Birth of the internet
Martin Vander Weyer’s excellent piece (‘The UN and the internet’, 26 November) should also have pointed out that the internet was a US defence project. In the 1960s military analysts saw the potential for a fault-tolerant command-and-control network in the event of all-out nuclear war. In collaboration with major universities (including UCL in London) the US Defense Department funded MILNET, which in the late 1970s became the internet. It is therefore jolly kind of them to let us use it in all its derived forms without any royalty, in spite of what it cost the US taxpayer. Likewise, it is kind of them to let us use GPS (Global Positioning System) royalty-free — another US military project.
In both these cases the squabbling control-freaks of Europe and other minor countries are trying to reinvent the wheel in order to increase the sizes of their bureaucracies and exert control on their citizens. If you look on the web for anti-Bush-related material you are inundated. Would you be able to find anything on Google about his alleged al-Jazeera comments if Blair had his way? I have just had over four million hits. The internet is genuinely free both financially and intellectually.
Stars in their eyes
Rulers and politicians have always sought the advice of astrologers, medicine men, clairvoyants and other quacks (Frank Furedi, ‘The age of unreason’, 19 November), usually when their own actions are about to invite catastrophe.
Perhaps the most famous was the oracle of Delphi which, rather in the manner of a modern crystal-ball gazer, gave veiled answers about the future, which could be interpreted in any way that pleased the questioner. The Tsarina’s court listened to the repellent Rasputin, thus according him great power; Heinrich Himmler, effectively Minister for Murder in the Third Reich, used an astrologer for years and towards the end of the Nazi era scarcely did anything without the astrologer’s endorsement. Carole Caplin was only the latest in a long line of charlatans who gained power by giving pseudo-spiritual backing to their master’s plans.
Sheila Donaldson (Letters, 26 November) is dead right to characterise David Cameron’s leadership bid as back to the centrist cosy politics of past Tory grandees like his Oxford patrons Douglas Hurd and Chris Patten.
When finally pinned down by John Humphrys on the Today programme about what actual steps he would take to implement his agenda, the very first thing Cameron came out with was ‘increase the representation of women in Parliament’. That really is going to be a big help for our country, facing a huge gap between energy needs and affordable supplies, a massive and growing trade deficit, and a pensions crisis getting worse with each month of inaction. On none of these crucial survival issues did David Cameron have the slightest thing to say. How lightweight can you get?
Tolkien in the trenches
I think Charles Moore (whom I much respect as a columnist) is wrong about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (The Spectator’s Notes, 12 November) when he says that it, like Four Quartets and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, combines ‘the Christian imagination with the experience of 1939–45’. The professor told me when I spent a long day with him in 1972 that he disliked allegory (although he used Christian imagery), that the book was started well before the second world war began, and that Mordor was based on the trenches in the first world war, where Tolkien had served. It was, he said, an attempt to write a really long story — based on invented languages — a myth for England, which he hoped to present to the Queen!
On reading Charles Moore on BBC interviewers (26 November), I recalled a Conservative party conference in Bournemouth a few years ago. I was strolling with my husband round the country market which was held in front of the pier. As we passed a BBC booth, a small door opened and out popped a head — just like Mr Punch. It was Jeremy Paxman.
‘Ah, the savage man,’ I said, as I struggled to remember his name.
‘You’d be savage if you had to put up with some of the politicians with their waffle and prevarication,’ he said.
But yes, he does go too far, and it would be nice if occasionally he remembered that he is there to reveal the person to us or to extract information rather than show how ‘savage’ he is.
Morality is local
Some arguments are so bad that it is difficult to believe that they are being made in good faith. According to Charles Moore (26 November), ‘the irony [of the potential schism in the Anglican Communion] lies in the fact that the whites who are trying to push gay ordination are the people who would be most horrified at the idea of acting in an oppressive, colonial manner’. But American Anglicans who elected Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire or who endorsed his election or who support gay ordination generally within America have repeatedly emphasised that they are not trying to export these policies to Nigeria or Uganda, because they hold fast to the historical understanding of Anglicanism: that each province within the Communion is autonomous.
Which group here is exhibiting the ‘studied moderation’ that Charles Moore claims to approve of: those who uphold the principle of legitimate diversity or those who seek to impose their understanding of this particular issue on all Anglicans and who in pursuit of this impossible goal are willing to destroy Anglicanism itself?
Rape and male power
Rod Liddle (‘Sometimes women share the blame’, 26 November) may think he has a point about the greater likelihood of women being targets for male violence as a result of their dress, conduct or location, but his analysis ignores the fact that a significant number of rapes happens to older women and very young girls who are not advertising their visibility. Many of them are assaulted while blamelessly sequestered in their own homes, the victims of their husbands and fathers or of violent burglars.
Rape has little to do with provocative attire or the demeanour of the victim; it is an expression of male assertion of power. Look, for instance, at the phenomenon of South African girls raped by a generation of disfranchised black men.
Ironically, Mr Liddle’s pronouncements on women’s responsibility contradict his usual intolerance for Muslim women wearing the hijab, which he views as an assault upon female liberty.
The more I hear about Milosevic and his trial (‘International law is an ass’, 19 November), the more I think that history is repeating itself.
I was born in 1951 so missed the second world war, but I always thought what a travesty the Nuremberg trials were. It was victors’ justice of the most arbitrary, vengeful kind, and contrary to civilised law. I could not, and would not, ever condone what the Germans did, but six long hard years were spent allegedly fighting for justice and truth, and then it all went out of the window.
John Laughland’s article confirmed that there is still no truth or justice in international law.
Although Bruce Anderson (‘Conduct unbecoming’, 19 November) could do with some help, he will not get it from E. Derek Smith (Letters, 26 November). Mr Smith cites ‘Lieutenant Leigh& #8217;, allegedly shot in 1916 for innocently losing his way in the fog after the authorities had decreed that ‘An officer must be charged and shot.’ Details of courts martial are in the public domain, and from these we can see that no Lieutenant Leigh was ever executed. The only officer shot for misconduct during the battle of the Somme, Sub-Lieutenant Dyett, RNVR, was convicted by a court which found, reasonably on the evidence, that he had absented himself from his battalion when it was in action. There was no general order that an officer should be charged and shot, and both the court and Dyett’s divisional commander recommended mercy. The commander of 5th Army, General Sir Hubert Gough, probably sealed his fate by noting ‘it is highly probable that if a private soldier had behaved as he did in the circumstances he would have been shot’. I find the notion of shooting one’s own soldiers abhorrent, but it is hard to fault Gough’s suggestion that there should not be one punishment for officers and another for men.
The Dyett affair (if it is indeed to this that Mr Smith refers) is not analogous to any current case; I am not aware that any officer has been accused of misbehaviour in the face of the enemy. However, the question of officers’ responsibility for the actions of their men goes to the heart of the army’s honour and decency. The issue merits serious debate, which is not served by Mr Anderson’s rant or Mr Smith’s ‘history’.
Paul Johnson (Letters, 26 November) criticises me for historical inaccuracy; even if he were right on this, it would be irrelevant to the Catholic Church’s consistent denial that the soul exists before the body, contrary to his wild assertion. The three councils whose dates he cites were all ecumenical councils. I neither said nor supposed that the council I referred to was one of these; but though no Western representatives attended, it was ratified by the Pope. I should rather have misdated a Church council than have written nonsense about our souls having existed before space and time; happily, I did neither.
Weeping for Wayne
Shall we be expected to observe the same Dianalia of mourning that has accompanied the demise of George Best if, heaven forfend, Wayne Rooney should now die? His skills as a footballer are comparable and he plays for Manchester United; or does he need 40 years of dissipation and a liver transplant to be guaranteed the nation’s unequivocal admiration?