From Lady Belhaven and Stenton
Sir: I understand why Mary Wakefield decided to speak to the Federation of Poles in Great Britain (‘The misery of the Polish newcomers’, 28 January), but Andrzej Tutkaj does not speak for the Polish community as a whole. She would have been better advised to have gone to the Polish Consulate, which is the organisation which looks after Poles over here and has to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. The Federation of Poles was formed during the Communist period when few Poles would have considered approaching the Consulate, and the Polish community needed an organisation which could help people in trouble who could not return to Poland in the circumstances of that time.
The Polish community is now divided between what I would call the old hands who are well settled and integrated, as is Mr Tutkaj, and those who are coming over in large numbers looking for work. I think that there is a certain unease in Mr Tutkaj’s remarks which reflects the attitude of some settled Poles to the very large new influx of their fellow countrymen. His views, however, are by no means generally held. No doubt there are suicides, drunken brawls and the rest of what is only to be expected when large numbers of people — mainly men — find themselves in a foreign country. We have only to think of Englishmen going abroad to watch football to realise that this is not a purely Polish phenomenon.
Malgorzata Belhaven and Stenton
A far greater harm
From Alexandra Gibbs
Sir: Ross Clark (‘Reefer madness’, 28 January) disagrees with ‘the libertarian view that cannabis is… a harmless bit of fun’. Many of us libertarians take the view that all drugs per se have their harms but that it is prohibition which is a far greater harm to both individuals and society as a whole. This is because prohibition provides criminals with one of their most lucrative and empowering lines of business.
Prohibition also removes the control and regulation of potentially dangerous substances from the hands of government and cedes them to criminals. Were drugs to be placed under strict government control, the existing criminal anarchy would be replaced with a regulated and safe market.
Prohibition means lack of health warnings and advice for users. Prohibition also ensures a disproportionately large margin over production costs with an attendant high street price that pushes problem users into criminal activity. Many libertarians agree that cannabis is not a harmless bit of fun, just as they would agree that alcohol or tobacco is not harmless. What they disagree with is prohibition as a means of protecting people; it is doing the opposite.
The truth of war
From Jane Kelly
Sir: So what is the truth about the Great War? Come along then, tell us. I haven’t yet read The Great War: Myth and Memory by Dan Todman, but Hugh Cecil who reviewed it (Books, 21 January) obviously felt that Todman had got it right in his attempt to overturn the ‘myth’ about the war being a bad thing; a view which Cecil says now dominates our thinking despite ‘a wealth of first-rate historical research’ carried out by what he calls ‘conscientious historians’, as opposed to all those Tired Tims and Weary Willies who go about insisting that the whole thing was a terrible mistake.
Nowhere in the review did he actually tell us the case for prosecuting that war. He did mention that the Hun threatened the Channel ports and that overall our casualties were low compared with others, but is that his argument for a world war, the death of millions of men, and the total collapse of Germany, which led to even worse horrors later?
Talking to Tehran
From Dr John B. Sheldon
Sir: In a better world Andrew Gilligan’s call for the United States to offer Iran a ‘grand bargain’ in order to provide a way out of the current impasse (‘Washington must talk to Tehran’, 21 January) would make sense. However, we have been here before. In 1999 the Clinton administration offered the Iranians a similar deal. According to accounts, the administration of President Khatami was willing to accept, but the proposed deal was quashed by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, who cited the real and perceived misdeeds of the United States in Iranian affairs.
Between 2001 and 2003 the USA and Iran met regularly under the auspices of the Geneva contact group at the UN in order to liaise on issues of common interest in Afghanistan and Iraq, but these talks collapsed as more senior officials from both sides became involved. Lastly, the overtures by the United States in the aftermath of the devastating Bam earthquake in December 2003 were spurned by the Iranians.
Given this track record, it seems unlikely that any grand bargain is in the offing. There are issues for both sides to resolve internally before any rapprochement can take place, and the most important is for Iran finally to transcend its troubled past and America’s part in it, rather than to use the past as a cudgel to punish a generation of Western leaders who had no part in Iran’s history.
John B. Sheldon
The Swedish Mozart
From Professor John Poynton
Sir: Peter Phillips (Arts, 21 January) regrets that Mozart’s 250th anniversary will overshadow other anniversaries. Most regrettable of all, I would suggest, is the failure to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Kraus (1756–92), sometimes called the Swedish Mozart but considered by C.P.E. Bach to be preferable to Mozart.
Acquaintance with Kraus’s engaging but little-known music will suggest that Bach’s assessment is sound. Thought to be an original genius by Haydn (one of Kraus’s symphonies was published under Haydn’s name), Kraus anticipates early 19th-century composition to a remarkable degree. Yet so far there is no recognition of him in concert programmes published for this year.
It would be hugely regrettable if the opportunity provided by 2006 to explore this adventurous composer’s work were passed over, and that celebrations of Mozart overshadowed his great contemporary. Kraus’s numerous and varied compositions are beginning to be recorded, notably by Naxos. A list of his works may be found at www.artaria.com/Composer/Kraus.asp.
From William Kelley
Sir: While I enjoyed Taki’s High life column last week, I feel I ought to point out that both Eton (1,157 killed) and Rugby (689 killed) lost more former pupils in the Great War than Harrow (644 killed). This is in no way intended to belittle their sacrifice; and the fact that such schools provided a junior officer cadre which, while inexperienced, was both brave and distinguished speaks volumes for the public-school ethos. It is a pity that such men are often satirised as blundering idiots, and that their integral part in our victory in the first world war is consequently often overlooked.
From Eric Brown
Sir: In ‘The Spectator’s Notes’ (21 January), Charles Moore writes: ‘The only part of mainland Britain where the North/South divide governs everything is Wales.’ What about London?
Band of brothers
From Christopher Arthur
Sir: Reading Leo McKinstry’s very sensible piece about Ruth Kelly (‘Hate, hypocrisy and hysteria’, 21 January) and the paedophile witch-hunt, I could not help casting my mind back to my days in a public school back in the Fifties. Some of my most inspiring
teachers were paederasts or what today are called paedophiles. We simply took them for what they were and did not get worked up about it.
Divide and rule
From Martyn Marriott
Sir: Rod Liddle (‘The politics of Pleasantville’, 21 January) chooses a poor example of political correctness in stating that Africa’s problems are really down to bad governance, not the legacy of imperialism.
Bad governance there is, but the reasons for it lie in the imperial past. The main one is the hasty imposition by departing colonialists of Westminster-type systems of government quite unsuited to countries with high levels of illiteracy and deep tribal differences. This built on the absurdity of borders drawn on a map by foreign powers without regard for local realities, and on the efforts to divide and rule by breaking down traditional forms of government.
Also, Africa suffered from the ruthless exploitation of its natural resources in the age of finders keepers, not to mention the little matter of the slave trade.
Finally, not all colonial powers did as much as we British to organise, educate and take care of their subjects (viz. the post-colonial situation in countries like Angola and the DRC).
Freetown, Sierra Leone
From Anthony Howard
Sir: Gordon Brown asks us to be patriotic and to plant Union flags in our gardens. He should have thought of that before he supported his Prime Minister in taking this country to war on a foundation of lies to Parliament and to the people. I am now thoroughly ashamed to be British and thus for my part in the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis. I have voted Labour all my life — but never again. These political pygmies have, in eight short years, turned this once proud nation into a land fit only for foul-mouthed drunkards and cowardly sycophants. Blair and Brown are welcome to the lot of them.
New Forest, Hampshire
From John Bunting
Sir: Dr Chris Scanlan’s letter (21 January) and Richard Dawkins’s effusions show the extent to which fundamentalism is now taken as representative of religion as a whole.
If a thing is demonstrably true, I don’t need to accept it by faith. Genesis is not concerned with the physics and biology of creation, but with its perceived meaning and worth. I therefore accept evolution, but believe that the matter which made it possible came into being by conscious creation, not by chance.
From Stuart Williams
Sir: If I were a multibillionaire (And another thing, 21 January), I would buy an atom bomb from Mr Ahmadinejad and drop it on the Welsh Assembly.
Burry Port, Carmarthenshire