The Spectator

Feedback | 20 September 2003

Readers respond to articles recently published in <br><i>The Spectator</i>

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Comment on Diary by Nicholas Farrell (13/09/2003)

Last week many people in Italy were both shocked and disgusted by Berlusconi's statement about the fascist regime, according to which "That was a much more benign dictatorship - Mussolini did not murder anyone. Mussolini sent people on holiday to confine them".

Giovanni Amendola (liberal deputy and former minister, d.1926);

Pietro Gobetti (intellectual and founder of a liberal review, d.1926);
Antonio Gramsci (founder of the Italian Communist Party, d.1937);
Giacomo Matteotti (socialist deputy, d.1924);
Carlo and Nello Rosselli (intellectuals and founders of an anti-fascist review, d.1937);
Father Giovanni Minzoni (active supporter of the peasant's rights, against the landowners backed by the fascists, d.1923).

These are the most well known victims of the fascist regime that Berlusconi ignores, or pretends to ignore. But they are only a minimal part of the thousands of people who lost their lives under Mussolini's dictatorship, either shot after being sentenced for political reasons, or beaten to death by the fascist squads, or questioned in torture chambers, or detained in prison for years, in inhuman conditions, until they died.

Many roman Jews, taken by the Nazis to concentration camps - despite some say "on holiday" - with Mussolini's connivance, never returned. Others were slaughtered in Italy. The ones who were not deported had to face the shameful racial laws issued by the dictator, a real apartheid, for adults and children alike.

The words spoken by Berlusconi are not the sloppy attempt of a revisionist to deny what is undeniable: they reveal this man's deep ignorance about the recent history of the country whose premiership he disgracefully holds, hopefully not for long.

His remark about Mussolini's regime goes against Italy's Constitution, which is based on anti-fascist principles. No wonder that his government is now trying to change some of the Constitution's articles before the expiry of his mandate, in 2006. Other antidemocratic laws passed under his premiership, such as the recent one that grants him immunity (actually, impunity) for any kind of offence and for the whole length of his mandate, are based on his bizarre idea of being a "prime manager" rather than a prime minister, as if the Italian Republic was one of the countless companies or TV channels privately owned by the tycoon.

In any case, neither premiership nor money will ever give Berlusconi the right to offend the people with his senseless remarks that outrage both the conscience of the living and the memory of the dead.

Andrea Pollett
Rome, Italy

When is the next article explaining that the mafia does not exist?

Bruno Di Salvo

Comment on How we trained al-Qa'eda by Brendan O'Neill (13/09/2003)

Islamic terrorism is extremely dangerous but Mr O'Neill might do better to look for the roots of it in Peterborough, Leicester, or Bradford. In Bosnia, over 200,000 people died largely because we prevented them from defending themselves. It was not knee-jerk Liberals who condemned this (Look at the role of Dr.Death) but conservatives and people of conscience. I scent a Serbian propagandist somewhere.

David Barchard

Comment on We're winning this war by Mark Steyn (13/09/2003)

I so enjoy Mark Steyn's loopy, often counter-factual blastings. They make me smile and sometimes laugh aloud every Friday. You are lucky to have such a productive and articulate loon to remind your readers that some people do still buy the Daily Mail, and others can watch Bush without fear and horrified amazement, and still others cannot identify propaganda and psychosis, and greet those two ravers warmly, and nod their sympathy. But his last line today is an absolute classic! America's victory at home - duh? It's a big fat four - nil to OBL, I reckon. Victory in Afghanistan? Emphatically wrong. They fight battles there daily and the 'security situation' is non-existent. And victory in Iraq! Hurrah! I must admit I quite missed that one. But then so did the BBC, CNN, Sky and every newspaper and journalist in the world. Everyone except the Rabid Steyn, in fact. Mark, just don't start taking the pills. You're hilarious, baby. You've got a talent for it.

David Clove

Thank you and your courageous staff for showing heroic valour in publishing Mark Steyn. He is always direct, precise, entertaining, sensitive, and outrageously funny. He is very articulate. He is diligent in presenting the facts. His knowledge and information of most aspects of civilization and history staggers me. He is a virtual walking encyclopaedia. Please continue to publish his works. He is always brilliant and challenging.

James A Seese M.D.

While the BBC and other British Media circle somewhere in the netherworld, this article was written by someone who shares the real world with the rest of us. The article was a treasure chest of truth in an uncertain world where the smallest of pleasures is welcomed.

Clark Alexander

Comment on The Young Fogey: an elegy by Harry Mount (13/09/2003)

I left Oxford last year and I can safely say the young fogey is alive and well, though less of an English institution. It is the American east coast that is filling the Young Fogey's brogues. These Americans (though a very small proportion) are invariably products of Ivy League universities, they wear excruciatingly anachronistic outfits, smoke pipes (which gives them a gravelly, middle-aged sound), hang around the union, walk with a cane, wear boaters in summer and are all faintly disappointed that Oxford is not what it was.

Daniel Metcalfe

Comment on Madonna of the Pseuds by Tom Utley (13/09/2003)

I don't mind if the author doesn't care for what others consider to be "the finer things." What bothers me is to judge a da Vinci out of the context of art history. He may not find the Madonna and Child physically attractive, but you can not deny the power of da Vinci's painting technique on the course of the history of art, and therefore, on history itself. Taken out of context, I think you can deny the importance of just about anything. That's easy. What is difficult is to study, and to learn a certain sort of appreciation.

Bernard Langs
New Providence, NJ

Coming out is very good

There is some Leonardo that is boring and there is some Verdi that is boring too. But that is not the issue. The issue is the "coming out" of those who spent a lifetime pretending to be mesmerized by all the 'right' pieces and forms of art. At some point in their life they break down and admit that they never felt anything, really. Nothing wrong with that. What is quite extraordinary, though, is that they have to find an excuse for it. And normally the only excuse is that the objects of their past pseudo-admiration are crap. I can just picture them. Mid-forties, perhaps, with an incredibly smug look at a good Italian restaurant over a glass of Heineken, eyes glinting with self-satisfaction at just having discovered the wheel, totally freed of the burden of being caught out as an uncultured heathen, swimming in a sea of happiness at finally being themselves, delving into an exposé of art being really something for the dogs and how reformed pseudo-intellectuals can see right through the great scam that is called Italian opera and art, Russian poetry, etc. etc.

Talking of Verdi, I would like to meet the people who were looking at their watches and were dying for a pee and a pint during a Callas Traviata. Meet them (if they are still alive), stare at them perhaps for a little while, and then put them in formaldehyde in a glass bowl for posterity at the Tate. The label should read 'I left an opera lover crying on the pavement as I used a ticket that I most certainly did not deserve.'

I agree, it is fi nally time for the 'average self-declared art-lover' to come out and admit their non-enjoyment. That would make finding tickets so much easier for those who do. Just thinking of La Scala, or any opera house, full of people glued to their watches, it drives one stir-crazy, especially when one is left outside with only consolation the pint and the toilet facilities that the 'insiders' are yearning for.

Coming out is wonderful. Please spread the word.

PS: As you can see, no Kylie's bum was debased during the above letter. That particular piece of the anatomy (albeit not hers yet, as far as I know) has inspired some incredible endorphin-exploding art that has survived long after the model itself is reduced to pelvic bones and then dust.

Suzanne Velcro

It is depressing to read this sort of fatuous, sloppy, slovenly and ad hoc idiocy in The Spectator.

Almost as depressing as to read in "The Guardian" last week the maunderings of Ms Susan Hill, an author who has produced some first class books, professing to agree with Mr Jamie Oliver that his not reading books (a fact all too painfully obvious from the paucity of his vocabulary and the uncouthness of his speech) is justified by his opinion that books are boring. I certainly do not consider those books by Ms Hill that I have read to be boring, nor I suspect, would Mr Oliver had he been properly educated.

There seems to be a new disease abroad, something like, to paraphrase Waugh, sucking up to the philistines.

Of what value or interest is it to anyone, let alone your readers, to be told that Mr Utley lacks an appreciation of Leonardo, Chekhov or Verdi? Their reputations will not suffer, whereas his may.

Hugh Northam

I don't know who this guy Tom Utley is, but having read his article, there is only one way to describe him: the man's a genius! He hit "the emperor's new clothes" syndrome head on, bless him. If he's single (or married but willing to take an additional wife) and is willing to come to the near east, I offer him my nubile daughter's hand in marriage, and throw in a dozen fine racing camels as dowry.

Shneur Elgar

Comment on I was 12, she was 13 by Rod Liddle (13/09/2003)

When the Church had control of these things, it did a better job. The age of consent was 12 for girls and 14 for boys - they had noticed that girls mature earlier. If a middle-aged man seduced a teenage girl with her actual consent he would have to pay her compensation, surely preferable to putting him in jail. Rape was, however, treated very seriously, more so than today.

Those mediaeval churchmen had grasped the difference between morality and law, and between what is desirable and what we might try to enforce. Today, our leaders live in a fantasy world, full of demons and dark forces.

Frank Upton

Comment on I prefer the tub of lard by Leo McKinstry (13/09/2003)

It appears to me that to be attacked by Roy Hattersley is the proof positive that you are a success. Lord Hattersley's vituperative outpourings are particularly directed at Lady Thatcher, Tony Blair and recently Ken Livingstone. These being three of the most successful and influential politicians of the last 30 years (whatever he may think of their politics), only a cynic would suggest his attacks have less to do with their politics and more to do with his own spectacular failure as a politician.

Colm Nugent

Comment on A sad case of schadenfreude by Andrew Gimson (13/09/2003)

I read Andrew Gimson's article with particular interest, as I'm an American, a native of George W. Bush's home state, and a friend of Germany who spent a year there in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Although Mr. Gimson made cogent points, I think he underestimated the extent to which the current anti-American feeling on the Continent is Bush-driven. I never felt the slightest hostility during my stay directed at me as an American. But I encountered near-uniform dismay at the notion of Dubya (as we Texans call him) leading the world's most powerful nation.

Germans fear and despise Bush not primarily out of some insufferable sense of cultural superiority, but because he has treated them – as he's treated much of the rest of the world – with bullying, dishonest condescension.

This is not to deny that there is a strain of reflexive anti-Americanism in sectors of German society, or that anti-Bush sentiment sometimes overflows in ugly ways. But I predict we will see the much-reported recent "wave" of anti-Americanism subside to background levels as soon as we Americans replace Bush with someone who might approximate competence and honesty. As a Texan and as an American, I hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Andrew Hammel
Austin, Texas

Oh dear, the Great British chip. It does help to speak the language - that can help you get past your Biggles heritage. I meet Atlanticist Germans in Hamburg and stay at home ones in Schwaben. I like the educated ones in their 30's, international in outlook; travelled; less provincial than the Brits. Welcoming things American may extend to the accent. And the young from the East have lots to offer too.

Mark Collet

I have read your article on the dismal state of my home country with great interest and - unfortunately - total agreement. As a journalist working for the conservative press (Die Welt) I am shocked to see the resentment against the US and the Jews is no "privilege" of the left. Few of my colleagues feel, for example, that the war on terror is a common concern of all Western nations. I'm afraid you have to come back for a little re-education.

Mariam Lau

Andrew Gimson mentions how, "An American journalist of my acquaintance recently ... found the Chancellor's staff giggling about Mr Bush in front of another American reporter."

Yes, this was bad manners in that immediate environment, and yes, much that Gimson is saying about Germany itself in the article is no doubt largely valid. However, things like respect, support and loyalty exist in a two-way street. When a country elects a leader who simply cannot command them, it is a little odd to blame others for the problem. The operative question Andrew Gimson should also ask is: just how "respectable" or "supportable" is Bush, and by implication the America that elected him?

Unfortunately the most common feeling he arouses amongst people I know, from a first violinist in an American symphony orchestra, to an HR manager in LA, to a statistician, to a retired geriatric nurse, both in New Zealand, to a Dutch graphic artist, to my local computer fixit man, people of quite diverse political persuasions: in fact I find, virtually everyone one asks, is that they feel "physically ill" [in italics] when forced to watch Bush on television. The most common response is to turn him off. In simple Kiwi slang: he gives you the creeps!

Blair's vapid insincerity is one thing, but Bush projects a much deeper and more troubling disturbance of mind.

What is interesting is that the revulsion he engenders is so apolitical. I find, most people will not mention it voluntarily, but will openly admit to it once asked. It is rather as though he were some sort of unfortunately mentally disabled figure that has gatecrashed a party, and everyone is doing their best not to mention him or his disability out of sheer personal embarrassment.

The biggest embarrassment of all is that America could elect such a man as its President. Such a person cannot be respected as a leader in the international community, where he stands naked, without the fabric of his own national party support.

The Germans are wise to put their finger on it openly. Perhaps they know too well what happens when you give men like this their head and suppress your deep natural revulsion by simply turning off and no t being a witness to the ineptitude of what is actually going on (from Baghdad to Guantanamo Bay) at his behest.

The real tragedy is that while he makes his opponents, and many of those who would otherwise be his supporters, feel so utterly nauseous, and they both do nothing to thwart him, he will continue to drive his enemies to extremity and average honest everyday Americans and the common people of their allies will be the victims of their anger, not Bush & Co.

Remember how the US troops were told that after the "Shock and Awe" knockout blow and the Iraqis welcomed them in with open arms, they would largely all be off home by the 4th July! Well, welcome to IraqNam. It is this sort of disjunction that exposes Bush for what he is and the Germans are only to be praised for leading the opposition to the extremity of his dissembling stupidity. Someone must stand against the Axis of Drivel.

Paul Shallard
Auckland, New Zealand