The Spectator

Feedback | 9 July 2005

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

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The war will be won

It is nonsense to suggest, as Michael Wolff tried last week (‘The nation wobbles’, 2 July), that the war in Iraq is almost lost.

Terrorists are certainly doing their best to destroy the hopes of Iraq. But the resistance to them is strong. Mr Wolff dismisses the fact that eight million people defied the terrorists in January to vote as merely a ‘high moment of triumphalism’. So much for the freest election ever held in the Arab world.

He claims that the Sunni 30 per cent of the country who did not vote are now ‘supporting an insurgency against both the occupiers and the rest of the nation’. That is untrue. The Sunnis are split. Some have sided with the Sunni terrorists who want to murder the Shia majority of Iraq. Mainstream Sunni leaders have regretted that they did not take part in the election and have asked for fatwas from their clerics instructing Sunnis to vote next time.

Mr Wolff claims that this is one man’s war — President Bush’s. Rubbish. It is a fight for the future of 25 million people. When it is won, that will be above all because of the courage and sacrifice of American soldiers and the determination of the vast majority of the 25 million Iraqis who do not want to be car-bombed back into tyranny. A little more sympathy and support for them would have been appropriate from Mr Wolff.

William Shawcross
St Mawes, Cornwall

Trust the celebs

The Spectator has recently contained a fair amount of criticism of the Live 8 concert in aid of Africa (‘How African leaders spend our money’, 25 June). I always welcome a bit of cynicism about the value of pop stars and their inflated egos, but I would like to put in a word to support their efforts.

Of course it can be a bit nauseating to see Geldof and Bono preaching about aid and economics, but, although they are saying nothing new, I think they do have a role to play, however shocking and ridiculous that may sound. The fact is that respect for politicians has fallen so low that people are actually willing to listen to celebrities, or at least look into the issues they raise. Why not? The celebs can’t be much worse than the politicians.

To give the current breed of rock stars credit, they seem to be taking the business of political lobbying more seriously than previous generations. Bono, Geldof and Chris Martin seem to have done a fair amount of homework — probably more than most of your readers and certainly more than the Lennons, Jaggers and even Dylans of earlier generations.

Giles Watson
Reading, Berkshire

Latin lover

I enjoyed James Buchan’s review of Guy Deutscher’s The Unfolding of Language (Books, 25 June), particularly his jeu

d’esprit at the expense of staider readers. I don’t know about Sanskrit, but it is certainly very witty to say that Latin is ‘richer and infinitely more expressive’ than any of its successors. He quotes Adam Smith. Quid enim? As for separating out participles from auxiliary verbs, that has come in very handy all around the world (and occurs in Latin too).

Latin more pleasing to the ear than Italian? Perhaps — if we really knew how Latin sounded (often, I suspect, rather like Italian: its colloquial constructions are very Romance — vide Petronius passim). As for the Semitic triliteral root, I do not know why Buchan thinks this is ‘the most diabolical structure in all linguistics’. Has he never come across Classical Greek Middle forms of verbs ending in -mi? Or the tonal systems of many Asian languages? Or Arabic numerals? Very clever. Keep it up.

John Jenkins
HM Consul General,
British Consulate-General,

Bembo and Borgia

Ian Thomson, in his review of Gaia Servadio’s Renaissance Women (Books, 25 June), makes two factual errors. He asserts that ‘when Lucrezia Borgia’s affair with Bembo drew to a close in 1519, the lovers’ “storm-tossed souls” had come to rest at very adult ports-of-call; cardinalship for Bembo, motherhood for Borgia’.

In fact, Lucrezia Borgia died in 1519, her affair with Pietro Bembo had ended in 1505, and Bembo only became a cardinal 20 years later in 1539.

Sarah Bradford
London SW6

Public parts

Max Hastings tells a story about two well-known MFHs who argued at dinner about the relative size of their private parts (Diary, 2 July). In the 1930s Sir Thomas Beecham and Richard Strauss were about to board the Golden Arrow at Victoria Station and, like Sir Max’s huntsmen, had an argument about the size of their members. They did not, however, retire timidly, but settled the matter man to man on the platform. The competition was observed by a Scottish singer, the late John Tainsh, who told me about it over 40 years ago.

Anthony Weale

Boswell’s tipple

The drinking of gin and treacle, or whistlejacket, was not confined to Yorkshire (The Spectator’s Notes, 2 July). On 8 September 1792 Boswell recorded in his journal that he was introduced to it at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s house by Lord Eliot. Eliot’s fellow Cornishmen called it ‘mahogany’.

James Hogg
Melbourn, Cambridgeshire