"We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality," said Lord Macaulay. Yes, indeed. And as the current hysteria over the possible peccadilloes of a defunct TV personality starkly demonstrates, no spectacle so vitriolic.
Whatever one thinks of J Savile – and I couldn't stand the sight or sound of him – he has been neither tried nor convicted for any of the allegations that are now belatedly surfacing against him. And it is rather too late to ask him, in the interests of justice, to present his side of the matter. Yet we are now witnessing a frenzied damnatio memoriae that is reminiscent of Neronian Rome or Stalinist Russia. His gravestone is uprooted, the inscription ground off and the stone broken and cast into a landfill; memorial plaques are torn down; street names are changed (does that include Savile Row?); trusts and charities cast off his cursed tag; the PM has raised the possibility of posthumously stripping from the dead the honours bestowed in life.
Why stop here? Let's dig up his corpse and hang it out to rot at Tyburn. Why not incinerate every vintage tape of Top of the Pops and Jim'll Fix It on a bonfire in Trafalgar Square and invite every British child to make a "Jimmy" of canvas sacks and straw that can burn in towns across the land?
When Oscar Wilde was condemned and sentenced for his sexual escapades (and by Esther Rantzen's standards he would today be classified as a serial sexual predator), he was abused and pilloried in the press and publishers and theatre managers withdrew his works. But he was soon rehabilitated and his tomb in Paris is now smothered with kisses and messages of goodwill. These days it seems you don't even have to be tried and sentenced for the site of your last resting place to be obliterated by demented bigotry.
You ask why nobody stopped Jimmy Savile (front page, 12 October). But when did senior management ever take heed of warnings from junior staff? Disastrous investments; unworkable organisational structures; outsourcing to unreliable contractors; botched marketing campaigns; safety procedures ignored – I've witnessed all of these things in my career. Too many people at the top are better at office politics than at doing their jobs. Too many bosses are remote from those who have to implement their plans and/or live with the consequences.
Steeple Claydon, Buckinghamshire
The 'war to end all wars' is still being fought
How very heartening to hear that David Cameron is supporting national plans to commemorate the centenary of the First World War (report, 12 October), and has, quite rightly, pledged a large amount of public money to ensure our nation remembers all that happened during those four cataclysmic years.
He has suggested commemorating key 1914-18 dates, with those of the Somme and Passchendaele being the obvious ones. I am sure he will be aware that the First World War was exactly that and didn't happen only on the evocative battlefields of the Western Front; 1916 is important for not just the battles of the Somme; it was also the date of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Britain and France managed to carve up what was Mesopotamia, thereby sowing the seeds of much of the present-day Middle Eastern conflicts. As today's news emphasises, that "war to end all wars" is still being fought.
So... an idea for Dave (and Tony, our illustrious Middle East Peace Envoy, who will be sure to leap on all available bandwagons) to make a special contribution to Remembrance: a promise never again to try to impose our agenda on another culture for our own economic greed.
Douglas, Isle of Man
I've just been listening to David Cameron's speech outlining plans for commemorating the start of the catastrophe that was the First World War. Truly, I am shocked and disappointed by its nationalistic tone. The Prime Minister mentioned our allied countries and the numbers of their dead, but said nothing of the suffering of our enemies. Yes, the German Kaiser was mainly responsible, but his people and their allies suffered as much as ours.
Great works of literature, art and music have been and are being produced throughout the century by people from all countries involved, in response to the war. Does this country really need to put on a protracted commemoration at all?
My German-born son-in-law, an academic historian who has made his career at British universities, told me once that in his dreams, the politicians managed to avert the war in 1914. But the consequences of that war, and its equally awful successor, mean that his bi-lingual son, aged nine, was taunted at school this very week with cries of "Heil Hitler" from his classmates.
More problematically, how should Germany commemorate the First World War's centenary? Unleashed by the gratuitous invasion of Belgium and France by Kaiser Wilhelm after 99 years of relative peace and progress, then "spurred on by priest and politician", it led inexorably not only to its own unprecedented slaughter, but caused the premature and violent destruction or demise of five empires, Lenin's Bolshevik coup, the Great Depression, the Stalinist and Maoist nightmares (not yet totally eradicated), Hitler's Nazism, the even more destructive Second World War, Holocaust and Knights of Bushido, and the current insoluble agonies in the Middle East.
Die Sunden der Vater (or grandfathers) should not be visited on their children, but they have certainly been visited globally on countless hundreds of millions since that fateful 4 August 1914 created the ghastly 20th century from whose baleful legacy, with luck, we may emerge by the 22nd.
Germany is fortunate that its Länder also produced beneficent geniuses such as Bach, Beethoven, Schiller, Goethe, Kant, Daimler, Benz, Diesel, Rontgen and Hoffmann – but can even they balance the above horrors?
A permanent UN army is needed
The escalating crisis in Syria (report, 5 October) demonstrates once again the impotence of the UN to prevent conflict between sovereign states. If the UN had its own permanent military force with a mandate to act whenever the territory of a sovereign nation is attacked, then the risk of an escalation of conflict caused by Turkey's need to defend itself from Syria's cross-border aggression would be eliminated.
Surely the time has now arrived for a complete rethink by the global community on the role of the Security Council and the madness of allowing a situation to continue whereby a single vote from one of the Council's five permanent members can cause the deaths or mutilation of tens of thousands, and incalculable destruction.
There is a global solution; for the UN to have its own permanent armed military intervention force. Such a force was envisaged in the original UN Charter but was never implemented, mainly due to the Cold War. Since then, several concepts have emerged for the creation and maintenance of a permanent UN force, not least by the prestigious Royal United Services Institute which, in a study paper in 2008, concluded that a standing United Nations intervention force was feasible.
This force would not be dependent on the political vagaries of "Troop Contributing Countries", as is the case today, but would consist of professional UN troops – recruited, trained and deployed by the UN.
It's not so simple to shoot a burglar
To shoot a burglar I'd have to traverse two flights of stairs, open four doors, collect the keys from one location, open the gun safe and ammo store in a different location, assemble the gun and load it. I think the burglar would notice and might, conceivably, cavil.
When not in use, firearms are legally required to be stored unloaded in a locked gunsafe with the ammo stored separately. No mention has been made in the most recent cases of "shot burglar" of how the circumstances squared with these regulations.
Given the flimsy nature of most modern houses it is also worth noting that a modern rifle bullet of modest calibre might well traverse a number of walls in more than one house – and anything in between.
The proposed change in a householder's rights of self-defence needs a lot of careful thought. Writing as a gun owner, I would prefer that guns were left out of it, or the antis might be given scope to impede legal, well-regulated gun ownership even more.
Cameron's perplexing advice
David Cameron's recent speech at the Conservative party conference raises more questions than answers: "Get a job and save for a flat." I cannot really believe I heard this, but I did. How? is the question. Save from what? A minimum wage the lowest in Europe? An average wage the lowest in Europe? With a cost of living the highest in Europe?
And, is all this after workers have paid back the money they have borrowed for their university education? Is all this after the worker has bought shares in the company he works for, with no job security to secure a mortgage?
The concept of an "aspiration nation" would be more comfortable if the aspirational nature being promoted was more caring. All the current models seem to encourage people to aspire to climb the ladder by trampling on the people on the rungs below.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Adrian Hamilton writes (12 October), "So now we're to have a referendum in Scotland on independence." But what about the rest of us who will have no say in whether our country is dismembered or not? This is an outrage and Salmond should not be allowed to get away with this grubby backroom deal with the Prime Minister.
The choice is not between "life" and an abortion; it is between clean legal abortions and dirty illegal abortions. As a medical student during the 1950s I was among those who worked late into the night trying to save distressed young women. Tragically many died of infection or haemorrhage. Do some really want the world of Vera Drake to return?
Dr Peter Saundby
Ian Burford (Letters, 11 October) needs to remember that the Oxford English Dictionary ("on historical principles") is not normative but descriptive: it records how words have been used. After Elton John, along with many others, marries his partner, and refers to him as his husband, I'm sure the OED in its next revision of the word will record that fact too.
Martin A Smith