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Wednesday 5 November 2008
Letters: 'War crimes' at Agincourt
Shakespeare and the Agincourt 'war crime'
Jerome Taylor is right to think Shakespeare had doubts about the massacre of prisoners at Agincourt ("Once more unto the breach", 1 November). But his play does not support the claim that he covered up for his "heroic" Henry V by inventing a story that French nobles had killed a boy [sic] on the baggage train. Overwrought, Shakespeare's Henry in fact orders the massacre when he hears the French are regrouping: "But hark, what new alarum is this same? The French have reinforced their scattered men. Then every soldier kill his prisoners."
The next scene follows immediately with Fluellen's ironic comment on reports that the enemy has retaliated, "Kill the poys and the luggage! 'Tis expressly against the law of arms." So, though it may be true that no historian would view Henry as a war criminal, Shakespeare carefully staged the sequence of events to make it arguable. And when Gower then rewrites history to blame the French, the effect is surely meant to be devastating: "Beside they have burned and carried away all that was in the King's tent, wherefore the King most worthily hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner's throat. O 'tis a gallant king." Shakespeare's Henry V is no hero.
Professor Richard Wilson
Neither Henry V's strategic vision nor the French tactics can be seriously defended (letters, 3 November), but no consequences? First, the campaign took Harfleur, an immensely important commercial port. Second, Henry was the rightful king of France, his claim deniable only by something called the Salic Law that was cut out of the whole cloth by pseudo-scholars at the Sorbonne in 1337 and had no historical justification. As a result of the battle, his son was crowned King of France in Paris. No result?
Henry's order to kill the prisoners was entirely justified because a small French raiding party had attacked his baggage train and massacred the boys and cripples guarding it. There were so many prisoners and so many weapons lying about that to have allowed them to continue alive would have posed an unacceptable threat to his army which, rather than the humanitarian susceptibilities of your correspondent, had to be his primary concern.
Tide running for green energy
News that a staggering 10.5 gigawatts (GW) of wind-energy projects are stuck in the planning system (report, 3 November) raises serious concerns about Britain's ability to meet binding EU renewable targets, and also highlights the fact that Britain's renewable portfolio is not as balanced as it should be.
Tidal energy is a more reliable renewable energy source but receives comparatively little financial and governmental support. Wind developments regularly incur strong and well-organised local opposition, which can hold up and even block plans. The environmental impact of tidal energy is less than wind: some tidal systems can be based on the seabed and are therefore invisible.
The British coastline is more than 11,000 miles long and has some of the highest tidal ranges in the world. Tapping into this free, continually renewed and predictable energy source, could provide up to 20 per cent of our electricity, and it would incur less resistance, if not none at all.
Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, London SW1
I went to a talk on Europe by Ed Miliband, the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, at Cambridge University. But I was very concerned with his response to questions concerning climate change. He admitted that the first time he understood the issue of climate change was when he watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, released on DVD in November 2006.
That means the man responsible for climate change for the UK has understood the issue for under two years, although it has been known about for decades. He also admitted that climate change and energy were things he was still "getting to grips with".
That shows how seriously this government takes the issue of climate change.
Joe Rinaldi Johnson
Homerton College, Cambridge University
David "Vote Blue to go Green" Cameron obviously doesn't understand what it means to truly go green. Otherwise why would he agree to jet around Europe to a clandestine meeting with a newspaper tycoon and then a meeting with Georgia's President (report, 24 October)?
The Conservatives really have a problem with their so-called green credentials. They want domestic flights to be replaced by high-speed rail. They oppose a third runway at Heathrow. But then they accept lifts in private jets at the drop of a hat.
Perhaps as well as the usual Commons register of interests we should be asking MPs to also register their carbon footprints. Perhaps then we could see just how serious the Conservative Party really is about green issues.
Dr Hazel Dawe
Chair, Kent Green Party, Tonbridge
Boris is right about Thames airport
Labour politicians and the business and banking community have been trying hard to rubbish the idea of a new airport in the Thames estuary (report, 27 October) but their arguments are not only unconvincing but nearly always misleading and untrue.
They have been trying to make out that Boris Johnson is a fool, when he is brighter and more forward-thinking than any of them. Of course Willie Walsh at British Airways does not want a new airport anywhere else; it is not in his short-term interest; but Boris knows that a bigger offshore airport is in the long-term interest of London and the whole country.
We need a four- or maybe six-runway airport to compete with the rest of Europe, and maybe, looking to the future, longer runways for larger and more environmentally friendly aircraft. We need a more modern, efficient hub airport that can actually cope with the volume of people and freight and is a welcoming and relaxing environment to be in. Heathrow is a planning mess.
We also need London to be a safe and unpolluted place that people want to live in and visit. Quality of life in this garden city should not be compromised by continual aircraft noise. If Labour politicians listened to Londoners, rather than the vested interests of Heathrow airport and the City, they would know that noise pollution and safety was a big issue.
Financing is not an enormous problem. If you added the cost of the third runway, which will include the compulsory purchase of a whole village, to the cost of so-called Crossrail, which is little more than a bankers' City express train to Heathrow, you would have over half the funding for a Thames estuary airport already. And then you have the sale of the land.
Now is the time to invest in a new airport for the future, particularly if we want London to maintain its status as one of the main cultural, financial and trade centres of the world. We do not need to continue with the bodged mistakes of the past and continually kowtow to vested interests. Boris has got it right.
James R Marsh
Manuel is a big hit in Madrid
Your correspondents Vincent Campbell (31 October) and Robert Canning (4 November) debate whether the portrayal of Manuel in Fawlty Towers was a case of racial stereotyping of Spanish people as stupid.
A few years ago my son, who was teaching English to an adult class in Madrid, told me that he was taking back some videos of Fawlty Towers to show to his students. I said that surely they would be deeply offended by the character of Manuel. His answer was that, on the contrary, a group of Madrileños would be delighted to see someone from Barcelona depicted as stupid and comical.
Stop-and-search powers abused
Concerns about police stop-and-search procedures (letter, 28 October) are timely. I am a black, mixed-race citizen who has no criminal record, but I have lost count of the stop-and-searches I've had to endure.
I've been held in a strangle-hold outside my local sports centre and released only when officers in an overhead police helicopter confirmed I was not a fleeing suspect. I've been made to wait standing in the rain on the way back from the supermarket while amused officers in a dry van took my details.
To minimise my stop-and-search delays, I now have my academic title prominent on my ID. But this is no simple special pleading for my case. Since New Labour came to office, we've had the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, the further inexcusable Forest Gate shooting, the Metropolitan Black Police Association's condemnation of institutional racism plus alleged racist practices perpetrated against Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and Commander Ali Dizaei.
Under New Labour, is institutional racism in the Met still flourishing?
Dr Gavin Lewis
Silly money for misbehaving on air
There has been much comment about the salaries paid to exemplars of boorish society such as Ross and Brand. I was struck by the comparison with salaries for jobs such as one advertised in last week's New Scientist.
A product safety manager for one of our major grocers would "audit suppliers of high-risk products and manage projects to establish the microbial safety and quality of food produce". The salary for someone who stops us being poisoned is in the range of £25-35,000, as against £6m for someone who behaves like an immature 14-year-old.
At the bus stop last week, I was initially disconcerted to hear a man shouting a diatribe of personal abuse into his mobile phone. Someone was being described as lacking any sexual morality, whilst the "f" word was used in one memorable sentence as a verb, noun and adjective. Realising the obvious discomfort of the three strangers in the queue, he ended his call and said to us: "I do apologise about that; I was just leaving a message on Andrew Sachs's answerphone!"
Richard O Smith
US elections foretold
In his 1955 short story "Franchise", the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted that the 2008 US presidential election would be decided by a computer, based on answers given by just one ordinary man-in-the-street to a series of oblique questions. The whole process lasted less than a week. What a contrast to the year-long media circus that has accompanied the real-life process.
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
I believe political correctness has had a part to play in our current economic situation. Back in the 1970s we all talked about some potential borrowers as being a "bad risk". The rise of PC thinking swept aside such "judgemental" notions and led to the coining of new phrases to describe the challenged. "Bad risk" became sub-prime and got their loans and mortgages anyway. Now we are all suffering for such inappropriate kindness.
You report that 57 per cent of 16- to 17-year-old girls have not been taught to use a condom (The Big Question, 24 October). Eh? I always thought it was boys who should be taught to use one. On the other hand, could it be that society is placing the onus of responsibility in a sexual relationship on to the girl? As usual, women doing all the work.
Peter Saundby (letter, 28 October) refers to the Office of Manpower Economics as "a branch of the Treasury". I should like to clarify that OME is not a branch of the Treasury: it is an independent body providing support to the pay review bodies that exist to make recommendations to the Government on the remuneration of groups of public sector workers.
Director, Office of Manpower Economics, London SE1
Addicts in the cold
Peter J Brown (letter, 3 November) laments the sight of "smokers outside pubs and clubs in the cold". As an anti- smoking doctor I cannot share his sympathy for such people, but the appearance outside hospital entrances of seriously ill patients in wheel-chairs, "drips" running, with cigarettes in hand, seriously concerns me. Isolated smoking rooms within hospitals should surely be provided for such clearly addicted individuals.
Ripponden, West Yorkshire
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