Memories of Reagan: funding the torture in Nicaragua
Memories of Reagan: funding the torture in Nicaragua
Sir: I too have my favourite memories of the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. Since I was based in Managua, Nicaragua, working for a human rights organisation, I particularly appreciated the man's genius for persuasion when he declared Nicaragua - then with a population of 3 million - to be a major security threat to the United States. After all, it was only "two days' march from Texas".
It also brought to mind my first funeral in a town called Esteli; an eight-year-old boy on a yellow plastic seat, shaking and inconsolable, as deep sobs racked his tiny body. He then rushed to grasp the coffin which held his favourite uncle, just 18 years old. I remember the day a human rights report came in from the North. The Contra forces attacked a co-operative. In the chaos a mother heard them torturing her daughter in the darkness. In the morning they found her mutilated corpse in a ditch with her breasts cut off. The bodies mounted up faster than the human rights reports. This went on and on.
On each occasion, before a vote in the US Congress seeking further financial support for the Contras, major human rights organisations, including Amnesty and Americas Watch, provided detailed and corroborated evidence of systematic murder and torture by the US-funded Contras against the civilian population. That young woman's fate was not some isolated aberration, but the fine detail of a campaign of terror.
I remember interviewing a teenage Contra arrested by the Sandinistas. He told me how he finished off the survivors of an ambush with his knife, mutilating them beyond recognition. President Reagan invited this boy's leaders into the White House and in a cordial press conference declared them to be "freedom fighters" and "the equivalent of our founding fathers".
As Ronald Reagan lies in state I can't help but remember the child in the ditch.
German stereotype of Europhobic British
Sir: Pamela Schlatterer is surprised that upon entering a nationalistic pub in Barnet in the middle of the day she cannot find anyone who can present a politically cohesive argument that can compare to the efforts of her own middle-class father in Germany ("You British, the elections, and your special brand of European hatred", 10 June). What did she expect to find?
Why is it that whenever Europe is mentioned in our papers we have to suffer some German journalist on a campaign to belittle us? Did she not think of talking to some of the professional architects, engineers, accountants or lawyers whose offices she must have walked past to get to the pub? Perhaps she should try getting out of London a little more and not hanging about in bars.
Sir: I write to assure John Wright (letter, 7 June) that he's not alone in being irritated and puzzled by the weird Europhobic tone of current political discourse in this country. I find it impossible to reconcile this with the fact that each year more Britons are spending more time in mainland Europe. This experience must surely demonstrate that the French, Dutch and Italians have not ceased to be French, Dutch and Italian. Yet people readily assent to the proposition that British "identity" is at stake.
Where does this Europhobia originate? Could it be a post-imperial hang-up; if we can't run things, we'd rather not be involved? Or is it the impact of EU legislation? Most of this has had the effect of strengthening the rights of workers and consumers, and protecting the environment. This is disliked by some businesses. A powerful press, owned and dominated by people who are neither British nor Europeans, has enlisted the unthinking support of those who see international relations in flag-waving and drum-banging terms.
I've just returned from travelling in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria, where European election posters are plentiful ("a strong Bavaria in Europe" etc) and where people are politely baffled by the incoherent venom of Ukip and others, in posterless Britain.
Sir: No, John Wright, you are not alone in your enthusiasm for a federal Europe - and now I know that I'm not either. Federalism is the way to go - and as one with dual citizenship, I know from experience it works in Canada; it also works in Switzerland. It would work in the EU too. Alone, the UK would fade into total insignificance.
There needs to be a currency that can hold up against the dollar and the yen, and have some influence on the IMF; there needs to be an elected government that can be held to account by something other than our grossly defective voting system. US Europe can't come soon enough for me.
Sir: The speech by Winston Churchill from which Billy Bragg took a tiny, out-of-context extract ("In the shadow of extreme nationalism", 8 June) was not a call for Britain to engage itself in the project which in Churchill's time was known as the European Coal and Steel Community, and which developed into the EEC and has now become the EU.
The most cursory study of Churchill's text indicates quite clearly that he was inviting the Continental European nations, in particular Germany and France, to engage in closer economic and industrial ties in the hope of sparing the world another world war on their territory.
Churchill did not either explicitly or implicitly suggest that Britain should be a part of these arrangements. The great Atlanticist never imagined that the scuttle of the empire would be transacted as quickly as it was by his immediate successors. His vision involved Britain and the Dominion lands ploughing their own furrow in close alliance with the USA.
This is the reason why General de Gaulle said "Non!" to Britain's 1958 application to join the EEC.
Sir: H Trevor Jones asks why Ukip puts up candidates for a European Parliament it doesn't support (Letters, 7 June). Given that Robert Kilroy-Silk was quoted in The Independent last week as saying he is "not going to be bogged down by the European Parliament", and will "spend as little time there as possible", I would like to ask whether, if he were to be elected as one of the MEPs representing my area, he would refuse to accept the salary for a job he does not intend to do.
Sir: I too believe that fusion could provide an alternative to fossil fuels (Professor Josephson, letter, 3 June). I am proud to have been part of the team which demonstrated the production of 16MW of fusion power in JET, here in Oxfordshire, in 1997, using hot plasma with deuterium and tritium fuel.
Theory predicts, and observation confirms, that a fusion reaction of deuterium and tritium produces an energetic neutron and an alpha particle. Professor Josephson appears to believe that fusion can occur without the neutron being produced.
This is sufficiently startling, revolutionary even, that he should expect to be treated with scepticism until he can find either the missing science or the missing neutron.
In our experiment we measured the expected number of neutrons, the expected neutron energy and the plasma heating from alpha particles; and were also able to confirm earlier results published from experiments at Princeton, USA.
This reproducible experimental observation of theoretical prediction is the usual scientific method. It is such science that gives confidence that fusion will ultimately provide an alternative to fossil fuels.
Sir: At last some clear thinking on the subject of energy production, consumption and pollution (Jim Petts, letter, 4 June). The only pertinent item he doesn't cover is cost. Despite the free cost of the energy input, renewable power generation is expensive because the capital costs per kilowatt-hour output are huge. This is simply because most renewable units are tiny compared with large fossil-fuelled power stations, where major economies of scale are made in their construction, their maintenance and staffing.
Setting aside the engineering challenges of operating a power system with large amounts of renewable generation, the public must get used to the idea of paying more for their electricity. Judging by the explosive reaction to the increase in oil prices and the Chancellor's proposed petrol duty increase of just 2p a litre, we've got a long way to go.
Sir: Wind turbine generators ugly and an eyesore; windmills quaint and beautiful?
Sir: My mother-in-law, who came from much the same part of the world as John Reid, sometimes used to say that smoking was her "only pleasure" ("Reid warns smoking ban would rob the poor of enjoyment", 9 June).
Of course this wasn't true and she took pleasure in many things, such as a cup of tea, a strawberry tart, her grandchildren, a good film on TV or a book from the library. Her "only pleasure" killed her. It also shortened her life and deprived her not only of the pleasure of good health but also of a sizeable part of her small income, which might have bought her many other pleasures.
Yes, Dr Reid, why not let the poor smoke and shorten their lives, while contributing disproportionately to the Exchequer?
Sir: I have just returned from a trip to Reykjavik, where I was intrigued to see the following notice (in English) in the window of a grocer's shop: "Do not buy the tobacco products we sell; they are not healthy." Perhaps the owner feels his fellow Icelanders are too sensible to smoke?
Sir: Kathryn Salomon (letter, 9 June) calls for cycle lanes on pavements, as seen in Holland and Germany. Unfortunately this doesn't work well in the UK. This is because we prefer houses and gardens to flats, and correspondingly, streets are narrow. Pavements are typically 1.8m wide, so anything more than the occasional cyclist is really quite intimidating.
The best compromise we have been able to work out here in Oxford is the development of two independent networks. One uses cycle lanes on the carriageway of main roads - for those who can handle the traffic. The other uses traffic-calmed back streets, with links through parks and well-designed crossings of main roads. These quiet routes tend to be indirect - which is why the main road network is also needed.
Lessons of war
Sir: W J Cary (letter, 9 June) is being unhistorical in criticising the Allies' policy of unconditional surrender during the Second World War.
Churchill and Roosevelt remembered how the failure to ensure total military collapse and "regime change" after the First World War spurred the rise of nationalists who spread the myth that the German Army had never been defeated in battle and that Germany had been "stabbed in the back" by democratic politicians and the Jews.
Germany could have avoided much of the bombing and limited the extent of the ensuing Soviet occupation by surrendering in December 1944. By then its position was clearly hopeless. Unfortunately, Hitler insisted on "one last throw of the dice": the Battle of the Bulge.
Sir: Does the poll quoted by Tim Freeman (letters, 10 June) indicate what proportion of the British public couldn't care less whether Charles and Camilla marry or not?
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk
Anyone for President?
Sir: John McEnroe repeats a common mistake when he states (You Ask The Questions, 10 June) that he is not eligible to become President of the United States because he was born in Germany. The law only requires that the president be a "natural born" US citizen (i.e. not a person who has obtained citizenship by the process of naturalisation). George Romney, a presidential candidate in the 1970s, was born in Mexico, where his parents were missionaries. Based on the views expressed in the interview, I would certainly consider voting for McEnroe.
Portsmouth, Rhode Island, USA
Sir: Philippa Kennedy's article on the challenge that supermarket titles pose to leading lifestyle magazines raised some interesting points (Media, 8 June). There's no doubting the inroads customer magazines are making in becoming a popular, well-read medium. However, I'm not entirely sure if these publications are eroding paid-for magazines' market share as, if anything, they are demonstrating the strength of the magazine medium as a whole. Consumers now spend some 45 per cent more on magazines in real terms than they did a decade ago - a growth of £514m.
The Periodical Publishers Association
Take no notice
Sir: Some years ago I attended an open day at a new hospital before it was "open for business". We were allowed everywhere including the operating theatre in which was a new state-of-the-art operating table. Attached to it was a booklet entitled "Operating Instructions". I had not realised how much the medical training budget had been cut back.
Stone Allerton, Somerset