The Spectator

Feedback | 21 August 2004

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Alternatives to war

In his extended defence of the ‘war on terror’ George Osborne (‘While England sleeps’, 14 August) asks what other response there could be. History suggests several alternatives. When Britain was faced with terrorism in Malaya the civil authorities were resolute about the need to remain in charge and so the ‘war’ remained an ‘emergency’. This had huge implications for how the emergency was tackled. For instance, the military were not allowed to use large-scale force as they saw fit. They did not drop bombs on urban areas. It remained a police operation focused mainly on intelligence. In the end good police work, a refusal to bend to terrorist demands and political reform led to the defeat of the communists.

All of Mr Osborne’s goals — reducing support from the wider community, cutting links, if any, with existing regimes, preventing the escape of weapons of mass destruction — are best dealt with as political and police, not military, problems. In a very few cases (notably Afghanistan) military force was appropriate, but only because there was no other peaceful alternative. In Iraq a different sort of use of force would have been sensible. There was and is no need to alienate so many who would be happier supporting the Americans. As for being ‘on course for elections’, no one would believe that any more. In the end, military brilliance is not a substitute for political competence.

As for risks, Osborne can talk up an attack on London all he likes, but the chances of large-scale casualties from ‘dirty’ bombs and the like remain slim. Even on 11 September al-Qa’eda managed to kill only 3,000 people. Bees remain a bigger risk to British health. Or, to put it another way, the other day as I walked through Russell Square a homeless man threatened to ‘f—in’ chop me into f—in’ little bits with a f—in’ axe because I was a f—in’ c—’. I did not take it amiss because he says that to a lot of people. One day he may do it, but in the meantime should we all dispense with civil liberties because of his remarks? A little sense of perspective and a lot more courage are called for in both situations.

Joseph Askew
London NW1

A woman’s true role

To paraphrase a famous man, whose name I’ve forgotten, Michael Hanlon’s piece (‘There’s no time like the present’, 7 August) has got everything right except for the interpretation of the facts, at least in regard to the pseudo-liberal West. His praising of the absolute equality of women with men as societal progress is one way of looking at it. The other is to lament the demise of the millennia-long segregation of tasks between the sexes. Before the rightful suffragette movement morphed into a fully blown-up feminism, women took the responsibility for what may arguably be the only job we humans should do well: the bearing and raising of children. Today, women aspire to, and often do, everything but. The scarcity of food could have been hardly enjoyable. Its abundance hasn’t delivered the promised land either. Clinical obesity is predicted to lead to the shortening of the lifespan of today’s young. Paradoxically, undernourishment still remains the only sure way of expanding the longevity of human life. The progress in medicine is indeed keeping alive those who would have perished as early as 50 years ago. However, it has also lowered the quality of the gene pool.

David M. Benda
Sudbury, Suffolk

Enemies of Belgium

On receiving the article (‘Surrender monkeys’, 31 July) from Paul Belien, readers must have wondered what would motivate an individual to so denigrate his own country. It is not surprising that British publishers have declined his manuscripts — if this article is anything to go by, his Belgian history is a work of fiction. On 5 August 1914 Belgium was invaded, with overwhelming force, by one of the guarantors of its neutrality. It has no apologies to make over its role in the first world war and, rather than rebut each statistic and factual distortion of this revolting article, I would suggest that greater credence lies with the likes of Sir Basil Liddell Hart’s History of the First World War and Barbara Tuchman’s August 1914.

Mr Belien promotes the ideas of the Vlaams Blok — our more dangerous equivalent of your BNP. This is a minority, but it is a powerful group of Flemish nationalists, fed on a myth of an Aryan past who, resentful of having to cohabit with their French-speaking partners to the south, have long been determined to eliminate the state of Belgium (thus amputating Wallonia) and raising an ethnically pure Flemish national independent state from the ashes. To this end, they have systematically attempted to destroy the symbols of Belgian nationhood: no opportunity is missed to denigrate our royal family, a living (and popular) symbol of our unity; no shame can arise out of a revision of history, so long as there are some converts on the way; no opportunity is missed to destroy any sense of pride of nationhood.

Gérard de La Vallée Poussin
Coutisse, Belgium

Scots empire-builders

My congratulations to James Michie, surely a self-mocking closet Jock, on his witty poem (‘Friendly Fire’, 14 August). It reminds me of a Flemish joke about their antipathy towards the Walloons:

Un Wallon dans la Meuse, c’est la pollution.

Tous les Wallons dans la Meuse, c’est la solution.

But where would England be without its Scots? Who really made the British empire? I trust that The Spectator is not too introspectively English to acknowledge this debt.

Eric Wilson Brown
Bromley, Kent

Vile solecism

In his memorable definition of the ‘Young Fogey’ associated with The Spectator, Alan Watkins observed, ‘He is a scholar of Evelyn Waugh.’ Unfortunately Sam Leith does not appear to measure up to this standard. In his entertaining review of Christopher Simon Sykes’s book The Big House (Books, 14 August), Leith claims to pick a nit about the author’s allusion to Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Bright Young People’. This is actually how the phrase is rendered in Vile Bodies. ‘Bright Young Things’, which Mr Leith puts forward as the correct version, is a journalistic solecism of long standing.

Hugh Massingberd
London W2

Motorway Magic

Olivia Glazebrook (‘How to make girls cry’, 14 August) has missed the point of Magic FM. Two months ago, stuck in a jam on the M4, singing along with Beverly Craven, I turned my head and saw a woman in the next lane similarly occupied. We caught each other’s eye and sang the chorus as a duet: ‘Promise me you’ll wait for me...’. It is the only high point I can recall in any traffic jam I have ever been stuck in.

Magic FM succeeds in quelling frustration with John Prescott and his bus lanes — an astonishing achievement, as I’m sure fellow commuters will agree.

Tom Howard
London SW10