We are a broad church
Please note that whereas I simply referred to David Bromwich’s snobbishness in my defence of Paul Ryan the liberals who replied to me from both sides of the Atlantic immediately resorted to alarmist language about Tea Party members (Letters, 25 October). I actually agree with Tony Dennis that the Tea Party is a ‘right-wing populist movement’. So? It is not a crime (yet) to be right-wing or populist. And, yes, there is (thank goodness) a growing right-wing media. But it is tiny compared to the liberal mainstream media. And the Tea Party does not conceal its ‘profoundly conservative core values’. It glories in them. And we are not ‘angry’, ‘ignorant’, ‘bigoted’ or ‘borderline psychotic’ (or even just plain psychotic) but reasonable people who do not attempt to portray all those who disagree with us as mentally ill.
Paul Denman, unlike Dennis, does not use the word ‘psychotic’. He says merely: ‘in South Carolina the Tea Party can be characterised as ignorant, illiterate, racist and crypto-fascist.’ What is disturbing in the letters of Denman and Dennis is their attempt to marginalise Tea Party members as bigoted, stupid, racist etc. So much for the liberals’ rhetoric about tolerance, bipartisanship, working across the aisle and so forth. Given that my letter was a protest against snobbishness and elitism, need I say more? And if everyone on the right is to be called a fascist, what will liberals do in the event of genuine fascists arriving on the scene?
Finally, Hamish MacGibbon writes: ‘I am intrigued to know which political stances expressed in the paper they particularly approve of.’ I can’t speak for the whole Tea Party but many of us read the LRB to remind ourselves of past follies of the intellectual left (Karl Miller’s short piece on the unrepentant communist Eric Hobsbawm helped there) and to keep up on the current ones. And we like book reviews and good prose.
David Simpson left readers with the impression that opposition to the use of oxygen in high-altitude mountaineering was the preserve of a few long-dead members of an upper-class faction in the 1920s Alpine Club (LRB, 25 October). Not so: the argument continues to be made by some leading mountaineers today, the grounds for resisting now being the grotesque sight of ‘comfort stations’, discarded oxygen bottles and dead bodies despoiling what was a once a pristine landscape held sacred by the peoples of the high Himalaya. No corner of the world, highest mountain or deepest ocean, Arctic or Antarctic, rainforest or desert, is now safe from corporate exploitation, either for its natural resources or its cachet as a tourist destination. The spiritual aspect of mountaineering is disappearing, and at the same time the cultures and values of indigenous communities, who often understand much better how to tread lightly in their harsh environments, are being systematically eroded. The suggestion that the use of oxygen should be banned in high-altitude mountaineering is undeniably elitist, but it may be the only way of preventing the Himalaya going the way of the Alps, now largely a giant adventure playground for well-off thrill-seekers.
David Simpson quotes Wade Davis as mentioning ‘Haig’s attempt (as late as March 1916) to limit the number of machine-guns per battalion, for fear of dampening the men’s martial spirit’. In sixty years of reading military history I’ve met many of the wilder, more prejudiced and unsubstantiated criticisms hurled at Douglas Haig (he was ignorant of the conditions in which he sent his men to fight; he was indifferent to their sufferings; he sheltered in châteaux miles from the front line; he scorned the war-winning invention of the tank; he thought cavalry would win the war by charging barbed wire and machine-guns) and thought that most of them had been successfully demolished by modern historians writing about the Great War. This one is new to me. It is a matter of fact that the British army was not only equipped with the eminently reliable Vickers Medium Machine-Gun, in rapidly increasing numbers as the changing tactics of the war dictated, but from mid-1915 also had the excellent American-designed, British-manufatured Lewis Light Machine-Gun down as far as platoon level. This was the army which, under Haig, transformed itself in a few months in 1916 from an agglomeration of inexperienced New Army battalions into an all-arms professional force which two years later could go on to beat the German army ‘if not quickly and easily, at least eventually and conclusively’.
At Hyde Park Corner
As one who had the audacity to respond in kind to Germany’s bombing campaigns, I write to applaud Jonathan Meades’s demolition of the recently built monument to Bomber Command, which I find trivial and irrelevant (LRB, 25 October). The long absence after the war of any formal recognition in stone was creating an increasingly powerful silence where all manner of feelings of revulsion or acclaim were felt. No solid memorial could express so clearly today’s ambivalence.
George Mackie DFC
Jonathan Meades’s denunciation of the Bomber Command Memorial is welcome. His complaint that British modernism failed to provide a ‘memorious idiom’ – the comparison is with Lutyens’s monument at Thiepval – made me think of R.H. Tawney’s essay ‘A National College of All Souls’ (1917), in which he argued that widening access to education would be a nobler memorial for the ‘world of graves’ than anything made of bricks and mortar. In a similar vein, the founding of the welfare state was initially presented as a tribute to the sacrifices made during the Second World War. Adrian Forty, in his recent Concrete and Culture, presents concrete as the default material for postwar monuments in most of the world, suggesting that it is possible to create moving monuments in a modernist idiom. Perhaps the point of contention shouldn’t be the style used, flatulent contemporary classicism, modernism or Lutyens’s gigantism, but the notion of a physical monument as the commensurate form of acknowledgment.
St John’s College, Cambridge
For and against Crossrail
Nick Richardson mentions the curious omission of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow from the plans for Crossrail (LRB, 11 October). This isn’t an oversight. BAA owns the Heathrow Express – which does stop at the terminal – as well as the tunnel and stations under the airport, and charges £19 each way for the 15-mile journey from Paddington: the most expensive journey per mile on the whole railway network. Were Crossrail to take over trains to Terminal 5 too, it would undermine a big money spinner for the airport operator. More than half the trains due to arrive at Paddington through the new Crossrail tunnel will terminate there, so the opportunity to integrate the Heathrow Express is there. But it’s not going to happen, and BAA’s golden goose will continue to take up two dedicated platforms at Paddington while preventing other services from using the line, which suffers from some of the worst overcrowding in the country.
Nick Richardson refers to the late David Barran as a ‘monocle-wearing, snuff-snorting industrialist’. This gives an erroneous impression of the man. As a product of Winchester and Trinity College, Cambridge, two institutions then at the top of their game, he was if anything an intellectual meritocrat. He would never have referred to ‘riff-raff’.
Brooks’s, London SW1
White is west
Jonathan Steele writes: ‘The few Belarusians who had tried to create a national consciousness towards the end of the 19th century called their movement “west-Russism” rather than “white Russism”’ (LRB, 27 September). Actually they are the same thing, in that ‘white’ means west under the Turco-Mongol colour system for the directions (blue is east, red south) that named the country west of Muscovy.
Chevy Chase, Maryland
The 5 Per Cent
David Runciman’s argument that as a political concept ‘the 99 per cent’ is too diffuse is well-taken (LRB, 25 October). But his alternative – supporting young people as the neglected 5 per cent – seems equally flawed. When young people protested against the prospective abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance and higher education reform in 2010, a combination of heavy-handed policing and widespread indifference taught them a lesson in contemporary democracy. What levers does Runciman believe young people can actually pull?
How Christian are we?
I was intrigued as well as enlightened by John Pemble’s assumption that ‘Christianity has nowhere been more deeply rooted than in Britain’ (LRB, 25 October). How does this square with Keith Thomas’s claim in Religion and the Decline of Magic that this country was never fully Christianised?
The Death of Aziz Shehadeh
Raja Shehadeh complains that Adam Shatz ‘repeats an error’ that he says I made in The Bride and the Dowry regarding the murder of his father, Aziz Shehadeh (Letters, 25 October). But there is no error in my book. I give a short biography of Aziz Shehadeh that ends with his murder and the words: ‘A radical Palestinian guerrilla group claimed responsibility for the crime.’ That is the case: on 3 December 1985, the day after the murder took place, Reuters reported from Damascus that the Fatah Revolutionary Council, led by Abu Nidal, had issued a statement taking responsibility for the killing. It may well be that Aziz Shehadeh was killed over a legal wrangle, and that the Abu Nidal group took responsibility for a crime it didn’t commit. But the facts are that no one was convicted of the murder, and that Israel had nothing to do with the statement of the Abu Nidal group.
I am grateful to Blair Worden for his review of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, of which I was one of the editors (LRB, 11 October). While praising Colin Burrow’s editing of the poems, he notes the absence of any general essay giving information about the scores of manuscripts to which Burrow’s collations make constant reference. This essay can in fact be read on the website for the edition, along with 65 essays by other contributors to the edition which thoroughly document the manuscripts and early printed texts lying behind Jonson’s plays, masques, prose works and collected volumes. These are all freely available, and will remain permanently accessible after the release of the electronic edition next year.
University of Leeds
Despite Karl Miller’s suggestion in his reminiscence of Eric Hobsbawm, it is unlikely that the name Francis Newton had English associations for Hobsbawm (LRB, 25 October). His nom de plume as a jazz critic was no doubt inspired by the trumpeter Frankie Newton, who was born in Emory, Virginia in 1906 and died in New York in 1954.
Bruce Clunies Ross