Geoffrey Nice writes about the Swiss senator Dick Marty’s report to the Council of Europe on the inhuman treatment of prisoners by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which may have included the murder of some healthy prisoners in order to extract and sell their vital organs (LRB, 3 February). Nice, the former deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – which was responsible for the monstrous five-year-long prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic that sent the defendant to his grave before he could complete his defence – gives the impression that he has demolished the Marty report by refuting some Serbian newspaper reports about a mysterious ‘witness known as K144’.
K144 is a straw man. There is no mention of him in the Marty report. The report, mandated and adopted by an overwhelming majority of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, makes it clear that numerous witnesses, mostly ethnic Albanians, were interviewed and would be willing to testify publicly to the alleged crimes if they did not fear for their lives. Nice is disingenuous when he criticises the Marty report for not giving the names of these witnesses. Marty will only pass names to judicial authorities with a credible witness protection programme. This caution is absolutely necessary given Kosovo’s record of large-scale witness intimidation and even murder, which, for example, obliged the ICTY to acquit the clan leader Ramush Haradinaj for lack of evidence. Nice merely says that he has been ‘accused of witness tampering’. (Haradinaj is currently facing retrial.)
The basic problem is that there is no judicial authority willing and able to investigate the numerous criminal activities linked to the KLA. The European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), sent to try to impose some sort of judicial order, suffers from a dependence on unreliable interpreters and a fear of arousing the hostility of the local Albanian population. The result has been impunity for KLA leaders, notably the US favourite, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
Nice doesn’t conclude by calling for a proper judicial investigation, but by suggesting that Thaci should resign, apparently in order to make dealing with Kosovo less embarrassing for its Western sponsors. Nice’s negative view of the Marty report is consistent with his former role at the ICTY, which has served primarily to justify Nato’s bombing war of 1999 by criminalising Serbs and finding excuses for the crimes of the other parties to the tragic conflicts that destroyed the former Yugoslavia.
Adam Shatz touches on a few of the myths exploded by the revolutionary events in Egypt, but doesn’t quite explode the one that was subscribed to, in their different ways, by both Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden (LRB, 17 February). This was that the Arab masses would never act on their own behalf to create a better world, however envisaged, and so military intervention would be necessary. Many thousands have died as a result of that myth.
Iain Sinclair’s treatment of John Major – ‘a gap-year, work experience prime minister sleepwalking through the job as a profile-raising opportunity’ – is wonderfully imperceptive (LRB, 20 January). I used to say hard things about politicians for a living, but I tried to watch the facts. In 1990, John Major inherited not just membership of the ERM, but the pound’s too high valuation there, which had been insisted on by Margaret Thatcher. A speculator’s bouncy castle, it was a horrid start. However Major had one asset: exit meant devaluation. With Kenneth Clarke, he managed the consequences wholly successfully, as ministers after 1949 and 1968 did not. There followed four years and more of rising economic growth, inward investment and employment. In foreign policy, Major turned the Gulf War to good use by securing the Kurdish enclaves, which are still working. Both courses of action represented good, intelligent government. A contemptible petty bourgeois in Sinclair’s eyes, the evidence shows Major as exercising serious purposes not very evident since 1997.
In his review of Roy Hattersley’s biography of David Lloyd George, R.W. Johnson makes a few errors of fact (LRB, 20 January). First, it is quite impossible that Lloyd George in the 1890s saw ‘Joe Chamberlain, the colonial secretary and hammer of the Boers’, as his ‘only real rival as a populist Liberal leader’, since Chamberlain was no longer a member of the Liberal Party: he was a minister in Salisbury’s Conservative government. Second, Johnson’s statement that it might be thought that Lloyd George, first appointed to the cabinet at the age of 43, had ‘left it too late to get to the top’ ignores the list of 20th-century prime ministers who were even older when first appointed to the cabinet: Bonar Law, Baldwin, Chamberlain, Macmillan, Douglas Home, Callaghan, Thatcher and Major. Third, contrary to what Johnson says, ‘friendship’ is not the most common way of describing Lloyd George’s relationship with Bonar Law. Bonar Law, as Robert Blake shows in his definitive biography, had no friends in politics other perhaps than Beaverbrook. Finally, as the papers in the Churchill archives in Cambridge clearly show, it was only on 17 December 1940 that Lloyd George was first put forward with a number of other individuals as a potential replacement for Lord Lothian in the Washington Embassy. Contrary to Johnson’s account, even after Lloyd George turned down Churchill’s offer, he was still being considered for cabinet. As for Halifax, it was only after Anthony Eden rejected the post in Washington that Churchill prevailed on Halifax to accept the job.
R.W. Johnson refers to Lloyd George’s skill as an orator. He had always refused to allow his voice to be amplified when making public speeches until, as ‘the man who won the war’, he toured North America and visited Montreal, where his hosts warned him that if he spoke without amplification at the Montreal Forum not everyone would be able to hear him. Reluctantly, Lloyd George allowed loudspeakers, was charmed by the result, and used them from that point forward. He was given a private railway car, attached to a regular passenger train, for his trip of a couple of hours to Ottawa. On the journey, he listened to live radio reports by the Crown Corporation (which later became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) about the huge crowd that was already gathering to greet him on Parliament Hill. The BBC did exist at the time, but it was still an experimental thing. When Lloyd George returned from his trip, he insisted that more money be poured into the development of radio. In a very real sense, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation can be seen as the father of the BBC.
Jenny Diski is mistaken in implying in her piece on Google’s Ngram Viewer that there was a golden age of swearing (LRB, 20 January). The apparent prevalence of the word fuck in the period before 1820, and its complete disappearance for more than a century thereafter, can be explained by the end of the use in printing of the ‘long s’, which modern optical character recognition sees as an ‘f’. All the apparent ‘fucking’ before then is actually just ‘sucking’. Diski is also mistaken in saying that there is no way of telling how the words were used. All the scanned, digitised books are fully searchable by date range: a single click on the ‘fuck’ search page would have taken her to several examples that would have made her realise her initial error. Needless to say, there are hours of adolescent fun to be had with this.
Responding to my review of Phil Baker’s life of Dennis Wheatley, Brian McAvera writes that Wheatley’s library ‘wasn’t made up “mainly" of “erotica and modern first editions" – as if that in itself would be a bad thing’ (Letters, 17 February). I don’t think I said it was a bad thing, and in any case I was discussing Wheatley’s collecting habits in the 1920s, as set out by Baker. Perhaps I should have made the point that Wheatley’s extensive reading is evident in his later work, indeed some of his books consist largely of passages of half-digested factual exposition punctuated by episodes of witchcraft and sex – only less fun than that sounds. McAvera also mentions Anthony Powell’s high opinion of Wheatley, although this apparently did not extend to his work: Baker notes that in his journals Powell wrote of ‘the Dennis Wheatley category … of relatively intelligent men who write more or less conscious drivel’.
In the same issue Phil Baker chides me for ‘writing as if the idea of poor old Wheatley reading Proust were self-evidently absurd’, and notes that Wheatley owned ‘11 volumes and a couple of bits of Proustiana’. I too own a complete Proust, which I fully intend to read some time, as well as Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. I don’t think it’s quite true, as Baker asserts, that Eric Gordon Tombe ‘introduced’ Wheatley to Proust. First, as Baker notes, Tombe died the year Scott-Moncrieff’s translations began to appear: Tombe vanished in April 1922, and Swann’s Way appeared in September. Second, ‘introduced’ is an unhelpful word: when Baker says Tombe introduced Wheatley to Dostoevsky, does he mean that he mentioned him as someone worth reading, or that he pressed copies of the work into Wheatley’s hand, and the pair then spent long evenings chewing over varieties of redemption? As it happens, I suspect that the depiction of a Soviet prison in The Forbidden Territory was influenced by The House of the Dead; but if Wheatley appreciated the book mainly as a handy guide to Russian penal practice, it doesn’t make much odds whether he read it or not. More concisely: what matters is not the possibility that Dennis Wheatley read good books, but the fact that he wrote bad ones.
Lawrence Rosen recalls Margaret Mead giving all her students As in the 1960s on the basis that ‘they must be smart or they wouldn’t be at Yale’ (Letters, 3 February). At the time, non-students could ‘audit’ courses at Yale free of charge, provided they had permission from the lecturer. In theory you weren’t meant to speak in class or to submit coursework, so you took up none of the lecturer’s time, but in practice lecturers with small classes insisted that you played a full part. I audited a seminar given by Arthur Cohen, the social psychologist, in 1959, and then got into graduate school on the basis of his recommendation. I asked him why he was so generous with his time. ‘You’re the only one in the class who isn’t stupid and isn’t here only because Daddy has bucks.’
I was struck by the tone of the advert you carried for your ‘Editorial Vacancy’. With its air of fastidious casualness, its mix of vagueness (‘something more than a CV’) and precision (‘would suit a young, disaffected academic, preferably one with an interest in politics and history’), and its quiet but unmistakeable challenge to those who seek to enter the inner sanctum (‘an idea of why you would like to work for the LRB would be helpful’), it might have been written by one of your Personals contributors, flirtatious and hard-to-get by turns. I can only imagine what the interviews will be like.