in 2006 (partly brokered by Britain). That is proof of its intentions. Andrew Natsios (the US special envoy) has described the deal as "fair".

The rebels who rejected it (and those who encourage them) are to blame for the continued conflict. But Sudan as a whole is targeted.

Mr Brown has a golden opportunity to steer a course of reconciliation different from the aggressive rhetoric of biased advocacy groups and their Hollywood celebrities who are now "experts" on the fate of countries, overriding and replacing the considered experience of professional career diplomats and political analysts.



The real reason for our crowded trains

Sir: It is so misleading for Ruth Kelly to promise 1,300 new rail carriages to appear in 10 or so years, and for the media to swallow this spin, when hundreds of perfectly good carriages and locos are hidden on military bases around the country.

Many are in top condition (which is why they are kept safe from vandals) and could be rolling again in hours. Some are scrapped when they have years of life left (never used in a few cases) or given to other countries at bargain prices.

It is a scandal. I have seen some of these in the course of writing a book on the subject. The real reason why people are having to stand on trains for hours and suffering unbearable overcrowding is that the same Government has demanded billions of pounds from certain train operating companies.

The result is that GNER has given up hopes of breaking even on its franchise (it is caretaking the service) and South West Trains and First Great Western are being squeezed of every penny by a rapacious Treasury, contrary to public perceptions of subsidy.

Faced with this demand, can they afford to lease extra carriages (BR would have just rolled them out of the sidings at times of peak demand) when the equally greedy rolling-stock companies want £100,000 to roll out even a clapped-out old BR train that paid for itself years ago? No. The only answer is to charge people more and more, and cram them in. People blame the rail operating companies when it is the Labour Government turning the screw.

Look at your £50 ticket. In the Midlands, West and South, you are being charged £15 too much. In Scotland, Wales and the North of England - strangely, all Labour strongholds - the ticket should cost at least £15 more, or sometimes twice as much, but it is subsidised (and I don't argue with that).



Another look at Israel's history

Sir: Evan Jones claims that in 1947 Jews owned about 6 per cent of Mandatory territory (letter, 28 July).

According to the 1946 Survey of Palestine, 8.4 per cent was Jewish-owned, 6.8 per cent wholly Arab-owned, 21.8 per cent was Bedouin grazing land and Arab wasteland (not then legally ownable), and the majority was state-owned by Britain, and Turkey before that.

Under the 1947 UN partition plan (rejected by the Arabs), Israel would have consisted mostly of the southern desert lands, which still form much of her area.

Mr Jones also claims that Arab states bore no responsibility for Palestinian refugees of 1947-48. In fact, many were exhorted to leave by Arab leaders to simplify the intended Arab assault on the Jewish population.

In the few years from 1947, a similar number of Jewish refu-gees from Arab countries was created as vice versa. Both are exceeded numerically by Christians fleeing persecution in Arab territories in the past two decades (unlike in Israel, where Christians and Muslims also prosper).

Those concerned to prevent new refugees should look to contest implementation of biofuel targets by EU and other countries. These are encouraging the displacement of thousands, potentially millions, of people in the global South to make way for plantations.



Sir Ian Blair unfit for senior management

Sir: Although no one would contemplate accusing Sir Ian Blair of lying, he is surely guilty of being unfit for senior management. You do not need a degree in business or military history to understand that one of the key roles of a senior officers or managers is to handle crises which persons lower down in the structure cannot deal with, be it for reasons of competence or protocol.

It is, therefore, a requirement that subordinates are encouraged to pass information concerning such crises rapidly up the chain until the buck stops and the issue can be dealt with appropriately.

In the tragic case of Mr de Menezes, the devastating fact that the man shot dead was an innocent victim would have serious consequences for the Metropolitan Police which needed to be addressed speedily by its head. The fact that Sir Ian was not informed until 18 hours after journalists were suggests his management style is such that his subordinates are, for whatever reasons, reluctant to be the bearers of bad news.

That suggests he cannot be relied on to know about crises early enough to deal with them and that, in turn, makes him unfit for his office.



Justice for the dead of Rwanda

Sir: The arrest of two alleged suspects in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who have been living a carefree life in France for more than a decade, brings new hope to the survivors that justice might yet overcome politics.

One of the accused, the Catholic priest, Wenceslas Munyeshiaka, who fled to France after the genocide, has been sheltered by the church and the religious order, the White Fathers, despite survivors filing charges against him in the French courts since 1995. Witnesses accuse him of helping the militia choose Tutsis in his church to be killed while keeping safe young Tutsi girls for his own sexual pleasure.

Along with a former prefect, Laurent Bucyibaruta, he has managed to escape justice because of the poor relations between France and Rwanda. Both face charges before the International Court in Arusha of genocide, and crimes against humanity.

It is hoped by victims and survivors of the genocide that this is a real sign by the new Sarkozy government that it will put justice before petty, inter-state squabbles. And that the French government finally begins the path to accepting and apologising for its own role in supporting, militarily, politically and financially, a regime that murdered one million Rwandans.



Briefly... Wise words

Sir: As I read the letter from Dr Ian Morris (1 August), I was reminded of the distinguished Canadian physician Sir Wil-liam Osler (1849 -1919) who stated: "The first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine." I stuck the quote above my desk on becoming a GP 26 years ago. How far we have travelled.



War criminals

Sir: It's good news that the first of the Khmer Rouge mass murderers has been brought to justice (front page, 1 August); let's hope the others come without delay. But it's worth reminding ourselves that the US supported the Khmer Rouge during the Vietnam war, and British Special Forces helped train them. Let us remember too, that during the Vietnam war, under Henry Kissinger, US carpet bombing of Cambodia and Laos killed two million innocent civilians. If war criminal are to be brought to justice, this should apply to all war criminals.



Hordes of herons

Sir: Re your article "Rare species suffer as floods wash away young" (31 July), you say purple herons are "usually found in Africa and Asia", but they are also commonly found in summer in southern Europe (with a few breeding in Holland). I've seen "countless numbers" in Europe and I have recorded them seven times (mainly in Sussex) in the UK.



Bankable Festival

Sir:In Rob Sharp's debate on the Edinburgh Festival ("The Big Question", 2 August), he says this is the first year the International Festival has been privately sponsored. This will come as a surprise to the Bank of Scotland, which has supported the Festival every year since its inception more than 60 years ago, and to the many other businesses that have generously sponsored Festival events. All the Edinburgh festivals attract business support and have always done so.



Shakespeare's got it

Sir: Your correspondent is right: 'Tis time to take up arms against the creeping Americanisms that invade your newspaper (letter, 30 June). We're told the enemy hath gotten Canary Wharf, the citizens fly and forsake their houses (Henry VI, part II: Act IV, scene iv). But shall it be said that we hath lost all that which our forebears had gotten? (Henry VI, part III: III, iii). No! doubt not of the day, and, that once gotten, doubt not of large pay (Henry VI, part III: IV, vii). Then may we all be gotten in drink: is not the humour conceited? (The Merry Wives of Windsor, I, iii).



In tune

Sir: Pace David McNickle ("Musical Star", letter, 28 July): If Holst's The Planets is not World Music, many times over, I don't know what is.