Teaching history, Iraq and others

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The Independent Online

Slogans of glory and remorse obscure true lessons of history

Slogans of glory and remorse obscure true lessons of history

Sir: The trouble with Tim Collins' thoughts on the teaching of history is that it sounds like the sort of imperialist propaganda that was pushed out by The Boy's Own Paper in the 1940s and '50s. Your own curriculum - History for British Masochists - is marred by the same attempt to use history as propaganda: what the wicked Brits did in Ireland, Africa, India etc (leading article, 28 January). In both cases slogans replace a proper examination of the past, and more importantly the lessons it can teach us.

To take a simplistic example, the "glorious" victory at Agincourt was enthusiastically taught years ago, but the ultimate English failure in the Hundred Years War was omitted. What was the war about? Why did the English fail? Such questions were not seen to be necessary.

The case for studying the slave trade, as one instance of people's inhumanity to people, will not be an unmitigated exercise in "beating ourselves up" for the sins of our ancestors, since William Wilberforce was both white, and English!

If school history is to be of any relevance, I would suggest that one module needs to be an in-depth study of the causes of wars, and a consideration of ways in which war might be prevented. A subset of this module would need to be devoted to the structure and role of power elites - and the lack of checks and balances upon them - which are vividly illustrated in both the outbreak of the First World War, and in the attack on a small Middle Eastern country in 2003.

Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire

Brave Iraqi voters put us to shame

Sir: Brave Iraqis turned out in their thousands, despite long queues and the high risk of bloodshed, to cast their votes for a chance of democracy. Some of them had to walk past the body parts of suicide bombers.

Our elected government believes us to be so intimidated by the prospect of having our comfortable lives disrupted by a very much smaller threat of terrorism, that we would be willing to subject some of our number to imprisonment without trial, thereby sacrificing one of the democratic freedoms that we are privileged to be able to take for granted.

We should feel humbled and ashamed.

Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire

Sir: The awful daily carnage in Iraq arises at least in part from the American decision to impose national elections on an artificial nation, created by the First World War victors and sustained ever since by not much more than foreign occupation and domestic force.

I do wonder what would have happened if separate elections had been offered to Shia, Sunni and Kurd regions with the option to federate afterwards or go for independence. It may be that this path was not followed because of the hostility of Iraq's neighbours, notably Turkey, to a separate Kurdistan and because of American fears of a pro-Iranian Shia government.

But then that is simply to say that "Iraq" is something foreign governments want to exist, whereas democracy is about securing governments wanted by peoples.


Sir: Gary Kent, director of Labour Friends of Iraq, Harry Barnes MP and Ann Clwyd MP, Tony Blair's special envoy on human rights in Iraq, are right to condemn the torture and killing of Hadi Saleh, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions ("Anti-war movement divided over trade unionist's murder", 22 January).

Their call for the opponents of the war to "move on", however, would sound more convincing if they themselves did more:

To mourn the death of up to 100,000 Iraqi civilians. What about a minute's silence or a few tears on the floor of the House of Commons for them and their grieving families?

To condemn the bombing of Iraqi cities, including Fallujah, which was authorised by the interim Iraqi government and carried out by the Americans.

To raise questions in public about the human rights of Iraqis who have been tortured by the Iraqi security forces. If the American Human Rights Watch group is capable of exposing the abuses why are Britain's so-called human rights experts ignorant of what is happening?

Of course I accept that it is difficult for the apologists of the biggest foreign policy blunder for 200 years to accept their responsibility for the Pandora's box which they have opened.

(Halifax, Lab)
House of Commons

Climate: do we care?

Sir: Your letters page headline of 27 January asks: "Is there an answer to climate change?" The question should be: "Do I care about climate change?"

Each one of us has the ability to make a difference by changing the way that we do everyday things and thinking about the consequences of our actions. The sad truth is that most of us want someone else to make the effort.

It isn't that we don't care; it is just that it is somebody else's fault. I need my 4x4, my 1000w security lights and electric everything.

If we buy less, throw away less, reuse more, recycle more, think more and blame less then society might still be around for our great-grandchildren.

Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

Sir: The Independent has contained articles on the catastrophic results of global warming. Despite these dire warnings, individuals are inhibited from behaviour change because they feel that their small input would make no impact.

We need legislation. We need to know precisely what are the main causes of carbon dioxide increase that can be changed. These need to be legislated into our lives so that we have to change. As examples, certain types of cars should no longer be available; the amount of petrol we can use should be limited; the car trade should have to focus on "green car" production.

We need clear paths that everyone must take.


Sir: The governments of the Indian Ocean region refused to set up an early warning system for tsunamis. They said they could not afford to do so. They took no notice of scientific warnings that an earthquake in the region was imminent. The earthquake occurred, and more than a quarter of a million people lost their lives.

Governments ignored scientific opinion. Because they ignored that opinion a catastrophe occurred. Must the same happen now with global warming?

Ackergill, Highland

Responsible parents

Sir: I am the father of a small daughter who stays with me regularly, and to whom I have never been denied access: to the contrary, her mother and I have worked together for the last three years, very amicably and pragmatically, to allow her to continue a lively relationship with me. I have also previously helped to bring up a step-daughter who spent as much time as possible with her father, again in an agreed way.

To be denied access of any kind must be unutterably painful. Satisfactory access is very hard to achieve (it requires continual give-and-take and geographical proximity, and is costly), and terribly easy for an ill-willed "primary carer" to sabotage, whatever the formal agreements or orders may say.

Joan Smith ("Are divorced fathers really getting a raw deal?", 19 January) seems to lack the slightest empathy for fathers in such situations. How would mothers feel if they were placed in similar circumstances? Any and all tactics for publicity would seem appropriate. Citing historical wrongs to women seems beside the point. (Creating new wrongs, such as the monstrous proposal to tag or curfew women who deny access is of course the opposite of a solution, and all too typical of this government's authoritarianism.)

If family law proceeded not from the "gender-specific" assumption that a mother is the "natural" custodian of her children, but from an expectation that both parents have equal responsibilities, then more children might find themselves less traumatised during separations. It is generally not practicable nor emotionally satisfactory for a child literally to split its life equally between two homes, but removing the assumption of a mother's priority would be a useful corrective to the kind of seemingly unconscious gender bias displayed by Joan Smith.

London N5

Shooting in France

Sir: While I do not dispute the accuracy of John Lichfield's statistics on the activities of hunters in France (Our Man in Paris, 25 January), his article does not accord with my own experience of boar hunting in France over the past couple of years.

Both shoots I attended were meticulously conducted. Each participant had to produce his licence. Details of compulsory third party insurance must be shown. These legal requirements are true of any shoot in France. The different horn signals - start and end of drives etc - were explained, as were the places where one could or could not shoot during the drives.

On one shoot, rifles were allowed but shooting was from high chairs only. On the other, no rifles were allowed, but ball shot was used by shooters with shotguns stationed at ground level. The results were moderate - on the first, two boars and on the second, none. There were no accidents.

Meols, Wirral

Malaria battle

Sir: You were right to focus on malaria as a major contributor to the destruction of lives and economies in Africa (report, 18 January). This disease kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds, and yet is largely preventable and entirely treatable.

For decades, health workers have been dismayed to witness the decline in treatment options for malaria, as drug resistance wiped out once-effective drugs. Recently, effective new medicines - artemisinin-based combinations (ACT) - have been developed. These can completely cure a patient in three days. However, ACT is more expensive than older treatments. The sums are not enormous - around 60 cents to treat a child, and $2 for an adult - but this is out of reach if you earn less than a dollar a day.

This is why it is imperative that the international community take responsibility for ensuring these drugs are available free to the people who are sick with this deadly disease. The UK government must show strong leadership, through both clear policy statements and money on the table.

Médecins sans Frontières
London EC1

Yes to Europe

Sir: It is not impossible that the "yes" camp can win a referendum on the EU constitution but in the absence of any real effort on the Government's part to argue its case it does not look likely ("No hope of 'yes' vote on EU, Blair is told", 26 January) .

Rejection of the treaty would be embarrassing for Britain but need not lead to withdrawal from the EU. Voting arrangements for member states would remain unfair and illogical, and some much-needed reforms would be more difficult to achieve, but many of the positive proposals within the constitution can be adopted without the need for a new treaty. The EU will muddle on, and Britain with it.

Leader, Liberal Democrat MEPs,
European Parliament, Brussels

Sober drinkers

Sir: J Newton (letter, 27 January), writing about French bars, says that he (or she) has never wanted to stay in one long enough to get drunk. I sincerely hope not. Very few people get drunk in bars in France, just the odd irredeemable lush. Being drunk in public is an offence, as is serving someone who has had too much to drink; a notice to this effect is posted on the wall of every bar in the land. The simple fact remains, Britain is a nation of binge drinkers and weak excuses will not change that fact.

Lauris, France

Happy memory

Sir: Boyd Tonkin asks Ian McEwan, "Who first said that 'Happiness writes white?' " (Books, 28 January); between them they suspect it was Iris Murdoch "quoting someone French". The answer lies on p. 337 of Where Did It All Go Right? (1999), the memoirs of A Alvarez: " 'Happiness writes white. It does not show up on the page.' When I first came across those words of Montherlant, I typed them out in 20-point letters and pinned them beside my desk." This dictum of the French essayist Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972) is also quoted approvingly in Martin Amis's London Fields.

London E9

Women's work

Sir: Debora Williams (Letters, 29 January) has got it wrong when she considers the "-ess" of "actress" to be a diminutive and redundant. It is a reflection of the fact that one expects an actor and an actress to undertake different roles - Hamlet to be played by an actor, Ophelia by an actress - and so the distinction is useful. Female surgeons and barristers perform the same tasks as their male counterparts and so the terms surgeoness and barristeress are not required.

Cheltenham , Gloucestershire

Trivial offences

Sir: Given that only one in ten offences make it to court, what were the nine more ludicrous cases that Northumbria Police decided not to prosecute in order to try the nursery nurse for eating an apple?

Torpoint, Cornwall.

Authoritarian regime

Sir: While it does not trouble me that I am a subject of Her Majesty (letter, 28 January), it does worry me that the population is treated as subjects by H M Government and increasingly subjected to that institution's arrogance and authoritarianism.

Anstey, Leicestershire