Poles, Iraq, libraries, radio 3 and others

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E-mail responses to letters@independent.co.uk, giving postal address and telephone number (no attachments).

Polish prowess dispels myth of 'cavalry against tanks'

E-mail responses to letters@independent.co.uk, giving postal address and telephone number (no attachments).

Polish prowess dispels myth of 'cavalry against tanks'

Sir: Like any other people, Poles have certainly some idiosyncratic vices, but you will not find among them "a propensity to cavalry charges against tanks", as claimed in your table summarising new EU member states (1 May).

This was a myth, which was first fabricated by Goebbels's film crew in Poland, shortly after the country was defeated by Germany in 1939. The same myth was later adopted and popularised by the Communist regime. Its purpose was to present Poles as unrealistic romantics, whose attempts to regain democracy and self-governance were presented as irrational, if not suicidal. Yet this propaganda failed to convince the generation of Lech Walesa.

Due to an interesting geographical location, Poles were used to risk-taking, having no alternative, facing a line of aggressive despots at their doorsteps. Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they failed. However, in the military history of Poland, speed, flexibility and tactical skill made up for insufficient numbers on numerous occasions, the best-known being the rescue of Vienna against the Ottoman army in 1683.

Even in 1939, German generals were giving credit to Polish cavalry, which could appear unexpectedly, creating havoc in German ranks (Guderian's memoirs). Cavalry brigades scored a couple successes, stopping German panzer divisions, not by charges, but by skilfully deployed artillery and the ability to move swiftly. Speed, flexibility and initiative were precisely the same skills that made Polish fighter pilots so efficient during the Battle of Britain in 1940, as you rightly pointed out.

London N4

Condemning torture won't placate Iraqis

Sir: Much of the current debate regarding the veracity of the photos allegedly showing UK troops abusing an Iraqi is missing the point. What could be less relevant than my, Piers Morgan's, or Peter Mandelson's opinion? The only truly pertinent perception is that of the Iraqi people.

The press in Baghdad and the wider Arab world is focused on the photos of the American abuses at Abu Ghraib (which are undoubtedly genuine), and has not reported on the comparatively trivial controversy regarding any inaccuracies in the accusations levelled at the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

Whatever the history of those photographs - disenchanted squaddies, pro-war intelligence officials keen to embarrass the gloating anti-war press, or legitimate photos of an Iraqi being tortured - it seems that our assessment of the truth matters little to the long-suffering Iraqis. Perhaps they are more concerned with the undisputed reports of the deaths of their countrymen while being "interrogated" by the occupying forces and the associated legions of clandestine intelligence operatives and mercenaries?

Whether as a result of the total lack of post-war planning, the publication of these pictures, the collective punishment of Fallujah, or the stifling of Shia dissent, the fact is that our forces are now about as welcome as the bubonic plague. It seems fair to assert that our politicians public denunciation of these supposed "rogue" elements, coupled with a televised address from arguably the most widely despised leader on the planet may do little to placate the understandably enraged Iraqis.


Sir: The human rights abuses committed by American soldiers in Iraq are worthy of almost as much condemnation as the decision to go to war in the first place.

These are indeed "despicable acts" but it's laughable for anyone, not least Mr Bush, to say, "This is not how we normally do things." If you advertise a job called killer (also known as soldier) then you've got to expect, and want, to recruit people who are violent and have distinctly blurred concepts of right and wrong.

It's no good saying, "Soldier, you go over there and put a grenade in that Iraqi tank, and mind you clear up the charred corpses later," and then the next week say, "Now of course you've got to be awfully nice to these Iraqis, because we're Americans and we came here to stop that sort of nonsense."

New College, Oxford

Sir: The photos showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops, even if they prove to be a hoax, give Mr Blair a timely opportunity to use his influence with Mr Bush.

The Allies must now offer the Red Cross unrestricted access to all allied prisoners of the "War on Terror" whether they be in Baghdad, Bagram or Guatanamo Bay and ask the ICRC to report their findings direct to the UN Secretary General. If Mr Bush continues to insist that investigations into Allied failings be conducted by Allied forces, then surely the time has come for Blair to pluck up his courage and speak for Britain. Only thus can we hope to begin the long haul back to international credibility the necessity of which the retired diplomats recently articulated so effectively.

Crediton, Devon

Sir: Amidst all the comment and outrage expressed about the torture of prisoners in Iraq by American personnel, there can have been few more flagrantly dishonest than the assurance by the US President that such behaviour was not the American way. Had Mr Bush forgotten about the role of the "School of the Americas" in training the repressive regimes of Central America in all manner of torture and counter-insurgency methods?


Need for libraries

Sir: Does Mark Blackman want to live in a cultural wasteland? He advocates "converting underused library buildings into low-rent accommodation to breathe some life into our dying town centres" (letter, 6 May). This would be quite a paradox as the people in low-rent accommodation would be unable to afford luxury items such as books and would therefore need a library, which is the reason why libraries first came into being in the 19th century.

I'm afraid Mr Blackman belongs to the group of people who see libraries as just book stores. One is inclined to ask when he last visited a library. They are now information centres for the young, old, unemployed, working and middle class alike. They provide access to the internet. Librarians also help with after-school homework clubs. I have personally seen many young children using my own local library.

I'm afraid a society without libraries would be a very barren one. The public library is a thriving community, constantly trying to keep pace with change, helping many members of society. Let us support them as we do theatres, cinemas and sports centres. They serve a purpose and do much good.

Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

Sir: Maybe Mark Blackman can afford to buy all the books he reads, but many young people, retired people, and others on low incomes cannot. Through inter-library loans, libraries also provide access to rare and out-of-print books which would otherwise be quite inaccessible to the general public.

Library books have enriched my life enormously; I would be sad to see future generations denied the same opportunities,


Music on Radio 3

Sir: Ian Burrell's article on Radio 3's classical music programming (5 May) presents a broadly accurate account of Friends of Radio 3's concerns. Not so the rather sour comment on the leader page. We are not complaining about the presence of world music on Radio 3; in fact, we'd like to think it was our pressure that was in some way responsible for the apparent recent reduction in world rock music, to the benefit of more traditional world music.

But two points: the BBC's claim that 80 per cent of output is devoted to classical music consistently fails to acknowledge that this is made up predominantly of the non-stop night-time music (1am to 7am), when most people are asleep, and the daytime programmes when many people are at work. It is in the evenings and at the weekends - the most convenient times for serious listening - that the world music and jazz audiences are catered for. Classical music has quantity time rather than quality time.

Secondly, we would point out that our interests are not restricted to classical music: we also seek to defend the position of quality spoken arts on Radio 3.

Friends of Radio 3

Sir: World music doesn't need a rather apologetic insertion into Radio 3's schedules, where it is likely to offend as many as it attracts. It deserves a radio station of its very own. Likewise classical music, which is now composed and played all over the world - including South America and Australia - needs unabashed exploration and celebration on its own station. That the two types of music don't mix says nothing about either of them. Neither do tea and coffee.

West Amesbury, Wiltshire

Votes at 16

Sir: Gavin Hayes (letter, 5 May) complains that the Electoral Commission's report on votes at 16 gives unnecessary weight to the impact on turnout. In fact, the report explicitly said that any decision on the franchise should not be taken on the grounds of its effect on turnout.

The Commission also considered the teaching of citizenship in schools - but found that it was too partial to be the basis of a change in the franchise - and they also dealt with Hayes's ludicrously trite list of "rights": "If you can pay taxes at 16, can have children at 16 and can die for your country at 16, you should be given the right to vote in elections."

The Commission found that just 7 per cent of 16-17 year olds pay income tax. They can get married - but (in England and Wales) only with parental permission, precisely because society does not yet see them as fully adult. And they can join the forces, but again only with parental permission, and their chances of seeing frontline service before 18 are extremely remote, because the UK has signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which defines childhood as lasting until 18. The Commission also found that over 70 per cent of adults thought that 16 was too young - and found ambivalence amongst 16- and 17-year-olds themselves.

Nor, contrary to Andrew Grice's original report (4 May), will this be the first time the Government have overruled the Commission. They also did so over the all-postal pilots in next month's European elections. If the Government reject the Electoral Commission's advice again, many will wonder what exactly the point of the Electoral Commission is.

School of Politics
University of Nottingham

Sir: With revelations of millions of items of post regularly going missing the question arises as to the validity of the outcome of the forthcoming local and European elections for those of us given only the "choice" of a postal vote which could well go astray. Perhaps we should just chuck the voting papers in the recycling bin and cut out the middle man?


Sir: I can understand why the 16-year-olds Mr Blair proposes to enfranchise might by that act become more enthused for him, but I really can't see why the rest of us, who have the vote now, should be enchanted by the prospect. Is the effect on the next election supposed to be elicited by political pester power? ("Dad, can I have a vote? Oh, go on! It's so unfair!")

I seem to recall that when I was 18 I had only just learnt the valuable lesson that I did not already know everything there was worth knowing, and that when I was 16 my chief concern was my chances (minimal as it turned out) of getting into the knickers of the cute red-headed girl across the class.

(aged 49 and increasingly grouchy with it)
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire


Zen retreat

Sir: The dismissive contempt expressed in your leader "Home Truths" (4 May) regarding the Zen-inspired "street retreat", which aims to provide a direct, albeit limited, experience of giving up attachment to possessions and comfort, reminded me of the old Zen saying: "If it wasn't laughed at, it would not be the truth."


Islam and sex

Sir: Irshad Manji ("Islam's marked woman", 5 May) is a classic example of how people want to personalise an ideology to their selfish viewpoint. If Irshad Manji finds Islam conflicting with her sexual preferences then what is stopping her doing the honest thing - drop Islam and get on with it?


God of nature

Sir: Malcolm Peltu (letter, 5 May) finds himself "suddenly in touch with ... the natural evolutionary life force". If so, he has said goodbye to secular humanism. His happy sense of "awe, wonderment and joy" proves him a true pantheist.

Langwathby, Cumberland

Angling decline

Sir: Perhaps the mysterious decline in the popularity of angling cited by Geoffrey Bucknall (letter, 6 May) is down to the fact that fewer people are prepared these days to pester and torment river life for their own enjoyment. Let's hope so.

Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

Take no notice

Sir: Readers travelling south on the A74 south of Gretna will surely be familiar with the sign "Farm shop left under bridge".