In defence of General Lee
Sir: In your leader ‘America’s identity crisis’ (19 August) you state that ‘When General Lee emerged as a leader of that rebellion [the secession of the Southern states], we said that he had no cause that stood up to scrutiny.’ The irony is that Lee did not disagree with that view. Unlike Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders, he was opposed to secession and believed that the Union should be kept intact.
Nor was he an enthusiast for slavery. A slave owner by proxy, he appears to have loathed the experience. In 1856 he wrote to his wife saying that ‘In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.’ He supported his wife and her mother in their campaign to liberate slaves, and helped his wife and daughter to set up an illegal school for slaves at Arlington. All the Arlington slaves were freed in 1862.
These factors, his military genius and his reputation as a fine ‘Southern gentleman’ meant that Lee was admired almost as much in the North as in Dixie and was a unifying force after the war. In 1962 a Barracks at West Point was named for him.
So it is all the sadder, as you argue, that Lee has become politicised and a victim of ‘identity politics’. As ever, you have to ask how much history those on either the right or the left of these arguments actually know.
A medieval practice
Sir: Julie Bindel’s article (The ‘sex worker’ myth, 19 August) underlines the fact that men are prostitution’s driving force and that they have society’s protection, unlike the women they use. What kind of message does legalising prostitution send? That it is perfectly acceptable for women to sell their bodies. It promotes the idea that women are just ‘pieces of meat’, it brutalises men, and it debases sex itself.
In the future we will look back on the practice of allowing women’s bodies to be bought as truly medieval.
Lorna Currie Thomopoulos
Sir: Julie Bindel’s assertion that decriminalising sex work in Australia has not had a positive effect on HIV transmission is surprising. Sex work was decriminalised at the onset of the Aids epidemic in the 1980s, and Australia has been consistently admired in Asia for its low transmission figures. Equally surprising is the assertion that it has not had a positive effect on murder outcomes. In Sydney, sex workers have managed with ease to sustain charges of assault and rape against unruly clients. No sex workers have been murdered in brothels. In the unlikely case that it should happen in the future, brothel owners would probably lose both their licence and most of their clientele.
Hunter’s Hill, New South Wales
Sir: Carola Binney’s discovery during her teaching year in China that racism was endemic (‘Beyond the pale’, 19 August) doesn’t surprise me at all. In the early 1970s, I used to teach black African children in Botswana. I soon realised that while my students were (rightly) indignant about the racist treatment of blacks by whites in the neighbouring apartheid state of South Africa, where many of their parents had to work, they were oblivious to the fact that they themselves treated the indigenous Kalahari bushmen with equal contempt and regarded them as inferior.
Racism is a universal human construct and we should not be surprised that rapidly industrialising countries like China and India (with its institutionally racist caste system) have not yet fully come to terms with their own indigenous racism as we have tried to do in the West.
Sir: While agreeing completely with Ashley Writtle (‘Varsity Blues’, 19 August), the most interesting thing about his article was his use of a pseudonym. In Oxford we have the Oxford Magazine, written by dons for dons, which has published many very similar articles over recent years, but all by retired academics. When someone commented on this, it became clear that dons before retirement are reluctant to poke their heads above the parapet for fear of damaging their career prospects. What does this tell us about an institution whose founding principle was the free exchange of ideas?
Professor Robin Jacoby
Never too many graduates
Sir: I disagree strongly with Ashley Writtle’s argument that the primary purpose of universities should be to create an elite. It is far more important that we have a highly educated population able to rise to the challenges of the 21st century than that we create a small golden cohort.
Our diverse university sector is doing pretty well at the moment. Contrary to Professor Writtle’s claims of employers’ complaints that graduates are overqualified and under-skilled, the CBI/Pearson Skills Survey found that over 90 per cent of employers are happy with the graduates they recruit. Over 50 per cent, though, are concerned they won’t be able to recruit enough graduates in the future, especially if it becomes more difficult to employ EU nationals. The Russell Group cannot make up the shortfall alone — they neither take on enough students, nor offer the full range of courses required. Currently over a quarter of the nation’s engineers graduate from universities which are members of the University Alliance, and we are crucial to the education of nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals.
There is also a strong fairness argument. Graduate careers are both better paid and often more fulfilling than other work. If we heavily restrict university places, we will be taking away the opportunity to compete for the best jobs from far too many people.
Thirdly, society benefits from a high proportion of graduates. They tend to be healthier, more law-abiding and more likely to vote, volunteer and be tolerant of other people’s views. As Lord Robbins argued in 1963, universities should offer higher education to everyone with the aspiration and ability to benefit.
Chief executive, University Alliance
Osteopaths aren’t quacks
Sir: I was disappointed by Mary Wakefield’s article ‘Beware the back-cracker quacks of Harley Street’ (19 August). She seems to have confused ‘craniosacral therapy’ — an unregulated pursuit which can be practised by anyone — with osteopathy, a highly skilled area of medicine, which is regulated by the General Osteopathic Council.
Her view that osteopaths are ‘quacks’, ‘charlatans’ and don’t have medical degrees is anachronistic. I certainly studied medicine while at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine. Four years as an undergraduate, followed by a two-year masters degree, in which I carried out clinical research into neck pain. During those six years, all the subjects were identical to those of a general medical degree. However, we also learned peripheral mechanics and osteopathic techniques, including manipulation. We don’t use the title ‘Dr’, however, because those working in the osteopathic profession are already specialists.
I hope your readers have not been put off ever seeing an osteopath. My own patients (who come from all walks of life) can testify to its efficacy. There is nothing ‘alternative’ about our approach to the human body, pain and disease.
Fiona Lafferty (registered osteopath)
Why the Garden Bridge fell
Sir: Martin Vander Weyer (Any other business, 19 August) is wrong to say that a ‘London Labour conspiracy’ explains the failure of the stricken Garden Bridge project. Opposition came from many walks of life, including the Ramblers’ Association, the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, and members of all parties in the Greater London Assembly, Conservatives included. Sadiq Khan as incoming mayor initially backed the bridge, and could have saved the public an estimated £9 million by pulling the plug sooner. Note too that Lord Davies of Abersoch, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, is a Labour life peer.
Sir: Valerie Stead (Letters, 19 August) says it is shameful that most British school leavers are not fluent in a second language. Surely it is understandable? I have travelled widely in Asia, including in places where there are very few tourists, without having any difficulty in finding people with whom I can communicate in my native tongue. If I was a speaker of French, German or Serbo-Croat, I would know such travel to be almost impossible unless I learnt at least the basics of the 21st-century lingua franca: English.
If in other European countries most school leavers are fluent in a second language, I expect that, in the vast majority of cases, the chosen language is English.
Joking in Russian
Sir: May I make a vital correction? In his generous mention of Anglichanka, Abi Roberts’s act at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Lloyd Evans (Arts, 19 August) says: ‘Abi Roberts is the first Englishwoman to perform stand-up in Russia.’ Her distinction is that she is the first English person to perform stand-up in Russian in Russia. She has a very good command of the language, having studied it at university and having been brought up in a house where visiting Russians came in and out like the tide.
Pepys on the barge
Sir: Frances Wilson (Books, 19 August) quotes from Margaret Willes’s book The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that ‘Pepys was at Dover to welcome the return of Charles II on the royal barge.’ In fact, as secretary to Lord Montague, Pepys was a member of the entourage that sailed to Holland to bring the King back to England. On reaching Dover, the King embarked into a barge to make land. Pepys, together with a Mr Mansell and one of the King’s footmen and the King’s much-loved dog, all followed in another boat, which ‘got on shore when the King did’. Pepys, with ever an eye on the minutiae of everyday life, records that the dog, ‘which shit in the boat, made us laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are’ (Diaries of Samuel Pepys, Volume 1, Bell and Hyman).
Two lords a-leaping
Sir: The two bogus lords whose wedding announcement in the Times was spotted by Charles Moore (Notes, 29 July) did not fool the officials of the House of Commons where the marriage took place. They tell me that passports are always carefully checked to ensure that the register is signed accurately; people cannot turn themselves into peers or MPs as the fancy takes them. In the old days, a bevy of ladies scrutinised every word in announcements submitted to the Times, but now apparently the paper tends to print whatever it is sent. I think I might give myself a dukedom if I marry.
House of Lords, London SW1
Sir: The new word that Mark Mason (Letters, 12 August) is looking for to describe his partner is the old Scots word ‘bidie-in’, from the verb ‘to bide’. It has the advantage of being completely gender neutral, and avoids the confusion which using ‘partner’ may cause, as to whether she is your partner in business or in life.
New Elgin, Moray