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Letters

Vol. 26 No. 15 · 5 August 2004

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After Pinochet

The amnesty Pinochet’s regime awarded itself for its crimes, referred to by Stephen Sedley (LRB, 24 June), was not ‘the junta’s last act before handing over office in 1989’ but dates from 1978, five years after the coup. It was part of the damage control that followed the investigation in the US of the murder of the opposition leader Orlando Letelier, by a car bomb placed in Washington DC by Pinochet’s secret police, the DINA (for diplomatic reasons, this was the only crime excluded from the amnesty, and the DINA’s notorious commander, Manuel Contreras, was eventually imprisoned in Chile for it). The junta did pass various laws (as they are still recognised to be) just before leaving power, in order to tie up a number of matters – one of them was the abolition of abortion under any circumstances – but there was no further amnesty. Soon after the handover, Chile’s Congress voted not to investigate allegations of corruption or other aspects of government under Pinochet, in the interests of a smooth transition. But following the recent revelation by the US Senate that disguised accounts held by Pinochet and his wife in Riggs Bank contain several million dollars, and the bank’s affirmation that his total worth was as much as $100m, this may now be repealed.

Malcolm Coad
Santiago, Chile

See-through

‘The lights dimmed, a hush, like the end of the day, fell on the audience, and the first titles came up on the screen, and they could, just for a moment, be seen on the far side of the gauze curtains, as clear as pebbles through still water.’ Thus Richard Wollheim in his memoir (LRB, 15 April). I attended his lectures on perception in the 1960s, and am touched to discover that he, too, was taken in as a child by the illusion that cinema curtains are diaphanous.

Simon Darragh
Walmer, Kent

Popular with the Warders

In his review of my biography of William Joyce, Paul Laity writes: ‘Kenny tells us that Joyce was “kindly, thoughtful, considerate of others, humorous and calm about his fate"’ during his last days in prison. This is not my judgment, but that of those who were with him, including the warders, with whom he seems to have been popular.

It was not my purpose to write a ‘determinedly sympathetic’ biography of Joyce. I set out to explore a character who was caught between English and Irish political passions in a troubled time, and who still seems to exert some sort of pull on those who remember him. I came across evidence that, however odious Joyce’s views were and however unattractive his conduct, some people who knew him liked him – the anti-Fascist journalist William Shirer, for example, and the Scotland Yard chief, Leonard Burt, who said that he never arrested a more likeable guy.

I certainly became sympathetic to Joyce’s family, who were unfairly stigmatised by association; and I feel affection and respect for his daughter, who has had to struggle with the conflict of having loved her father, while rejecting absolutely his politics and values. Quentin Joyce also suffered, all his life, for having felt loyalty and love for his brother. This is the human story of a family, but I would not wish it to be seen as a hagiography of a man whose ideas remain repellent.

Mary Kenny
Deal, Kent

Paul Laity writes of William Joyce’s departure for Germany that ‘he was alerted by someone in MI5 that he would be interned as soon as war broke out. Kenny is “almost certain" that the source of this information was the head of MI5, Charles Maxwell Knight’ (LRB, 8 July). In fact, the head of MI5 in 1939 was Vernon George Waldegrave Kell, who ran the organisation from its inception in 1909 until his dismissal by Churchill in 1940. Maxwell Knight was MI5’s star agent-runner. The allegation that Knight tipped off Joyce has been in circulation for some time. In his 1964 biography of Joyce, J.A. Cole refers to the source of the tip-off as an ‘intelligence officer’; Cole adds that Joyce had previously fed the same officer intelligence on British Communists and that Joyce claimed he had been asked by the officer to go to Germany to spy on the Nazis before they came to power. The first writer to name the officer as Knight appears to have been W.J. West in Truth Betrayed (1987).

There is solid evidence that Knight was a senior member of the British Fascisti/ British Fascists in the 1920s, when Joyce was also active in that organisation. An MI5 file, now in the National Archives, reportedly refers to an MI5 officer denying that he had tipped off Joyce, but admitting speaking to him before he left for Germany. However, we still lack evidence establishing beyond doubt that it was Knight who tipped off Joyce.

David Turner
Borden, Kent

Spanking

According to R.W. Johnson, Eleanor Rathbone’s censure of Aneurin Bevan in 1943 is absent from the recollections of Bevan’s followers (LRB, 8 July). Michael Foot’s biography of Bevan refers to it in a footnote. He also quotes the News Chronicle’s interpretation of the episode as a ‘maternal spanking’.

Mark Mabberley
Crawley, West Sussex

R.W. Johnson says that Eleanor Rathbone ‘single-handedly got the municipal vote extended to women’. In fact, there have been female local government electors since 1869, three years before she was born.

Mike Killingworth
London W2

Post-Tiananmen

Feng Xiaomai is quite right (Letters, 22 July); my apologies to Wang Chaohua and Wang Dan, forced into jail and/or exile after 1989, whose dissident roles are well known and admired. I meant to say that He Qinglian is the only intellectual in more recent years to have been forced out of China for her views. However, Feng misunderstands my point about the debate in One China, Many Paths to which all three contribute. I do not regard this debate as an ‘echo’ of Deng’s capitalism, but it has to operate within the context of a policy that has prevailed. Hardly anyone now expects the Communist Party to collapse – as many did after Tiananmen – or the dominant economic system to be radically changed. The argument is over evolution and reform. This does not diminish the importance of a book which, as I wrote, illustrates ‘the growing diversity of Chinese intellectual thought’.

John Gittings
Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire

What is ‘die Massen’?

Jacqueline Rose writes of Freud’s Massenpsychologie und Ich-Analyse (1921) that ‘until Jim Underwood translated it for the new Penguin edition as “masses"’, ‘die Massen’ ‘had always been rendered as “group"’ (LRB, 8 July). She is referring to James Strachey’s translation of 1922. However, Hans Keller, in his Freudian writings of the 1940s (published in Music and Psychology, which I edited, in 2003), translates Freud’s title as Crowd Psychology and the Individual. This is preferable not only because ‘crowd’ is less nebulous than ‘the masses’, but also because ‘the individual’ avoids the jargon of Strachey’s ‘ego’.

Christopher Wintle
King’s College London

Not Exactly

Simon Schaffer writes that Volta was trying to build an electric device that behaved ‘exactly like a stingray’ (LRB, 3 June). Surely the fish that delivers an electric shock is an electric ray (Torpedo). A stingray (Dasyatidae) is not capable of giving an electric shock, although it can inflict a vicious wound with the serrated barb in its tail.

Denis Fairfax
Wellington, New Zealand

Where are the backbenchers?

I was surprised to read Doreen Elcox’s suggestion that Iraq was the ‘dominant issue’ behind the Liberal Democrat victory in Newcastle’s council elections (Letters, 22 July). How does she explain the fact that across the river in Gateshead, Labour comfortably retained power? Iraq may have been a factor but local issues were more important. Gateshead Council is regarded (even by its opponents) as efficient and well run; Newcastle Council was viewed (even by some in the Labour Party) as complacent and badly run. Incidentally, it is only in recent years that Newcastle has been seen as ‘a Labour city’, as Elcox puts it. The Conservatives controlled the council during the early 1970s. That there are now no Conservative councillors in Newcastle or Gateshead is further proof that the party has become almost irrelevant in large parts of urban Britain.

John Bourn
Gateshead

Non-Existent

According to Wendy Doniger, Robin Hood is ‘the only figure in the DNB who is said never to have existed’ (LRB, 22 July). She cannot be aware of the entry for Edward Ferrers (d.1564), ‘a distinguished dramatist of the reign of Edward VI’, whose place in literary history apparently arises purely from misprints in two Elizabethan sources which intended to refer to the poet and politician George Ferrers (1500?-79). The entry concludes that ‘there is no evidence outside their testimony that Edward Ferrers as an author had any existence.’ Will this frail half-life be perpetuated in the new DNB?

Thomas Venning
London WC1

Be wary of consensus

Hugh Pennington's argument against Andrew Wakefield's original paper seems to be based mainly on the fact that it is implausible that there was a direct or indirect link between the autistic symptoms of the children in the study and the measles component of the MMR vaccine (LRB, 8 July). It is not good science to reject observational data out of hand, as Pennington seems to suggest the Lancet editors or referees should have done, simply because they disagree with an established model; it is even worse to reject them when the model that is in conflict with the data (direct association with measles) is only one of many possible interpretations of the observation. Pennington would have done better to concentrate his fire on the small sample and the biased and anecdotal nature of the observations.

Martin Hardcastle
Bristol

Hugh Penningon is right to warn of the possible bias of medical researchers funded by vested interests. However, his caution needs to be applied to all medical researchers, not only to critics of the current medical orthodoxy. When the potential bias is in favour of such economically and politically powerful industries as pharmaceuticals and agribusiness (which fund and commission virtually all medical research), we need to be particularly sceptical. Even when there is a strong consensus of views, it could be biased; critics of medical orthodoxy find it difficult to gain funding for research.

Frank Ledwith
Lancaster

The Trouble with Memoirs

Jonathan Mallalieu’s assertion that teachers of creative writing encourage students to ‘write about what they know’ is only the latest of a long series of jibes at an important part of our education system (Letters, 22 July). don’t people such as Mallalieu see that skill in writing is as open to enhancement by advice and supervised practice as, say, drawing and musical composition?

David Craig
Burton-in-Kendal

Hello, playmates

Ross Hibbert is quite right that it was Billy Cotton, not Arthur Askey, who shouted out ‘Wakey Wakey!’ (Letters, 22 July). Silly me. Hibbert might have picked up another howler in the same poem, ‘All the Cowboys’ Horses’. It was, of course, Alan Ladd and not James Stewart who starred in Shane.

Hugo Williams
London N1

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