Sir: Jon Stone (Letters, 15 February) recalls the horrors and miseries of being subjected to bombing from the air. How right he is to do so. The deliberate burning and crushing of civilians in their homes is a revolting and indefensible form of warfare. It is no surprise that Hitler used it.
What is surprising is that people in this country continue to make excuses for our own use of this method, which was actually far more extensive and deadly than the German bombing of the United Kingdom. There are no such excuses. Those who fall back on utilitarian justifications will also find that these do not work. The bombing of Germany failed on its own terms. Its alleged achievements in diverting aircraft and artillery from the eastern front would have been far greater had we attacked military and industrial targets. Of course the German massacre of the Jews was worse beyond comparison and those who try to equate these events are to be despised. But the perpetration of a uniquely great evil does not wipe out lesser evils.
There is much talk of Dresden, but almost none of the dozens of other cities on whose people we rained death. The point remains that the British government knew it could not hit military targets accurately by night, and did not (unlike the USA) develop the capacity to bomb by day. So it ordered the bombing of cities, concentrating on poor areas where housing was densest. I have thought for some time that our modern moral coarseness in so many areas of life is a result of our continuing failure to recognise what we did, and show proper contrition for it.
Sir: Jason Goodwin wrote of a pangolin in ‘A dish served cold’ (15 February). As a former country director of WaterAid in Tanzania, I remember a live pangolin being brought to a friend’s house in Dodoma by a poacher. After it had been emptied out of a sack on to the ground, the pangolin uncurled from the tight ball he had curled himself up into and peered up at us, like an old gentleman in a heavy raincoat. A small price was paid and later that evening our gentle friend was taken out into the bush and returned by the light of the moon. Pangolins are often used in ‘ceremonies’ in East Africa to predict the future, sometimes with vast crowds present. Invariably it does not end well for this gentlest of animals.
Sir: Matthew Parris asks ‘Does Evil really exist?’ (8 February). Surely it must, if Good exists, because there is no point in either of them, without the opposite other?
Sir: While getting a mention in Toby Young’s column (15 February) will probably be the highlight of Southend United’s season, I object to him drawing a comparison between watching the mighty Shrimpers and sitting through the Oscars. A rainy Tuesday evening at Roots Hall is a vastly more honest and entertaining experience than watching a bunch of actors pleading with us to save the planet/whales/pandas. I hereby issue an open invitation to him to come as my guest for ‘The Roots Hall Experience’ before the season ends. It’s a bit like visiting the Bernabeu (except that it isn’t at all like visiting the Bernabeu), and it might at least make a ‘Sarfend’ Evening Echo headline: ‘Top journalist seen at local football match.’ As a bonus, the half-time show by the Bluebelles does Essex girls proud.
Out of proportion
Sir: Fredrik Erixon’s article (‘Europe’s shrinking centre’, 15 February) fails to fully explain the decline of centre politics in Europe. I suggest the cause is proportional representation which is the predominant electoral system in EU countries. This achieves stable coalition governments that, by virtue of compromise, gravitate towards the centre. The result has often been long periods of indistinguishable governments and political inertia.
In the UK’s first-past-the-post system, stable governments can emerge on left or right. Coalitions tend to arise within a party and not between parties, allowing shifts towards the left and right as the electorate become tired of one or the other. This also discourages far-right parties gaining a foothold in parliament. This may explain why the fascist unrest is not a problem in the UK unlike the rest of the Europe.
Not my cup of tea
Sir: Laura Freeman says coffee matters to museums (‘Tart gallery’, 15 February). I wish tea did. I haven’t been to the Tate of late, but during my last visit to the revamped café at the Royal Opera House I was given a glass of hot water and a teabag! Tea is made by pouring boiling water over tea leaves and then served in a pot. Why is tea so abused while the coffee culture reaches new heights of absurd self-regard?
Amend a penny
Sir: I very much enjoyed Laura Freeman’s article ‘Tart gallery’, with its insight into museum cafés. But I was horrified to read the expression ‘one pence’, referring to 1868 prices. Pence is a plural form of the word penny, so cannot be applied to one of them. We would indeed have said ‘one penny’, although by the time I was growing up in the 1960s you couldn’t get anything for less than threepence.