Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Seeing isn't believing

Sir: Obviously the '300' list is a jolly journalistic diversion (`What about Sir Humphrey?', 7 November). However, the great problem for some of us is that important but susceptible people, mostly foreigners, take such lists seriously and act accordingly. One major Japanese industrialist client was convinced that a decrepit banker and peer headed Mrs Thatcher's Council of Economic Advisers and so effectively ran Britain's economy. With something close to obsessional paranoia, the Japanese refused to believe that no such council existed and, even with the help of No. 10, he took a lot of shifting. The outcome for this country otherwise could have been catastrophic for inward investment.

I would reinforce Monnet's view: the real movers and shakers prefer to move behind the scenes. No names, no pack drill. When Dame Cicely Saunders conceived, planned and set in place The National Council for Hospice and Specialist Palliative Care Services over a series of private dinners in the 1980s, the powerful key figure remained anonymous. Discreetly, we argued our case with a succession of health ministers. Publicity could have blown it and the Council would not have become one of the great success stories of modern medicine.

The '300' list is typical of today's PR hype: ephemeral, superficial and dangerously misleading if you are fool enough to believe it. Thank you, Mr Sampson, for the warning.

Geoffrey Tucker

68 St James's Street,

London SW1

Ready or not

Sir: Your contributor Allan Massie should stick to his novels. His proposition (`The war for a worse world', 7 November) that Britain blundered into an unnecessary war in 1914 is a grotesque travesty of the truth, like the arguments of the overactive, attention-seeking, minor Oxford lecturer, Niall Ferguson, with his curious attitude that honour has no place in international affairs and we could have ignored our treaty obligations to Belgium without any inconvenient qualms of conscience.

In fact, Belgium was only the occasion of Britain's intervention. The true reason was to frustrate German ambitions to create a European hegemony. But for Britain, the French would certainly have been defeated, perhaps even before the end of 1914. The Germans knew Britain would act.

Undeniably, the war's cost to this country was grievous in terms of human loss and misery, the undermining of our trade and the waste of treasure. Yet the alternative was even more onerous.

Pre-1914, Germany was committed to war. The policy of `blood and iron' permeated all levels of society: the Kaiser, the government, the High Command, the intellectuals (including socialists) and the ordinary people.

The distinguished historian, Sir Llewellyn Woodward, who travelled in the Fatherland before the war, wrote of `the extraordinary collective arrogance of the German people and, in particular, of the officers and men of the German army. University professors and students were tiresomely full of talk about the coming war in which the British colonies would "rebel" and the German navy sink the British fleet.'

Professor Fritz Fischer of Hamburg, who was the first to be shown contemporary German archives, has written that, contrary to previous views, the outwardly pacific German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, was committed to war.

The Chief of the General Staff, von Moltke, wrote, `War is inevitable. The sooner the better.'

Wilhelm II was venerated in his country. He was not merely autocratic and unstable, he was actively bloodthirsty and evil. He ordered the general staff to work out `an invasion of England in the grand style'.

Tirpitz, the naval supremo, boasted that with a ratio of 2 to 3 warships he could sink the Royal Navy. He already had 60 warships for a country that had only a short coastline and a few scattered colonies in Africa and the Pacific. Why did he need more, except to challenge Britain? …

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