For and against Petraeus
Sir: The attack on General David Petraeus (17 November) by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos of Antiwar.com was mean-minded, trivial and wrong. After the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, Petraeus garrisoned Northern Iraq, where his determination to improve services as well as security diminished resistance to the US-led occupation. In 2007, Iraq was sliding into ever more horrible sectarian civil war. As the new commander in Iraq, Petraeus, with President Bush’s backing, devised and deployed a surge of 30,000 troops to stem to the horrific Sunni-Shia bloodletting. By stationing his troops in small units amongst the population he provided constant security from brutal intimidation by al-Qa’eda and other murderous groups. Violence fell and a democratically elected government emerged. The record of that government has now deteriorated, particularly since US troops were withdrawn by President Obama. But that is not Petraeus’s fault.
Petraeus behaved honourably by resigning immediately his affair was discovered. But the loss of his unique experience to the United States government is incalculable. His record in Iraq alone shows him to be one of the finest US generals since the second world war.
Sir: Congratulations to The Spectator for publishing the brilliant article by Kelley Vlahos about General Petraeus (‘The fall of Petraeus’, 17 November).
I saluted General Douglas MacArthur at Camp Majestic, Japan, and exchanged a few words with Audie Murphy at Fort Lewis (Washington State). Murphy was the most decorated soldier in modern US history, but the ribbons on his chest, plus those of MacArthur, did not amount to half the ornaments on Petraeus’s uniform. The question is, how could a man of Petraeus’s intelligence and education think that other soldiers and veterans with a similar intelligence could be impressed by a man with ribbons from his shoulder to his navel, but no experience of what Vlahos called ‘direct fire combat’?
Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
Uppsala University, Sweden
You say litchen …
Sir: With reference to Dot Wordsworth’s column of 17 November, my wife and I have also fallen out about the correct pronunciation of lichen. However, I may have lightened the mood through the medium of song. With apologies to George and Ira Gershwin (1937), I have adapted their popular ditty:
‘You say litchen, I say liken, let’s call the whole thing moss.’
I hope this is of some help to readers.
Dr Paul D. Beavan
Sir: Kate Chisholm wrote that ‘With the new iPlayer Radio smartphone app, you can now listen to … Jarvis Cocker while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro’.
I don’t like Jarvis Cocker’s music, but Radio 4 on Kilimanjaro is strongly recommended. When I climbed the mountain last year, I took a selection of In Our Time recordings on my iPod. So while plodding up to Gilman’s Point I listened and learned about the Battle of Bannockburn, Sturm und Drang, suffragism and the nervous system; from Gilman’s Point to Uhuru summit no distraction is wanted; and on the way down I listened to programmes about Aristotle’s Poetics, Edmund Burke, Magna Carta and the Zulu nation’s rise and fall. However, once off the main cone of Kibo, I recommend having only one earpiece in, just in case something with nasty, big, pointy teeth turns up.
A lovely man
Sir: I very much enjoyed the excellent piece by Harry de Quetteville about Hugh Montgomery Massingberd (as he then was, when I worked for him at the Daily Telegraph from 1987 to 1989). He transformed the obituary pages with his fine wit, his disdain for pomposity and his fascination with the unusual aspects of people’s characters. I was rootling through the ‘obituaries in waiting’ one day when I came across the obit of H. Monty Mass, as we called him, and was surprised to find he had written the whole thing himself.
It began thus: ‘Hugh Montgomery Massingberd, who has died aged ?, was a very fine writer who never achieved the literary acclaim of which many believed him capable.’ After some detail, the obituary went on to say: ‘Tall and well-made in his prime, he sacrificed his fine physique in pursuit of the most alarming gluttony, but he retained his titanic capacity for work and his fatal attraction for the opposite sex.’
It was I who printed the obituary and distributed it on the desks about the office. It was swiftly deleted from the computer system (which in those days was woefully insecure) and to my knowledge never appeared in print. He was a lovely man and I think would not begrudge me, then a young journalist, my small excursion into the world of mischief.
Sir: If I buy £145 worth of shares in Tesco, I am entitled to a say in how the company is run, and to take part in the election of the directors responsible for its conduct. My £145 annual contribution to the BBC’s funds give me no say at all in its corporate behaviour, or its use of £450,000 of funding to pay off the director-general. Of course, George Entwistle escapes lightly because the director-general position is not that of a ‘real’ director — and thus he bears no personal liability — any more than the BBC behaves like a ‘real’ business, with responsibilities towards its stakeholder. The time is right, as Charles Moore suggests (Notes, 17 November), to break it up.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 24 November 2012