The atrocity of Dresden, Labour's right-wing policies and others

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The Independent Online

There can be no justification for the atrocity of Dresden

There can be no justification for the atrocity of Dresden

Sir: Terry Eaton's justification for the Allied bombing of Dresden 60 years ago is curious (letter, 14 February): just because "there's a war on", we are allowed to engage in deliberate, large-scale killing of civilians; and just because the Nazis committed atrocities, so can we. The fire-bombing of Dresden, killing 135,000 people, was an atrocity by any standards.

Dresden had no strategic significance apart from the railway bridge over the Elbe, a railway yard and its rolling stock, and the autobahn bridge to the west of the city. None of these were targeted and all remained intact. There were no factories in the city, and most of the able-bodied men were away at the front. The women, children and elderly left behind had been joined by largely civilian refugees from Silesia and Wargau. It was obvious that the war was near its end, with the Germans in full retreat.

Speaking as a South African long settled in this country, the quality I admire most in the British is their ability to criticise themselves. Without it we will not learn from our mistakes. Uncritical loyalty will do us no favours.

Epping, Essex

Sir: I read Terry Eaton's letter on the bombing of Dresden while I was on a return flight from Karlsruhe. I had been attending a symposium organised by the German engineers, architects and others who had undertaken the difficult task of rebuilding Dresden's Frauenkirche. They are men and women with whom I have been professionally associated for near 20 years, and whose hospitality and friendship I have enjoyed.

Most had not been born by 1945. Yet, throughout their lives, they have had to endure a legacy of world hate and the stigma of Nazism. The destruction occurred about two months before the end of the war in Europe. Maybe Churchill and "Bomber" Harris had received intelligence of German troops regrouping in the city. Most evidence would contradict that. Instead, there were upwards of 300,000 refugees camped there, fleeing ahead of the Russian armies. When judging the event by any yardstick, the bombing was unnecessary and iconoclastic, a show of strength for its own sake.

I am glad the Dresdeners elected to subscribe to the cost of restoration, rather than leave the ruins of the church and tower as a memorial, which some had wanted. The restoration has been an act of healing. I also view it as a lesson for present-day army generals and heads of state contemplating new wars. It is a reminder that history will remember them more for the innocents killed, than for their military successes.

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Labour's right-wing policies alienate youth

Sir: Education, health care, crime, and immigration. These are the concerns of middle-class voters, in the closely contested constituencies that will decide the coming election. The Labour Party's strategy of occupying the centre ground on these issues, leaving the Conservatives no space to be distinctive, is just good sense given the nature of our electoral system. There is a price to be paid, however, as I noticed while interacting with the youth delegates at the recent Labour Party conference.

The Conservatives are pledging generous funds for public services, while maintaining their old "tough on immigration" rhetoric. So we have apathy while the Labour Party focuses our attention on the very issues that don't set it apart - the areas where even the Conservatives seem to show some promise.

But this alienates important groups of voters, like the Young Labour delegates who will shape our political future. Young people want to be inspired by a grander vision, and to hear more about the policies that will protect our environment, redistribute wealth, and eliminate poverty. They want to hear about the New Deal, working tax credits and overseas aid, because these issues still reveal a real distinction between the main parties.

Thorpe Hesley, South Yorkshire

Sir: At the last election Labour won a landslide victory with just 40.7 per cent of a 59 per cent turnout. In other words, for every five people who voted Labour, seven voted for other parties and eight abstained. This time around another landslide is predicted (report, 16 February), but probably on an even lower share of a lower turnout.

How much further can this process go before this system of "minority rule" loses all legitimacy? Britain's crude winner-takes-all voting system, which worked, albeit in a rough and ready way, in a two-party race, is just not up to the job of representing a multi-party democracy.

Director, Make Votes Count
London SE1

Sir: Here is a seventh reason not to vote New Labour, to add to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's list ("Never mind those six pledges - here are six reasons why you shouldn't vote Labour", 14 February). They're letting rapacious, private companies make indecent profits out of our public sector, with lucrative PFI rip-offs on hospitals, schools and transport. They add insult to injury by bailing out failures from the public purse, despite the spin of transferring risk to the private sector.

Disillusioned Labour voters should tactically switch allegiance or abstain in the election, in the interest of a small Labour majority to hasten Blair's long-overdue retirement. Even if the Tories were to win, their policies would surely be forced to the left of New Labour's, by an effective, Blair-free opposition and a slender majority.

Potters Bar, Hertfordshire

Sir: Why do you perpetuate the term apathy when writing of the attitude of one-time Labour voters to the Blair government? Antipathy, perhaps, but fury or scorn would fit the bill just as well.

London NW1

Sir: It was no surprise to read the letter from Steve Travis (15 February) suggesting a vote swap between Lib Dems and Labour, as this sneaky and underhand tactic has been employed by the Lib Dems in Romsey for years. It seems that the only recourse Conservative voters would have is to contact these web-sites and offer their votes in a neat spoiling exercise.

Carter's Clay, Hampshire

Leaving Lebanon

Sir: The assassination of Rafik Hariri is a tragedy for Lebanon and must not be ignored by the West. As someone who lives in Syria, and has recently visited Beirut, it is clear that UN Security Council resolution 1559, calling for foreign troops to leave Lebanon, is as divisive an issue within the Lebanese populace as any since the ending of civil conflict in 1991. Once again, the Lebanese people are becoming the victims of a power struggle between Syria and the West - led this time by the US and France, rather as they were caught between the Syrians and Israelis in 1982.

The fault of resolution 1559 is that it fails to empathise with Syrian domestic politics and the cost of such a withdrawal for Assad's regime. This is no doubt part of the on-going policy of the US to destabilise the regime in Damascus for the benefit of its allies in Tel Aviv and Baghdad. Yet the Syrians are stubborn, and the more the US pushes, the more they will cling on to their prize and it is the Lebanese people who will suffer from such actions.

I therefore call upon the UN to step in to offer Syria an alternative route: a respectable disengangement plan over time under the auspices of a UN-Syrian partnership - allowing the Syrians to save face and spare the Lebanese more bloodshed. Such a solution is desperately needed to ensure that Hariri's death does not mark the return of the factional violence that has plagued Lebanon for so long.

Aleppo, Syria

Eating disorders

Sir: Alice Harrison calls Diana, Princess of Wales "a vacuous air- head with eating disorders, not something we should aspire to" (letter, 12 February). I furiously disagree. Eating disorders involve a deep and intensely lonely despair, a sense of powerlessness over the way one's life is heading, and non-existent self-esteem. Fashion and vanity may be a starting point for dieting (and Diana lived under the scrutiny of the whole world) but this can evolve into a mental prison of self-abuse.

I almost died from anorexia nervosa as a teenager and spent many years afterwards on a painful path of recovery and relapse. I am not pro-royal and I believe Diana was cynically misled into a doomed marriage. She apparently received little affection or support from her new family, a situation which could whittle away anyone's confidence, let alone a sensitive and naive 19-year-old's.

With the current awareness and willingness to understand eating disorders, I am stunned that your correspondent shows such ignorance of the depth of suffering endured by Diana and many others. As a consequence of her illness Diana showed admirable empathy and rapport with vulnerable people.

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Migrant health tests

Sir: If we and other donor nations had paid more attention when the World Health Organisation declared TB a "global emergency" in 1993 we would not need now to be talking of testing immigrants ("Test migrants for HIV and TB, say Tories", 15 February).

TB is a curable disease - it can be treated with drugs that cost just £5. Yet the number of people infected, particularly in Africa, has risen dramatically in the past 15 years, largely due to the synergy between TB and HIV, and because resources have not been made available to tackle it.

Concentrating more on the detection and treatment of TB globally would obviate the need to put up barriers to the disease at our borders. It would probably be cheaper in the short term - most definitely in the long term.

Poole, Dorset

Sir: The Conservatives are promising to admit to this country only foreigners who will not impose "significant costs or demands" on the NHS. To this end they will introduce health checks. This is not a racist or xenophobic policy, as some might claim. Forty-six other countries including Australia, Canada and the United States already do this.

A large majority of the HIV infections here were acquired in Africa, yet we do nothing to stop and test those coming from countries where infection rates are highest. The cost of managing a patient with HIV is estimated at £15,000 a year. The Department of Health estimates that the lifetime treatment cost for an HIV positive person is between £135,000 and £181,000. The total cost for 2002-03 was £345m. The cost to the NHS of HIV acquired in Africa over the past five years could amount to over £1bn.

With this money the NHS could pay for better equipment, offer better pay to attract more medical staff, and shorten waiting lists.

Linlithgow, West Lothain

Sir: What would be Michael Howard's response to the unacceptable financial burden imposed on the NHS by middle-aged British men contracting HIV or hepatitis in places like Thailand, I wonder?

Boufféré, France

Olympic bid

Sir: Daniel Howden is absolutely right to argue that hosting an international sporting event is not the best way of delivering regeneration ("London doesn't need a herd of white elephants", 15 February).

I would love to see London hosting the Olympics one day but we are rushing into this bid when we have far more pressing priorities in London. £20m has already been spent on the bid. Public money would be better spent on improving housing and transport and creating jobs.

We should spend the money on these things directly, rather than hope they would materialise as a spin-off from an Olympic bid.

Member, London Assembly (Green)
London SE1

Hunting and democracy

Sir: Well done to David Lowes for summarising the foxhunting debate so perfectly (letter, 15 February). However, his use of the phrase "crude majoritarianism", although correct English, is rather unusual. An alternative in more common parlance is "democracy". A ban on hunting with hounds was in the published manifesto of the party that won the last two general elections. It is therefore right that one will be implemented.

North Shields,
Tyne and Wear

Sir: David Lowes informs us that the campaign against hunting is nothing to do with animal welfare. Sickening television pictures of the (hopefully last) Waterloo Cup demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that so-called "country sports" have nothing whatever to do with management of the countryside.

Croydon, Surrey

Opera for oldies

Sir: Arthur Grimshaw (letter, 16 February) believes that concession-priced tickets are no longer available for senior citizens at ENO. This is not the case. ENO is pleased to confirm that unsold tickets continue to be available to senior citizens and other concessionary groups at a reduced rate from three hours before a performance, as they have been for many years. At £18 each, these tickets provide a discount of up to £47 per ticket. In addition, the student standby ticket price of £12.50 still applies.

Director of Marketing
English National Opera
London WC2

Camilla's title

Sir: Gill Boyle (letter, 16 February) asks what Camilla will be called if Charles predeceases her and William becomes king. Surely the answer is obvious: Queen Stepmother.

Poulton, Gloucestershire