Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

One notices when talking to people who have fought in wars that they become a little careful when the talk turns to torture. This is not because they approve of it, but because they have experienced the extremity of the real situations which can give rise to it. There are probably lots of old men in Britain who have 'tortured' Germans, if by that word is meant something like holding a gun to a prisoner's head to force him to say where a mine has been laid or an ambush planned. Right that such behaviour is against the rules of war, but wrong, surely, that everyone who did it be regarded as a monster. Again, terrorism and insurgency, with their own absolute disregard of rules, are more likely to provoke illegitimate retaliation than is Ordinary, decent' fighting. One Cyprus veteran I spoke to remembered that the squaddies there got out of hand when terrorists murdered two of their wives. Ignorance is a breeding ground too. In Abu Ghraib prison, intelligence seems to have been so poor that the jailers had no idea whom they were dealing with. On top of that came a lack of clear command: ill-trained, brutalised people filled the gap. Those who have themselves served are clear how grave these failures were, but one finds them less ready to hurl blame than all those television presenters.

A cynical electoral insight from an American friend. If the torture scandal starts an anti-war movement in the United States, that is good news for Bush. Kerry will be torn between needing to show sympathy with the protests and wanting the votes of the majority (80 per cent?) who hate anti-war movements. He now also has to contend with a candidate from the Left, Ralph Nader. His vote may split while Bush's consolidates.

Congratulations to the editor on his appointment as shadow Minister for the Arts. He has got off to a good start with his professed lack of expertise. One of the nicest minor characters in literature is Admiral Croft in Persuasion. One day Anne Elliot passes him staring at a picture in a shop window: 'Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that. And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!' (laughing heartily); 'I would not venture over a horsepond in it.' Admiral Croft pays art the compliment of looking at it more closely than its own practitioners. I'm sure Boris will do the same (laughing heartily).

Last week I wrote about anti-Semitism. Perhaps I have been brooding on this subject because of having been sent (anonymously) a pile of BNP and other anti-Semitic literature. Spearhead, the BNP paper, constantly refers to Michael Howard as 'Mr Hecht', the name his family had when they fled Romania before the war. The package also includes a copy of the Revisionist, a magazine devoted to proving that Jews in the concentration camps did not die by gassing (the 'presumed extermination of European Jewry') but because of typhus inflicted by the Allies. The publication is psychologically interesting because one imagines that the reason its readers and contributors are so excited by Hitler is because he did kill millions of Jews. …

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