Letters: Perspectives on drones

Saturday 22 October 2011 08:34

Remote killers raise new moral questions

Andreas Whittam Smith has highlighted the use of Drones (UAVs) in the murder of the American Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki ("Death by drone is swift and efficient – it is also murder", 6 October). I would endorse the conclusion he reached. However, on the broader question of "why the media as a whole was largely silent on the moral issues" he seems not to have formulated a very clear response.

In P Singer's book Wired for War and in the recent BBC programme by Stephen Sackur the exponential scale of robotic technology and the huge research investment by the Pentagon have been well documented. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were a major attraction at the recent Excel arms fair in London. Drones are big business.

The question needs to be asked: where do drones stand under the Geneva Convention on the rules of warfare or even under the criteria for a just war? Society seems to have banned atomic, biological and chemical weapons but drones are outside the categories. Drones are not limited to war situations and indeed many of the US drones are operated by the CIA, not by the military.

There are so many urgent questions here. Drones are indeed a "game –changing" technology.

Frank Campbell, Southampton

Sinister echo of the problems Himmler faced

Andreas Whittam Smith writes that death by drone is swift and efficient.

During the Second World War Himmler and his cohorts sought more swift and efficient ways of murdering the state's enemies including Jews.

The troops on the firing squads were often traumatised and demoralised by having to slaughter so many using guns. Hence the introduction of the gas chamber, which enabled the killers to operate at a physical and moral "distance" from the victims without the unpleasant side effect of having to look at them and the blood-splattered results.

It seems to me that that the use of drones achieves much the same aims by swiftly and efficiently murdering the States' enemies, including innocents, without the unpleasant side effect of having to look at the blood-splattered results

Alex Noble, Belfast

Pay our debts? We can't even afford the basics

When the Prime Minister suggests we should pay off our debts, do you think he has any idea that prices of all our main expenses, such as food and fuel, have gone up over 20 per cent, such that we now have practically no spare money to pay for anything, let alone paying off debts?

I think he needs to wake up and realise what he is doing to the economy and to the population.

Rachel Michaels, Bournemouth

David Cameron calls for us all to be optimists in a bright, new "can do" Britain.

I respectfully suggest he calls together as his next audience the nation's bankers, who, as many of my business colleagues and associates will readily attest, have lost all sense of risk and business management, and continue to undermine any recovery in the economy.

As long as our banks are allowed to operate a thoroughly pessimistic, "no way" Britain, the Prime Minister's call to action to the rest of us will remain a pointless grandstanding exercise like every PM's conference address.

Alistair McBay, Methven, Perth and Kinross

So it would be a disaster if families started paying off their debt would it? Surely the money, once returned to the banks, could be given instead to the companies that need it but currently can't get it.

Paul Dunwell, Alton, Hampshire

My reasonably bright 11-year-old had a question as he spotted my newspaper front pages and caught the morning news before heading off to school on Wednesday: "Dad, why is David Cameron telling everyone to pay off their credit cards? I thought Mr Osborne said people had to start buying things to stop the shops shutting down and the country going broke." Confessing I was a bit confused, too, I packed him off to school.

Back home later and watching the TV trotting out the PM's reverse spin, he inquired: "Will David Cameron or someone high up get sacked for messing up?" Once upon a more honourable time but not now, I proferred lamely, suggesting he got on with his homework, but later he might care to Google search for Lord Carrington.

Paul Connew, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Like Nigel Cubbage's "other half" (letter, 4 October) I was appalled at David Cameron's comments regarding many women worrying how to pay household bills.

But what I took from it was not that the PM thinks little women should be at home while men work, but that like many Tories, male and female, he accepts that women continue to earn less than men and therefore have less money available to pay their bills.

These are the attitudes that do not see women as partners but possessions, so watch out when you call us "your" anything.

Deborah Wilson, Birmingham

I'd like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his speech in Manchester on Wednesday. What we might loosely call the substance is immaterial. What matters is that he was spotted in the North of England, and there wasn't even a by-election on.

David Woods, Hull, East Yorkshire

Treasury grabs our pensions

If, as you report, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has told ministers that the problem with their proposals for public service pensions is that they were announced without consultation, then he may have contributed to their continuing misunderstanding of what they are up against.

As a local government worker in the third year of a pay freeze, having already seen my standard of living fall by 10 per cent since 2009, I can't see why I should accept paying more for a reduced pension at a later age just because Francis Maude might agree to "phase in" this blatant theft.

Our public sector pension schemes are cash-rich and financially sound. The Treasury are making a cash grab out of the pockets of those low-paid public servants saving for their retirement, in order to pay down debt incurred bailing out the banks.

Brendan Barber would do better to spend his time campaigning for support for the strike action which can defend our pensions, rather than trying to avert this action with shabby deals.

Jon Rogers, Branch Secretary, Lambeth UNISON, London SW2

In your report "Union boss's private talks with ministers to avert mass strikes" (6 October), you repeat David Cameron's claim that public-sector pensions are unaffordable. If that was the case putting up contributions to put the money into the schemes could at least be understandable. But the 3.2 per cent increase is a tax on public-sector workers that, as you yourself note, is a deficit reduction measure and goes straight to the Treasury.

Where is the justice or fairness in asking public-sector workers, a large percentage of whom earn less than £21,000 a year, to pay what is essentially a higher rate of tax just because they are public employees? It is that exploitation that will mean a yes vote for action.

Jane Carolan, Glasgow

Worrying lesson from May's cat

Your readers appear to share my concern that Theresa May's imaginative story about an immigrant and a cat may be indicative of the quality of person playing a role in government (letters, 6 October).

It seems a strong possibility that many advisers and civil servants may also be intellectually and educationally challenged. How else can one explain the regular announcements of policies which experts in real life suggest will have the opposite effect to that intended, or will have unstudied side-effects?

All of which appears to reflect poorly on educational standards at the time that these people went to school. Excessive emphasis on received wisdom (too often, a contradiction in terms), and lack of emphasis on the need to determine and analyse the facts, may possibly help to produce high examination grades but is a poor preparation for responsible decision-making.

Professor Christopher Baker, Wilmslow, Cheshire

Why should Ken Clarke apologise for speaking the truth? It was a childish and cheap shot by a Tory Home Secretary pandering to the baser instincts of her audience, and she had her facts wrong.

Steve Goddard, Tregaron, Ceredigon

Tobin tax would hit recovery

Regulations being proposed and imposed on the financial world are coming thick and fast. Some aim to provide greater oversight and transparency to prevent another crisis; some are seemingly to appease taxpayers. This "Tobin" tax ("Treasury vows to oppose Barroso's plan for 'Tobin tax' ", 28 September) falls into the latter category.

While there is an obvious need to reassure the taxpayer that banks are playing their part in the economic recovery, this is a short-sighted headline-grabbing initiative which I believe will result in Europe being a less competitive market place across industry – not just banking.

George Osborne must continue to oppose the financial transaction tax, for the benefit of the UK's recovery and to guide Europe in the same direction. Unless the proposed tax is implemented globally, it will drive financial services from the UK and Europe, to the US and Asia.

The affected markets will become less liquid. This will mean less tax revenue, and less liquid Eurozone markets will also look like a less attractive place for issuance and primary market activity, so there is a potential knock-on impact on businesses and institutions locally funding their Eurozone investment projects.

It is astounding that the EC is proposing a unilaterally implemented fundamental change to market operation which distances Eurozone markets from other continents. Surely the simplest and safest route to tax financial institutions, especially if promoting transparency is a serious ambition, is a financial institutions tax, tailored to size and type of institution, rather than interfering directly with market operation.

David Holcombe, Specialist in Trading, Rule Financial, London EC1

Banks in the City of London have nothing whatsoever to fear from a Tobin tax. Whenever I have needed to buy or sell an investment, I have had to pay stamp duty and commission – to them!

Godfrey H Holmes, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Let children get enough sleep

Kate Hilpern's article about how lack of sleep can cause health problems (4 October) does not examine the effect of lack of sleep in children.As a childminder, I was concerned that children are far less likely to get their sleep quota than in the past.

Where both parents work full-time, or in a one-parent family, children from a very early age are often left in paid childcare from early in the morning until late evening. When they are taken home the parent wants to play with them, so bedtimes are much later than in the past.

If (as is often the case) a child attends a pre-school from the age of two, the facilities have no obligation to provide a quiet sleeping area, leaving the possibility of a two-year-old being awake from early in the morning until late at night without a chance of a nap.

This seeming ignorance of the need for sleep is relatively new. My 80-year-old Mum remembers that when she was at school at the much older age of five, camp beds were provided for a nap after lunch.

The Early Years Foundation Stage, which all child care givers follow, does not mention the need for sleep, despite having over 70 objectives for the children to reach.

Lack of sleep could explain all sorts of problems suffered by modern children, from obesity to the rise in type two diabetes to the increased diagnosis of hyperactivity.

Liz White, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Braced for survival

In response to Gerard Bell's remarks on the brace position (letter 6 October), I would like to try and clarify why a brace position is recommended in the event of an aircraft accident. Fatalists would have it that no one survives an air crash, but time again we see that this is not true; when US Air flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson river just over two years ago, all 155 people on board survived. Safety procedures save lives.

Not adopting a brace position would mean that, with the usual lap belt as a restraint, due to the violent deceleration in a crash a person remaining in a normal sitting position would jackknife. The arms, legs and head would be thrown forward to smash against the seat in front. Even if the person remained conscious, broken limbs and crush injuries to the abdomen would very much reduce that person's ability to escape from the wreck.

With the feet flat on the floor and behind the knee, legs are not readily thrown forward. With the head resting against it, the seat in front provides vital support. The arms too protect the head from flying objects or falling overhead lockers which might otherwise knock you unconscious.

The brace position does not guarantee survival but crash tests with dummies have shown that it significantly increases the probability of survival.

Terence Hollingworth, Blagnac, France

Racehorses face a grim future

While it's true that the number of horses entering racing has declined over the last few years ("A Racing Certainty", 6 October), the number of horses leaving racing remains the same – around 7,000 a year.

Animal Aid's research shows that, on average, males race for just three seasons, and females for two. For those considered "useless", this means an uncertain future as they are sold from one owner to the next. Many enter a downward spiral of neglect, which can lead to the slaughterhouse, not to become "dog meat", but horse meat sold abroad for human consumption. In 2010, 7,933 horses – including thoroughbreds – were slaughtered in the UK.

What is galling is not that these animals are treated any differently from the millions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cows slaughtered each year, but that the racing industry and its supporters continue to insist that they adore and cherish racehorses, when in fact the thoroughbred's only value is as a financial commodity.

Fiona Pereira, Animal Aid, Tonbridge, Kent

An audit of optimism

Nigel Sleigh-Johnson (letter, 6 October) seeks to exonerate accountants because the financial crisis was primarily caused by "wildly optimistic property-based lending and its securitisation".

If the Institute of Chartered Accountants believes that reporting on the accounts of a bank does not oblige them to check whether or not its property-based loans are wildly optimistic then it should stand aside to allow another body to conduct audits which is more committed to doing the job properly.

Jon Hawksley, London EC1

It is interesting that when Pepys was reorganising and re-financing the Royal Navy in 1666 he could write: "So long as we and the world must be subjected to these bankers, I do despair of compassing it."

David Foster, Whatfield, Suffolk

South Africa's double standard

I was disgusted by the South African's failure to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama. The South African government had not even the courage to say no, knowing quite well how the rest of the world would view their double standards.

When they needed the rest of the world to help them in their struggles for human rights they received global support from all quarters. They have now slapped the faces of mankind and firmly reached out for financial gain and profit over their commitment to people such as the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu.

H Gibson, Belfast

Wake up, Britain

The BBC is to save money by cutting programmes and at the same time our government is keen to get people off benefits and into the workplace. Solution: cut daytime TV altogether. Result: the BBC savings are made and the work-shy (quickly tiring of staring at a blank screen) seek stimulation by rushing out to seek gainful employment. If the idle rich rise up in protest at the loss of their beloved daytime property-related programmes, we should remind them that we are all in this together.

John Lary, Rochester, Kent

Not needed

Could Robert Fisk explain the difference between "redundant" and "totally redundant" ("The never-ending war against cliché and jargon", 1 October)? Surely "totally" is redundant, or, as Fisk would say, totally redundant.

Andrew Belsey, Whitstable, Kent

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