Letters: War is futile, so why celebrate it?



The suggestion by the Western Front Association (letters, 23 October) that certain battles in the Great War be given centennial celebrations should be consigned to the same bin as the Prime Minister's ridiculous intention to spend £50m of our money to celebrate the beginning of the most futile war in history.

My father, who joined the army in August 1914, was in the Battle of the Somme and saw his boyhood friend killed by his side. He would never speak of his experiences, except once to point out to me, then a child, a group of ex-soldiers walking in file, one of them playing a harmonica, begging for pennies. "That's all they're worth now," he said.

He hated the military, never wore a poppy and thought war memorials an excuse to hide guilt. I know about the Somme only because he wrote a poem condemning war's futility.

I can only assume he joined up because of the excitement war engendered and perhaps as an escape from the harshness of pre-war conditions in the building trade. I felt a similar excitement in 1940 when, meeting my older brother as his ship docked, I decided to go to sea myself, a decision I never regretted.

Certainly, young people should be taught about past wars, and shown that war hardly ever made a bad situation better and almost always created worse problems for future generations.

John Scase

Andover, Hampshire


Professor Hugh Brogan calls for rededication, in memory of the First World War, to the rule of law and international morality. But the people of the time did not lack dedication to these things, only agreement about them.

The first ingredient of the 39-Day Crisis (39 steps to war) was a terrorist outrage against Austria, involving Serbs. The Austrians and their German allies had doubts and debates but finally provided the second ingredient, an ultimatum.

But ultimatums severely restrict negotiation and presuppose that the victims of terrorism may free themselves to a significant degree from the usual international norms so, in the British opinion, the Germans were going too far. Who was in the right?

We are no clearer now than in 1914 over what the justifiable responses to terrorism or emergency restrictions on national sovereignty are.

Martin Hughes

Wokingham, Berkshire


Professor Peter Simkins is wrong to simplify the First World War into a period of failure followed by the successful 1918 Hundred Days campaign.

In 1918, Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig had lost his nerve and nearly advised the Government to sue for peace., while ordering more grinding frontal attacks which cost Britain and the Comonwealth a further 400,000 casualties

Zealots launched pointless attacks minutes before the ceasefire began at 11am. If we remember this sacrifice, let's remember 1918 not as a victory, but a chilling lesson in how not to conclude a war.

Ian McKenzie



Quake jailings a threat to hazard science

The fear of litigation, imprisonment and substantial fines hangs over EU science because six EU scientists have been sentenced to six years' imprisonment and a €9m fine (23 October). Before the earthquake at L'Aquila, Italy, scientific information was provided that was open to misinterpretation and may have been taken by some as an assurance of safety (low risk).

The earthquake was catastrophic, causing more than 300 deaths and significant property damage. If this judgment survives the appeals process, it will do untold damage to the science of hazard prediction, involving understanding the timing and scale of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, climate change etc.

Much better that we attract as many young scientific minds as possible to this important field of study, increasing the chance of breakthroughs. It would be a retrograde step if the sentence is upheld, rendering all of us less likely to offer "public" statements or to serve on public bodies.

Professor Martin Menzies

Royal Holloway University of London

Dr Michael Branney

University of Leicester

Dr Joachim Gottsman

University of Bristol

Professor Agust Gudmundsson

Royal Holloway University of London

Professor Peter Kokelaar

University of Liverpool

Dr Colin Macpherson

Durham University


In the arena with Select Committee

I watched George Entwistle's appearance in front of the Select Committee and was left wondering about its purpose.

It's a strange format where a chairman and half a dozen other MPs are allowed to be as rude and unpleasant as they like and their victim is expected to sit there and take it with a smile. Entwistle came over to me as a decent man grappling with a difficult problem.

He admitted things had been mishandled in some areas, he explained why he took so long to put out the correction of the blog (and who can blame him with the rest of the media analysing every word and jumping on anything perceived to be inconsistent), he explained that he had set up two independent inquiries, he explained why he tried not to interfere with editorial decisions, and he explained the management structures and processes in the BBC. That his answers were received with sneering disbelief didn't, in my view, invalidate them.

The idea put forward by one member of the committee that the BBC should be run like a chain of supermarkets pointed to their incompetence to make any comment on the management structure of the BBC. If that's their object (and it isn't clear to me what their purpose is) the best place for their report will be the nearest waste-paper basket.

Nick Collier

London N5


The British media have made the Jimmy Savile allegations the greatest story on earth, displacing the US election, Islamist terror and even global warming.

Yet with Savile dead, damned and gone for ever it is hard to see any real benefit coming out of this farrago which is awash in malice, vilification, exaggeration and litigation.

Clearly, nothing has changed since Lord Macaulay wrote two centuries ago, "We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality".

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews, Fife


Your article (24 October) was mistaken when conflating the Leeds hospital "universally known as Jimmy's" with the hospital at which Jimmy Savile volunteered. Savile worked at Leeds Royal Infirmary. Jimmy's is the informal but widely used name for St James's University Hospital in the same city. The name "Jimmy's" refers to St James, not to Savile. It's an understandable mistake.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex


David Cameron claims that "the BBC has serious questions to answer" about why the Newsnight story about Jimmy Savile was dropped. Interesting stance, really, given that Mr Cameron has refused to answer "serious questions" about the emails he exchanged with Rebekah Brooks and why he didn't hand all of them over to the Leveson Inquiry. We need transparency and honesty from Mr Cameron as well as the BBC.

D Peacock

Cheadle, Staffordshire


Another crackpot Cameron wheeze

So David Cameron believes in a "rehabilitation revolution" that entails all prisoners/offenders receiving help in turning their lives around and breaking the cycle of reoffending. This will obviously be funded from the public purse and involve payment of benefits.

So, essentially, the unemployed, sick and disabled, who do not offend, face having their benefits scrutinised and even stopped. This may result in some being forced out on the streets. Many will turn to crime to survive. They will be locked up, then enter the "rehabilitation revolution" to turn their lives around. Then they will receive the government help which, if provided in the first place, would have negated any need for this cycle. Some strategy.

D Roberts

Tredegar, Gwent


So Mr Cameron is to refuse to obey, and therefore break, the European law that requires us to give prisoners the vote. It's an excellent example of Mr Cameron's character, and a poor one to set to lawbreakers.

Vaughan Thomas

Gwent, South Wales


Naive view of new police chiefs

Ian Birrell (24 October) argues that the police will be less likely to be incompetent, corrupt and racist with elected commissioners in charge. He acknowledges that most officers are honest and hard-working but, considering that most commissioners will likely be from the mainstream political parties, his views of the police seem rather brutal in contrast to a very trusting, if not naive, view of party politicians.

Bob Morgan

Thatcham, West Berkshire


Good lord. Or not

Andy McSmith's diatribe against "people like Lord Bichard" (The Diary, 25 October) may be justified, though that is difficult to discern through the statistics he uses. He suggests that those "people" have a pension pot of £850,000. What he fails to say is how much annual pension is paid out of the pot. Comparing a "pot" of £850,000 with an annual pension of £5,300 is not terribly helpful.

Tim Stone



Prefab future

There's unanimous agreement that the housing crisis needs to be solved, and swiftly. So how about a national cash competition to produce the best design for attractive two- and four-bedroom prefab bungalows, suitable for mass production and rapid installation, to create new housing enclaves on brownfield sites only? I bet it wouldn't be won by our overpraised "top" architects with their shards and gherkins.

Richard Humble



Gays not guilty

I don't see how Mr Wells (letters, 20 October) can blame gay marriage for undoing heterosexual marriage, because the reduction in the popularity and duration of marriage is a long-term trend predating civil partnerships and gay marriage proposals by decades.

Paul Bunting

Worthing, West Sussex


Whole in one

As a former self-respecting chemical engineering undergraduate at Birmingham University (letters, 23 October), I was advised to talk about chemistry when with engineers, engineering with chemists and golf with other chemical engineers.

Mike Cordery

Almería, Spain


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