Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Mutinous Contemptibles

From Mr Julian Putkowski

Sir: I must object to John Hughes-Wilson's splenetic denunciation of the ulterior motives of virtually everyone who attended the `Unquiet Graves' conference (`The new contemptibles', 3 June). In my essentially liberal (not `Marxist') critique of the military justification for killing what staff officers referred to as `worthless men', Hughes-Wilson wrongly reports me as saying `it was ethnic cleansing by the ruling class . . . the deliberate killing of the lower orders . . . just like Kosovo!' I actually said, `I wish to stress that I do not regard them [i.e. officers] all as being evil or bad men. Many of them sentenced soldiers to death in the genuine belief that they were getting rid of weak men - it's the same sort of expression that you might fmd in Kosovo, when they're engaging in "ethnic cleansing" - but in the first world war that expression was not used.'

As for Hughes-Wilson's surmise about why `respectable academics' shuffled their feet and physically distanced themselves from the platform, I was told that it was because some compassionless individual in the front row had farted.

Julian J. Putkowski

Millfields Road,

London ES

From Professor Sophie de Schaepdrijver

Sir: Colonel John Hughes-Wilson quotes me as having reminded delegates that the armies of 1914-18 were `led to the slaughter like so many great herds - with fear, and fear alone (of execution], keeping them in line'. As it happened, I used those words to point out how misleading the `herd' view of military discipline is, and subsequently suggested that - to quote my own speech - `if the men at the front had not somehow defined the war they were waging as their war also, it is doubtful whether sheer repression could have prevailed'. My speech did not subscribe to the simplistic `repressive' view of military discipline: it explicitly repudiated it.

Hughes-Wilson presents me as a historian whose principal research has been into prostitution and female exploitation in the 19th century'. It is true that early in my career I published some research on prostitution by the way, a perfectly serious subject. I have written two books on different subjects since then, and was invited to Ypres as a historian of the first world war. My book on the Belgian experience in that war, published in 1997, is presently in its sixth printing.

Professor Sophie de Schaepdrijver

New York University,

New York, USA

From Mr John Hipkin

Sir: As a British delegate to the 'Unquiet Graves' conference on executed first world war soldiers, held in Ypres last month, I read with interest Col. John Hughes-Wilson's article.

From the conference stage, and throughout the article, he, like so many of our parliamentary politicians, neglected to mention three salient facts:

a) That British army officers sentenced to death and supervised the dawn execution of at least two 17-year-old under-age patriotic boy soldiers, who, lying about their ages, had enlisted at 16. They were Pte H.F. Burden 1/Northumberland Fusiliers and Pte H. Morris of the 6/British West Indies Regt.

b) That the Pardons Campaign does not seek pardons for mutineers, traitors or murderers. We seek pardons for 306 officers and men executed in the first world war for a military capital offence abolished by Parliament in 1929 - a mere ten years after the Treaty of Versailles.

c) That the courts-martial files were kept secret for 75 years, thus preserving the anonymity of the courts-martial officers. John Hipkin

c/o the Pardons Campaign,

45 Alderwood Crescent,

Newcastle upon Tyne

Women's whims

From Mr Andrew Thorpe

Sir: Melanie Phillips has written a mature, forthright and courageous article (`The rape of justice', 10 June).

It appears that men are being displaced to such an extent that they do not even understand their role in society any more. …

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