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Monday 2 March 2009
Letters: War veterans
Scandalous neglect of our traumatised war veterans
Lance-Corporal Johnson Beharry VC says veterans with PTSD are struggling to get proper treatment on the NHS (report, 28 February). He also described how his mental health problems had "got worse" after the conflict.
Those words should not surprise anyone. Since the First World War, military-medical authorities have been aware that psychologically wounded men remain traumatised for many years. Some First World War veterans did not show the symptoms of mental trauma until the mid-1920s. In addition, political authorities have long known that this is an expensive problem: the Ex-Services' Welfare Society (now Combat Stress) was founded in 1919 because the state was not providing sufficient care for what were then known as shell-shocked men.
Each 11 November, the media devotes acres of coverage to the First World War and, in particular, to stories of shell-shock. There is much popular and political sympathy for the shell-shocked soldiers of 1914-18. Why does this sympathy not translate into coherent policies for the effective treatment of traumatised servicemen?
Care for the long-dead, shell-shocked soldier of the Great War is cheap; care for soldiers alive today is expensive. The poor nerve-racked boy of the trenches is an attractive and endearing figure; the mod-ern veteran is not. And traumatised ex-soldiers can be irritable, violent and suffer drink problems. This does not evoke easy sympathy. The British government is committing an extraordinary amount of money to Iraq and Afghanistan. There are many reasons for withdrawing from these conflicts as soon as possible. One good reason is that we seem to be unwilling to commit sufficient resources to the care of the mentally wounded servicemen who will return from these wars.
Dr Fiona Reid
Senior Lecturer in European History, University of Glamorgan, Wales
Time to nationalise financial institutes
I feel the time has well and truly passed where certain financial institutes (and others) are fully nationalised and brought under public control and scrutiny. We, the taxpayers, are keeping these companies afloat with bailouts and guarantees be-cause we have seen a real lack of control over how the organisations were being run and their shortsightedness in controlling the level of debt handed to all and sundry.
We have seen ordinary workers condemned and abused for receiving a £1,000 bonuses, seen ordinary workers receive shares, rather than cash, in remuneration only to find that these shares are now virtually worthless, and now we see that one of those who was charged with overseeing the running of these institutions walking away with an alleged £690,000 per year pension. Something seems obscene and distasteful to me.
As private companies, who was charged with the setting up of internal checks, the monitoring of current performance, the planning of future risks and for the security and well-being of their workers? Do the shareholders or top management not have a responsibility to self-regulate their companies or is that not part of private enterprise?
The global financial crisis has hit all walks of life from the banks to the car makers, the builders to the homeowners. History will show the the golden age of the free market and private enterprise was nothing more that a self-serving period of worshipping at the feet of false golden idols, and we the people will be paying the price for years.
The free market isn't free and private enterprise has now become very public.
Sir Fred Goodwin has forfeited the right to receive a pension from RBS and there is, I believe, a simple way to ensure he does not receive one and at the same time to punish him for what he has done. The Government, in its role as major shareholder, should sue him for professional negligence, in the same way that a surgeon who amputates the wrong leg will be sued.
Before I retired, I made valuations of large industrial properties and if, as a result of my professional negligence, a client had lost a substantial amount of money, then the client could have successfully sued me for damages based on the amount of money that had been lost because of my negligence. Thankfully, this has never happened to me but, if it had, I would also not have received any remuneration for my work, despite any contractual obligation on behalf of the client.
It may well be asked why there is no history of shareholders suing the incompetent. In normal times, the major shareholders will be institutions, each with a board of directors, and one can understand their reluctance to create a precedent which may be used on themselves.
The government, as a major shareholder of RBS, has no such inhibitions and should go ahead and sue. It might also have serve as a warning pour encourager les autres.
It seems that our Government is trying to deflect attention from itself with its new mantra of "No reward for failure" while it pillories Sir Fred Goodwin and his obscene pay-off for taking the Royal Bank of Scotland to the brink of bankruptcy.
Those who normally fail in business can only look on in awe at politicians who walk away with guaranteed rewards and perks, despite overseeing shambolic departments and catastrophic or failed policies.
Look no further than the lifestyle and trappings being enjoyed by Tony Blair who created the mirage of running a never-endingly succesful economy, and ridding the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, while next-door Iran developed a real nuclear capability.
And let's not forget the reward of an unopposed journey to his goal of Prime Ministership, which Gordon Brown enjoyed as a reward for his 10-year mantra and illusion that he had single-handedly abolished the cycle of "boom and bust" from the British economy.
Sir Fred merely has his nose in the same trough as those who awarded him his title.
North Shields, Tyne & Wear
For all intents and purposes, the Royal Bank of Scotland was insolvent in October 2008 and, in normal circumstances, the company pension fund would be subject to a Section 75 buy-out and its assets transferred to the Pension Protection Fund.
Pensions paid from the PPF are subject to a £27,000 per annum cap. I would suggest that, subject to their contributions being up to date, this is an appropriate level for the then senior executives of the bank whose services were no longer required at that time. Other employees may be able to maintain their benefits through Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) to a new corporate entity if the new employer wishes to keep them on and fund their pension benefits.
Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire
School system will fail our children
The formidable display of Gail Trimble in the University Challenge final has lessons for our school system, which is stifling the enthusiasm and intellect of children through emphasis on providing the data required for league-table based competition.
Ms Trimble combines high intellectual ability with a formidable knowledge base gained from her excellent education. She is far more intelligent than the average. Why then does the Government ignore the average intellectual ability of intake children by insisting schools that cannot meet an arbitrary aggregate examination-pass threshold must by definition be failing?
Consider the scenario that a working-class child with Ms Trimble's cognitive powers attends a neighbourhood school where the average intake ability is low. Would she be helped by the total focus of such a school on meeting the Government's threshold target for C Grade GCSEs? To survive, schools like this are forced to put all their efforts into getting G, F, E and D Grade pupils up to C, by teaching to the test and by distorting the curriculum in favour of the easiest possible subjects.
This approach is supposed to help working-class children enter top universities. You don't have to be Gail Trimble to recognise a damaging and nonsensical policy that is certain to fail.
Moral right to aid a legal immigrant
Mary Dejevsky raises interesting issues about citizenship ("Citizenship, residency, and a question of fairness", Opinion, 24 February) and the Government's contradictory messages in this regard, but the use of Binyam Mohamed's case obscures this important discussion.
If Mohamed had been granted exceptional leave to remain based on a risk to his human rights, that status compels us to act for him. Although he is a citizen of Ethiopia, it is unsafe for him to reside there and therefore his citizenship is effectively worthless in this situation where a state is needed to intervene to protect his interests. He only has his adopted home, citizen or not, to call on.
Even if this was not the case, Mohamed's detention and treatment was illegal and unjust. When Dejevsky asks, "How much responsibility does a country really owe to those who have neither been born into citizenship now sworn allegiance to the Crown", our moral responsibility is clear. As signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we should fight for all people to live free from imprisonment without due process or from torture, regardless of whether they have made the UK their nation, their home, or even their friend.
How much responsibility we have when a resident has been treated within the law, and has another country to which he can turn, is a different question.
Mary Dejevsky must surely know people do not apply for "exceptional leave to remain". They apply for asylum (citizenship) and are given this limbo status instead. There is no question of them swearing allegiance; citizenship does not come into it.
In view of our Government's shameful collusion with the US in Binyam Mohamed's rendition and torture, it is adding insult to injury for her to enjoin him to "join a citizenship class and earn his passport".
While I agree with the editorial "The truth must be told", (25 February), I suggest that the Foreign Office must release the documents detailing Binyam Mohamed's treatment in Guantanamo or admit that the only reason they are withholding them is a fear of a US intelligence backlash.
But with Barack Obama's standpoint on Guantanamo, surely the US would only be too willing to agree to release the documents anyway?
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Faith in secularism
How does Richard Dawkins (letters, 26 February) know that the Birmingham Muslims in Afghanistan went to "faith schools"? This is a faith-based, not an evidence-based assertion, the faith here being North London secularism.
In Frank McLynn's review of David Reynolds's new history of the United States (Arts, 20 February) there appear all too many unsubstantiated assertions about American history, but not a single argument. As a historian of the US myself, I would take David Reynolds's word any day, rather than Mr McLynn's. For instance, Mr McLynn believes the Supreme Court decision (he means, opinion) in the Marbury v Madison case was an achievement of the Jefferson presidency. It is difficult to say who this statement would have surprised more, Chief Justice Marshall or Jefferson himself.
Department of History, University of Essex, Colchester
Bags of waste
You report that there has been a significant reduction in the number of plastic bags issued in 2008 (26 February). But there has been no reduction in the number of charity bags delivered to houses. I have received 19 bags from charities in seven months. None of these has been collected. Tens of millions of these bags are distributed nationally every year and I doubt that one in 200 elicits a donation.
Burton on Trent
Cherie's no Scouser
Cherie Blair may be "a Crosby girl at heart" (Pandora, 27 February), and the east side of the Wirral peninsula is definitely on the side of the Mersey river, but Crosby is a suburb of Liverpool and the Wirral is not. To live on the side of the Mersey may make you a Merseysider, but it does not qualify you to be a Scouser unless you live on the Liverpool side. Whatever Cherie Blair is or is not, I doubt she would regard the Wirral as "home" unless she was as geographically challenged as your journalists.
Broughton, Nr Chester, Flintshire
Buzz off, Ingrams
Richard Ingrams makes a case for a divine right of the human race to exist at the expense of the animal kingdom (Opinion, 28 February). But I am not convinced by his appeal against the reintroduction of the buzzard to Britain on the basis that it may restrict his choice of Sunday roast. His local Waitrose should reassure him.
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