Sir: Though Syria (Leading article, 31 August) is certainly no laughing matter, the turmoil prevailing over a ‘punitive strike’ does bring to mind the little jingle of A.P. Herbert, during the Phony War of 1940. Some great minds were contemplating a ‘strike’ on the Soviet Union to punish it for its invasion of little Finland. Herbert’s verse was called ‘Baku, or the Map Game’, and begins:
It’s jolly to look at the map, and finish the foe in a day.
It’s not easy to get at the chap; these neutrals are so in the way.
But what if you say ‘What would you do to fill the aggressor with gloom?’
Well, we might drop a bomb on Baku. Or what about bombs on Batum?
…And then, it’s so hard to say who, is -fighting, precisely, with whom,
that I know about bombing Baku, I insist upon bombing Batum.
Thank God we didn’t bomb Baku, or even Batum; but are we any wiser than we were then?
Sir: Assad is not remotely as bad a man as his father. He only became heir to the throne when his older brother managed to kill himself. Until then he had been working as a doctor in south London and had married a Syrian doctor’s daughter raised in Britain. He has already won a referendum moving Syria, over some years, to a pluralistic democracy. Do we think there is any possibility that the rebels will produce a pluralistic democracy?
He strikes me as somebody who never wanted the ‘royal’ job, and he is not the sort of wastrel playboy the Gulf Arabs’ children so often are. He is what is needed to encourage the peaceful evolution of Syria into a nation governed by the rule of law.
Our potential al-Qa’eda allies, by contrast, are poised to turn Syria into a murderous barbaric snake pit.
Ukip Secretary, Glasgow
Sir: Friday’s vote in the House of Commons, had it passed, would have signalled to President Assad and other would-be criminals that Britain, as an active participant in the international community and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, will not stand for and is prepared to take action against such transgressions. I agree, it is somewhat illogical to discriminate against one weapon over another, but we have to draw a line and the use of chemical weapons is where it is.
David Cameron was defeated. There is much talk that this isn’t what either the Tory rebels or the opposition wanted; we shall see if there is a re-run of the vote. But, I believe, in the meantime Britain is diminished as a result.
Sir: The United States used chemical weapons against civilians in Iraq. Israel has used chemical weapons against Palestinian civilians. Where was the urgency for western intervention then? In August 2003 the Pentagon confirmed that the marines had dropped mark 77 firebombs in Iraq, containing a substance remarkably similar to napalm. The United States dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus on the Iraqi city of Fallujah during the attack on the city in November 2004, killing both insurgents and civilians. Israel also used white phosphorus in 2009 during ‘Operation Cast Lead’. Why are we giving the US the moral high ground on this issue?
Co. Down, Northern Ireland
Sir: Whatever the situation now, as related by Robin Harris (‘Unspeakable persecution’, 31 August) the fact remains that Arab and other Christians were well regarded and treated during the Assad dictatorships, père et fils. The Armenian community, refugees from the Ottoman genocide of 1915, have for decades been protected, especially in Aleppo.
The tragedy of eastern Christians is western Christians. The ‘unspeakable persecution’ has in most cases been triggered or permitted by western policies. We should never forget the contrasting protection that the early Islamic caliphs afforded eastern Christians, which was real, and which in Transylvania as late as the 17th century was preferred to the coercive Christianity of the Habsburgs.
How will we eat?
Sir: Rory Sutherland’s plans for redistributing England’s Green and Pleasant Land (The Wiki Man, 31 August) to encourage productive economic activity are visionary. We shall certainly need a thriving economy if we are to cope with our burgeoning population, which is predicted to reach 75-80 million by 2050. We shall need more land for more roads, railway lines, houses, schools, hospitals, reservoirs, power stations and airports.
However, this will involve a huge loss of agricultural land and affect our national food security. Does Mr Sutherland envisage our being almost totally dependent on the rest of the world to feed us? Those EU food surpluses will certainly come in handy.
A mere mention
Sir: Gracious heavens, anyone reading Andro Linklater’s review of my book Russian Roulette (31 August) could be forgiven for concluding that I’d written a history of masturbation.
The subject of semen (used for making invisible ink) takes up 19 lines of my 378-page book, representing a minuscule 0.15 per cent of the total content. The subject of masturbation in Mr Linklater’s review totals 43 lines, representing 72 per cent of the article. I prescribe a regime of cold baths for Mr Linklater.