Peter Wilby rightly acknowledges the charitable contributions made by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the late owner of Leicester City Football Club (First Thoughts, 2 November).
However, it seems uncharitably inappropriate to use this sad occasion to have the inevitable leftist dig at “crony capitalism” and his apparent failure alone to solve the immense problem of inequality in Thailand. He was a generous-spirited individual who was greatly respected by people in Leicester and elsewhere. His death in a helicopter crash, and that of those who accompanied him, was tragic. He was a man who did much good and will be sorely missed. Why can it not simply be left at that?
Like Dr Robert Thomas (Correspondence, 26 October) I found Timothy Less’s essay (“The Great Schism”, 19 October) enlightening, but unlike him I don’t regard it as a warning of “dark times” ahead but more as a vindication of those of us who voted Leave in June 2016.
I voted that way because I too saw the scenario that Less discussed in his piece, brought about by the Brussels commission’s imperial overreach and felt that it was time we should head for the exits before the whole building collapsed around our ears. The EU is merely the latest in a number of attempts to build an empire in Europe, none of which ended happily.
The EU’s inevitable and probably imminent collapse will enable the reassertion of small independent nationhood throughout Europe, which will be of benefit to all of us who value self-government and local freedoms. Once the UK has broken the chains we too can recognise the claims of the constituent nations of these islands, the Scots, the Welsh, the Cornish, and yes, the English too, to independent self-governing nationhood. Dark times? More like a new dawn if you ask me.
Whitley Bay, Northumberland
War and peace
The articles on the Great War were a timely reminder of the fragility of both peace and democracy during the interwar years (Centenary Special, 2 November). Between 1918 and 1939 there were continuous and violent struggles between opposing regimes, which mainly resulted in authoritarian governments.
The situation since the Second World War has been entirely different, with France and Germany, major combatants, attempting to cement a peace, which made war virtually impossible. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 had as its basis an attempt to remain faithful to democratic ideals by binding nations into multiple forms of co-operation.
Since that date, other nations have voluntarily joined the European Union, recognising the importance of all of its social, economic and security aspects. We cannot say there has been total peace in Europe over the period, but “jaw jawing” has had real consequences in diminishing the prospect of war – witness the successful integration of former countries in eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany.
This is the major reason I am a faithful Remainer who can see an independent “Brexit” Britain as an anachronism in the struggle for world peace.
In reference to Margaret MacMillan’s essay on John Maynard Keynes and the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, historians of the aftermath of the First World War have had oddly little to say about the Allied blockade of Germany that was sustained long after the Armistice. British reporters in Germany witnessed mass starvation, suffering they feared would not be forgotten or forgiven. For people of conscience the harsh terms imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 compounded the original sin of the blockade.
Critics of the treaty recoiled at the self-righteousness of victor powers that professed to have fought as Christian democracies yet pandered to the popular lust for retribution, made scant effort to nurture German democratic forces and, in the case of Britain and France, went on to expand their own empires in Africa and the Middle East.
In the eyes of its critics, the Treaty of Versailles constituted a peace not of justice but of vengeance, with the “war guilt clause” Germany was obliged to sign not the least of its mistakes. Many at the time believed that the treaty augured ill: John Maynard Keynes was articulating a widespread perception of its folly. Claims that Germany’s financial and territorial losses have been exaggerated entirely miss the point. The legacy of the treaty was psychological and emotional. Its malign consequences cannot be assessed in material terms.
On this anniversary of the ending of the First World War, it is remarkable that we have learned so little from that conflict. It does seem that each generation repeats the errors made by the previous ones. War, as in 1914, is still seen as a glorious enterprise: one of the constants in our media are stories about the heroism in war. In consequence our politicians are all too eager to rush to war, ignoring the advice of Clausewitz that war is the last option to be resorted to after diplomacy has failed.
In the Falklands and Iraq, diplomacy was never given a chance because our leaders viewed war as the only option. There has even been the absurdity of Michael Howard threatening Spain with war over Gibraltar.
Today we have a government willing to tear up the Good Friday Agreement and risk restarting the conflict that blighted Northern Ireland for 40 years. I suspect that none of today’s politicians are familiar with Erasmus and his Adages, one of which states that, “War is sweet to those who have never tried it.”
Richard Kelly would do well to take some history courses if his current understanding rests upon the assumptions that recent British history is not “tainted by fascism, genocide, abject capitulation, collusion with totalitarianism and… a crippling sense of national shame and humiliation” (Correspondence, 12 October). I would point him towards the history of the British empire, especially concerning Ireland (the Great Famine, Bloody Sunday, etc) and India (the Amritsar massacre, numerous famines during British rule etc), the Suez crisis, to name but a few examples.
Alison Phillips seems to be very proud of the Daily Mirror’s campaign regarding the proposed changing of the law so that, unless one opts out, it is assumed one’s organs can be used for donation upon one’s death (The Diary, 2 November).
There is, however, at least one big flaw in organ donation and the proposed change in the law continues to ignore it. Those whose organs are taken have no say in who will benefit from them.
For example, it could be someone who has sexually abused young children, or someone whom the Mirror opposed in a previous campaign 40 years ago who used to club baby seals to death – or, for that matter, anyone who wears sealskin or any real animal fur and cares not a jot about the animals’ suffering. Would Ms Phillips be happy if her organs were given to such people?
Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 2 November) wonders if the aim of Extinction Rebellion, to get a zero-carbon economy by 2025, is “a lost cause”. Such campaigns could succeed if initially they target those who have the ability, and potentially the readiness, to get large emissions cuts under way.
Banks are more susceptible to pressure than other institutions. They need to keep a good reputation and watch their bottom line. By contrast, governments have neglected climate change for decades, and do not consider public opinion strong enough to prioritise it.
Muswell Hill and Hornsey Friends of the Earth, London N4
When in Rome
For an answer to his question: “…what might be the moral basis for a critique of neoliberal capitalism” (The Critics, 2 November) Paul Mason could do worse than read Pope Francis’s 2013 letter “Evangelii Gaudium”, on “the church’s primary mission of evangelisation in the modern world”.
In it, Francis wrote: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape… those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers’.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.
“This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
Only way is Essex
Two more letters (Correspondence, 2 November) unhappy about Peter Wilby’s repeated reference to where he lives unfashionably in Loughton, Essex. But consider this: could he be teasing us?
I often have a bit of sympathy for the charming Nicholas Lezard, and rejoice in his good fortune – when it happens – as he shares his stories of house-sitting. But, my God! Not washing your bedding since August! Man – where’s your self-respect? And I do hope he pays Kelly a bonus if she ever has to hoover the bedroom.
We reserve the right to edit letters.
This article appears in the 07 Nov 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Revenge of the nation state