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Thermonuclear Bluff

Norman Dombey and Eric Grove are wrong to argue (LRB, 22 October) that the US-UK nuclear special relationship prevents ‘a common European nuclear defence policy’ being agreed between Britain and France because the United States would not want its nuclear weapons secrets to be shared with France. In fact, the US has already given and gives France considerable help in the scientific and technical development of her nuclear arms. This was revealed in the latest volume of Giscard d’Estaing’s memoirs, Le pouvoir et la vie: I’affrontement, published last year. He describes a visit from Henry Kissinger in 1974, soon after Giscard became President of France. Kissinger wanted to know if Giscard would continue with the ‘special relations’ (nos rélations spéciales dans le domaine nucléaire) but Giscard had no idea what Nixon’s envoy was talking about. Later, his military staff informed him that France regularly sent her nuclear weapons experts to the United States, where a curious game took place. The French would describe the research they were undertaking and the Americans would indicate if it was a blind alley or not. Technically, the US did not breach the McMahon Act and gave only ‘negative information’ to the French, but according to Giscard, the American-Franco nuclear co-operation, which had ‘gone on for several years’, was invaluable in the successful development of French nuclear weapons. Naturally, all was conducted with the utmost secrecy and Kissinger and President Ford stressed repeatedly the need to keep the contacts utterly secret. At the moment of his successor’s investiture in 1981, Giscard says he informed Mitterrand about the US-France contacts. Mitterrand’s ‘long face nodded and he said nothing,’ writes Giscard.

Giscard’s memoirs are not backed up with any source references but it seems unlikely that he would have invented all of this in such detail. But if it is true, it does make a nonsense of the view that the Americans exclusively favoured the British in the development of nuclear arms and of the view advanced by Dombey and Grove that de Gaulle kept Britain out of the EEC chiefly because of UK military dependency on the US. De Gaulle’s views were more to do with the belief that Britain would not fully join in or accept the responsibility of the political and economic partnership implicit in the EEC. Looking at the Tories’ Maastricht convulsions, from Major’s original opt-outs to present absurdities, who is to say de Gaulle was wrong? Giscard’s account also suggests that the McMahon Act is no obstacle to joint Anglo-French nuclear arms projects in the context of a common European defence programme, should that emerge.

Finally, Giscard underlines the point about nuclear weapons that represents their biggest intellectual challenge. While President, he asked for an exercise to be simulated in which he would have to take a decision on whether or not to authorise their use. The French Army obliged with a realistic enactment involving Soviet thrusts causing massive French losses, and the commanders considered using nuclear missiles to halt the advance. Giscard writes that he would never authorise first use, but would be prepared to secure vengeance if France were attacked with nuclear weapons. Thus the nuclear dilemma. Weapons that cannot be used but dare not be left in the hands exclusively of other powers. Now that all nuclear weapons states are committed to the free market and to the economics of capitalism it should – shouldn’t it – be a lot easier to agree to get rid of them all.

Denis MacShane
Divonne, France

Britain’s thermonuclear bluff continues to this day. The first Trident submarine HMS Vanguard was on its way from Barrow to Faslane when you published this important article. Rational people may fail to understand why we are persisting with the expenditure of £33 billion on this system when the Cold War is over. The UK Government is still as mesmerised as Macmillan was by the status that having the bomb seemingly confers. How can they convincingly argue against nuclear proliferation when they are acting as the ultimate role model for aspiring nuclear nations? Scientific reports have shown that the design of the Trident warhead is fundamentally flawed and dangerous yet they will be regularly transported up and down our motorways with the attendant risk of a catastrophic accident. It is time for public opinion to call the Government’s bluff and demand that the madness of Trident be stopped.

Janet Bloomfield
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,


Having their cookies

Personally I find in ambivalence life’s only certainty, although Sherry Turkle is probably right (LRB, 22 October) that most people find it very hard to tolerate. However, if American women are ambivalent about Hillary Clinton, it is perhaps because she herself is not just ‘betwixt and between’ and thus a target for projection, but gives out contradictory messages. She has made a name for herself as an exceptionally able lawyer – except that the name is her husband’s. On the one hand, she is saying that she is an independent professional: on the other, that she wishes also to glow in her husband’s limelight. Perhaps American women simply distrust those who wish to have their cookies and eat them: just as many British women distrusted Glenys Kinnock.

Jacqueline Castles
London W2


Bugger me blue

At the end of his review (LRB, 22 October) of Philip Larkin’s Selected Letters, edited by my co-executor of the Larkin Estate, Anthony Thwaite, Ian Hamilton wonders whether the journals shredded after Larkin’s death were ‘the originals’ or ‘digests of the originals’. They were the originals; Larkin had already got rid of the digests. My biography of Larkin, which is due to be published by Faber next April, has more to say about the whole business of the shredding – but that’s the gist of it.

Andrew Motion
London N1


Not on the payroll

Edward Pearce’s generous review of our Beaverbrook biography (LRB, 22 October) says wrongly that one of us (Davie) was ‘snatched up’ by Beaverbrook for the Evening Standard. This trivial-sounding slip is of some importance to us, because our main qualification for tackling Beaverbrook was that, unlike virtually everyone else who had written about him at any length, neither of us had ever been on his payroll.

Anne Chisholm, Michael Davie
London NW3


No Joke

The LRB cover for the 8 October issue is identified as ‘Alasdair Gray’s graphic version of one of the characters in his new novel, Poor Things: the great psychiatrist Jean Martin Charcot – though a joke erratum slip denies the identification.’ In the text of Jonathan Coe’s review (it’s a great review by the way; one imagines Gray feeling quite pleased to have found such a sympathetic and intelligent reader) he supports the idea that the erratum slip is ‘a joke’.

Well it isn’t. A joke, I mean, not if Penguin Books can be believed. The line drawing is an adaptation of a portrait used by Penguin for the cover of its 1976 printing of Huysmans’s A Rebours. On the back cover of the paperback the head-and-shoulders shot is described as ‘a detail of the Comte de Montesquiou by G. Baldini’. (Who knows, perhaps Gray too has a moth-eaten copy of the Penguin Against Nature, eh?) The image has been adapted slightly, particularly the eyes, so that Montesquiou/Charcot now looks somewhat more introspective than the Penguin version. Though it isn’t quite the joke your reviewer seems to have had in mind, I suppose the idea that Charcot may serve as a model for Des Esseintes, or that he – Charcot – is somehow ‘against nature’, is sort of funny.

Jon Paul Henry
Vancouver, British Columbia

Psychiatry would be proud to claim Jean Martin Charcot on account of his work on hysteria and hypnosis. However, he is more often considered a neurologist, having held the world’s first professorship in diseases of the nervous system, to which he was appointed in 1882.

George York III
Fiddletown, California


Call me Longley

Further to Professor Longley’s letter in your Guy Fawkes Day edition, and at the risk of disclosing my identity as an Oldie, I have to confess that the current academic vogue of writing about living writers and using merely their surnames strikes me as being rather ill-mannered. Nevertheless, stylistically, repetition of ‘Professor Longley’ seemed unduly long-winded, hence my unpardonable and unpardoned lapse. In the argot of West Belfast, Maith dom e!

Padraig O Conchuir
London E6


Psycho-History

It is fortunate that one of the contributors to your 22 October issue, Sherry Turkle, is psycho-literate and so able to describe correctly the phenomenon of ‘projection’: ‘we reassure ourselves that we are not X by placing the label on someone else.’ Christopher Hitchens cites the bizarre conspiracy conceived by Richard Nixon to have Henry Kissinger placed under the care of a psychiatrist as an instance of precisely this psychological process. Sadly, he spoils the story by misnaming it ‘transference’, which is, of course, something quite different altogether.

Tony Heal
London SE23


Let down

Am I alone in feeling disappointed, let down even, on finding that Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s poem, ‘My Prickly Friend’ (LRB, 8 October), is about hedgehogs and not about penises?

Michael Ruse
University of Guelph, Ontario

On what basis does Ms Pitt-Kethley assume that the hedgehog of which she writes so feelingly is male?

Dick Hill
London NW2


Satchmo said

‘If you have to ask you’ll never know,’ quoted by John Sutherland in your 24 September issue, should be attributed to Louis Armstrong rather than Fats Waller.

L.G. Walker
Charlotte. North Carolina