A leap of faith
Sir: I live not far from the ‘London Temple’ of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most summers, the local streets are trodden by American Mormon missionaries, polite teenagers who occasionally approach to ask if we know Jesus Christ. Some years ago, I read the book on which the new Netflix series Murder Among the Mormons (‘Latter-day sinners’, 3 April) appears to be based. So when I was accosted by a couple of missionaries, I was able to ask them why the practice of polygamy, so avidly promulgated by the founder of their church, Joseph Smith, had been abandoned.
My interviewee explained that Smith had advocated the practice of plural marriage because of the gender imbalance that had arisen as a consequence of the heavy casualties among American men who had fought in the Civil War. The prophet’s policy ensured that single women with no prospect of marriage would find shelter in the homes of the husbands they would share with other Mormon women. When I pointed out to the young woman that Joseph Smith had died in 1844 and that the Civil War did not break out until 1861, she suddenly remembered that they had another appointment and departed.
Sir: Michela Wrong is a respected journalist, but I doubt even she would suggest that Do Not Disturb is a balanced account. Its narrative, based largely on interviews with the Rwandan regime’s enemies, reveals a ruthless and violent feud within the Tutsi family. But Nicholas Shakespeare’s review (Books, 27 March) overlooks two issues which must surely be vigorously contested by any objective observer.
The first is the suggestion that this was not a genocide against the Tutsis but inter-tribal violence with both sides at it. The Rwandan Patriotic Front did not ‘ignite a civil war’ but in fact ended a genocide which killed close to a million, mainly Tutsis, in 90 days — thanks to the undoubted military skills of Paul Kagame. As reported at the time, soldiers under his command who engaged in murderous reprisals, if caught, were executed.
The second proposition: that it was the Tutsis who shot down the plane carrying the then president back to Rwanda from Arusha — thereby starting the genocide. This allegation — based apparently on the flimsy evidence of ‘Patrick’ claiming culpability — is extraordinary, since all the independent reports have Hutu fingers on the missile launch mechanism. Leaving aside quite how a rebel Tutsi hit squad could possibly have smuggled missiles into Camp Kanombe, the most protected Hutu government site in the country, and then launched them, the independent Duclert commission set up by President Macron which reported last month and which had access to official documents including the analysis of events by the French secret service prepared in September 1994 concluded that the most plausible culprits were Hutu power military officers.
I am quoted in the review saying that Kagame is ‘a hero for ending the violence’. I hope Ms Wrong will forgive me if I say that her book has not changed my mind.
Sir: Charles Moore reminded us how shipping is so important to the global economy, and observes that the British have forgotten how dependent we still are upon the sea (The Spectator’s Notes, 3 April). Indeed we are, as a nation, so forgetful that we rarely build any merchant ships, nor do we own or operate many of them these days. Quite an extraordinary feat for an island nation which once built half the world’s merchant ships — and owned or operated them — at any one time. Here in Europe the largest container shipping lines — the carriers of the world’s consumer goods — are: Maersk (Danish), CMA CGM (French), MSC (Swiss-Italian) and Hapag-Lloyd (German).
Just the ticket
When I return to Derby I always delight in catching the bus, which is often full of walkers mingling with the elderly and not so well-off, all of us heading for magical places such as Cross o’th’ Hands, Ashbourne and Buxton. On the whole, bus drivers carry on in the same spirit as my father, knowing the area and offering friendly assistance when needed. My sons, who travel the world, point out it is cool to take a local bus to really ‘feel’ a new area. I would argue that buses remain an important part of both urban and rural life, enhancing a sense of community.
When my father died at 84 I had the inscription ‘On the last bus home’ carved with pride on to his grave.
Sir: Dot Wordsworth (Mind your language, 3 April) rebukes those politicians in Scotland who want independence but can’t be bothered to learn the Gaelic language. I hope Alex Salmond and his Alba party will put the SNP to shame on this issue. Mike Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, is a glowing example. He has learnt Welsh and speaks it well. Welsh Labour can be proud of him. Alban, by the way, is the Welsh word for Scotland, and not Alba.
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