The Somme, Bush and others

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Somme facts dispel myth of Haig the careless butcher

Sir: Mark Steel's comments about Douglas Haig ("I'm sorry, this tradition is poppycock", 6 November), and the subsequent letters from readers, perpetuate a grossly simplified view.

Haig was not indifferent to the fate of his men. He undertook the Somme offensive, his first major action, under pressure from the Cabinet and the French (who were stretched to the limit at Verdun), and with great reluctance. Concerned that the recruits he had inherited from Kitchener were insufficiently trained to carry out complex tactics, he devised a plan intended to simplify their task and minimise casualties. The "lines of infantry" were to occupy enemy positions obliterated by a week-long artillery barrage and offering minimal resistance. He feared that anything more demanding was beyond them, and begged for the offensive to be delayed until August 1916 at the earliest, but was overruled.

The fact that the attack (which was launched not across mud but on dry chalkland in bright sunshine) went horribly wrong was the result several factors: as many as a third of the artillery shells were duds which left the German trenches, wire, and artillery intact; the difficulty of managing a battle of such a size led to an inability to communicate revised orders in the light of events in the field; sycophantic senior officers continually conveyed optimistic assessments to HQ before and during the battle.

After the early stages of the Somme, these tactics were not repeated. Of course men still died; it was a war, and one involving unprecedented numbers and technologies. None of the generals sent men to be slaughtered; that is not the way to win a war. They sent them to win battles.

Haig and the General Staff were not loved by the men, but to claim that the war poets were the voice of the Tommy is simplistic. Their works, evocative and accurate as they were, sold in the hundreds to a small elite, whilst heroic books and pamphlets written by less educated men sold by the tens of thousands to a public still largely thrilled by the war.

And it should be noted that the casualties were proportionately higher amongst officers than amongst other ranks, including 56 British generals killed. Haig himself had been a cavalryman of great personal bravery.


A rousing American send-off for Bush

Sir: May God bless the UK and the author of "By George!" (13 November). Rupert Cornwell has captured precisely what millions of Americans, like myself, have thought since the day this miserable excuse for a Commander-in-Chief took office.

We offer a thousand pardons for the unending foreign policy blunders the Bush administration has made and that the hapless Blair accidently stepped in. In addition, we apologise for the visit Bush is about to bestow upon you. It is an apology tempered only by the joy and satisfaction we feel when the man is out of town.

Prescott, Arizona, USA

Sir: In his article about George Bush, Rupert Cornwell writes: "A President... who, but for the archaism of the electoral college, would have lost to Al Gore, who clearly defeated him in the popular vote."

This statement reflects how misguided this article was. The Electoral College ensures that our constitutional freedoms are secure for as many walks of life as the United States represents. Without the Electoral College, presidential candidates need only campaign in the 10 largest cities to gain the popular vote, or the five most populous states. Meanwhile, farmers, ranchers (like myself) and retirees, would not be solicited for their vote, nor would they and their interests be defended by the Executive Branch of our government.

Without the Electoral College, you can assume that most presidential elections would fall in favour of the Democratic ticket. Our country ails from a primarily two-party system as it is. Imagine only one! The United States is a republic, not a democracy. It's a shame that our politicians need more lessons in civics, as do you and yours, about this uniquely American ideal: fairness.

Morriston, Florida, USA

Sir: I'm an American working in England. With regard to Mr Cornwell's amusing piece on President Bush I need to point out an error. Americans seeing large crowds demonstrating against the President won't be shocked and turn against Mr Bush. Americans will turn against England and no longer consider you an ally. You really don't know us at all.

Begbroke, Oxfordshire

Sir: Our notion of civilisation rests on an assumption that it is within cities, where people and skills can gather, that virtue too can be found in greater concentrations. For some time this has clearly not been the case. Anyone doubting this should consider insurers' interest in postcodes.

George Bush has accepted an invitation to be feted in London, a vast city where the problems of ensuring civilised conduct are enormous. Could not the British government have emulated Henry VIII and set up a field of the cloth of gold somewhere to which cameras and courtiers could be invited but from which others would be deterred by its distance from the metropolis or by its lack of public facilities? What a boost for tourism for one of Britain's windswept upland areas; Dartmoor or Rannoch Moor come to mind.

Too late now. We will have to endure London's awfulnesses flashed around the world's television screens.

Rolle, Switzerland

Sir: Pursuant to Chris Doyle's letter about Bush's helicopters (13 November), what about the 15 sniffer dogs he's also bringing (report, 12 November)? Will they have been quarantined for six months before doing their duty, or are they covered by Defra's Pet Travel Scheme?

London E11

Sir: Like Saddam Hussein, George Bush is afraid of assassination by terrorists. Rather than curtail democratic protest, why not employ lookalikes, as Saddam did? Impersonating him ain't rocket science.

London N7

Wind power

Sir: There has been considerable correspondence on the proliferation of so-called windfarms across the countryside. As an engineer I am astonished at the apathy of the public and the hypocrisy of the green lobby. What astonishes me even more is the silence of our learned institutions in the engineering and scientific community on the one hand and of the economists and genuine environmentalists on the other.

Any engineer or scientist who takes the time to study, dispassionately, the arguments of the wind energy supporters will come to the conclusions that wind power can never, be it on-shore or off-shore, deliver what it claims in terms of numbers of homes supplied or in reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and that the power that is generated is at such a high cost that it is only economically viable by virtue of a package of subsidies which, according to official figures, will be worth a billion pounds in 10 years' time. This must be found from the consumer to boost the profits of a few multinational corporations and shrewd investors.

It is time that this whole charade was recognised for what it is - the greatest scam since the South Sea Bubble.

Crawford, South Lanarkshire

Sir: Thomas Sutcliffe, in "The answer is blowing in the wind" (7 November), suggests that there may be landscapes that would be improved by the construction of wind power stations. He failed to consider the two main issues - the very modest and intermittent output of these 300ft high machines, and the great number of turbines needed, which will lead to impacts on our favourite landscapes.

Our unspoiled upland landscapes are shrinking all the time. Hitherto no one would have been allowed to build a house, a farm or a barn in such places. The response of the blinkered ecologist who sees beauty in the "free" energy is really no different from the delight of the satanic mill-owner on beholding the smoke-belching source of his profit.

Colossal turbines, in groups of hundreds, sited at sea, may make a useful contribution; the present land-based policies are hair-shirt tokenism.


Sir: I suggest that anyone involved in the design and layout of the proposed windfarms on Britain's uplands visit West Cork. Around Dunmanway and Drimoleague there are two wind farms.

They are wonderfully dramatic, beautiful creatures, sited in small bunches of up to 15 on uplands separated by 10 miles or less. They are visible from miles around on a clear day and locally their twirling sails will suddenly emerge from behind a hill as you cross country.

We welcome them and the clean power they give.

Ballineen, West Cork, Ireland

Slaves in Romania

Sir: The revelation of a child slave trade in Romania ("Brutal child slave trade uncovered on Romanian pig farm", 11 November) comes as no surprise. Romania has slashed spending in key areas of education in a bid to find the money needed to comply with the terms of entry to the European Union. In rural areas many children of subsistence farmers now receive little or no education.

It is true that the EU has made an effort to safeguard the welfare of the 100,000 or more children in state institutions. But its roadmap for Romania contains little or no provision for education. The EU is insisting Romania fulfil ambitious criteria drawn up with the needs of current members in an advanced state of economic convergence in mind. An EU-accession plan with Romania's true needs in mind would have made education a priority. Poor countries can catch up fast if money is intelligently invested in education. Ireland and Finland are proof of that.

I am afraid it is likely that similar horror stories will be uncovered as Romania lurches unsteadily towards EU entry.

Department of Peace Studies
University of Bradford

Vote now in Iraq

Sir: If the United States is really looking for an exit from Iraq the first thing it must do is to stop saying that elections cannot be held until a constitution has been drafted. This increasingly looks like an excuse for postponing elections, and an implausible excuse at that. Who is to draft this constitution and how can it have any legitimacy until some elections have first been held?

The usual thing to do in this sort of mess is first to elect a constituent assembly whose task it is to draft the constitution, and which may also act as the interim parliament. Despite all the security difficulties it should not be impossible to organise an election for a constituent assembly, and the fixing of a firm date for an election might even help the security problems. At least it would demonstrate to Iraqis that the coalition is not settling down as a permanent army of occupation.

Professor P S ATIYAH
Hayling Island, Hampshire

Wily sanctions

Sir:Hamish McRae's article "We will be the losers in a trade war with America" (12 November) is factually correct: such a war would damage everyone involved. The European sanctions however are a threat rather than an opening salvo in any trade war.

Careful examination of the seemingly disparate list of items (oranges, ski suits, etc ) reveals an application of pressure directed at the Bush administration itself as it prepares for the next presidential election. The items on the list directly affect marginal states. The US administration can now tally up whether not upsetting the steel producing states is worth the risk of alienating a greater number of states affected by the sanctions.

The Europeans are desperate to avoid a trade war and have hit the Bush team where it hurts. Machiavelli would be proud.


Above criticism  

Sir: If I disagree with Tony Blair, then I lack "integrity". I must "realise" that I was wrong to disagree with the invasion of Iraq. I must "realise" that "the task is not to argue about what has been". Is that not one of the most terrifying statements made by any leader in modern times? Is Mr Blair saying we cannot judge his actions?


Try the beer

Sir: Might I suggest that Andrew Dalziel doesn't really have to go far out of his way to find good beer in a food pub (letter, 11 November)? The answer is to become a member of CAMRA and buy The Good Beer Guide. As a card-carrying member I have thrown away all my good food guides and now just use the one ultimate reference book. I have noticed that landlords who spend time and trouble looking after their beer usually do so in pubs where the food is regarded with similar reverence.

Great Milton, Oxfordshire

Stolen nurses

Sir: David Blunkett may well praise the "disproportionate" contribution of migrant workers to the British economy (report, 13 November). Poor countries which have invested billions in training health and education professionals have had to stand by and watch those billions simply transfer to rich countries. This is neo-colonial, free market asset-stripping at its most inhuman: yet we actually congratulate ourselves on boosting our economy at the expense of the people of countries like Ghana, Malawi, India and Jamaica. Is this really "in all our interests", Mr Blunkett?


Question of identity

Sir: I used to live in Paris and, like Mr Rowlands (letter, 13 November), was also never stopped by the police and asked to produce my identity card or passport. However I often saw people stopped for this reason. The difference? They were North African and I'm not.

Acaster Malbis, York