David Trotter writes that the stockade in which Ezra Pound was detained in 1945 ‘remained on active service in literary criticism for rather longer than it did in the US army’s penal system’ (LRB, 7 July). At Guantanamo Bay, the US army detains terrorist suspects in open-air cages virtually identical to the one in which Pound was confined for three weeks at the US Army Disciplinary Training Center in Pisa. (The units at Pisa were called ‘death cells’ since prisoners awaiting execution at Aversa were held in them.) Like those in Pisa, the cages in Guantanamo have walls and doors of metal mesh. There are minor differences (Pound’s loo was a tin can, whereas the cages in Guantanamo have a metal toilet) but the function of both cages is identical: to confine humans like animals.
‘Lebanon is an assassin’s land,’ Charles Glass writes. ‘In a way, the war began not with the violence of April 1975, but when an Israeli death squad murdered three Palestinian politicians and two of their wives in April 1973’ (LRB, 4 August). The three ‘Palestinian politicians’ were Yussef El-Najjar (Abou Yussef), Kamal Adwan and Kamal Nasser. El-Najjar was chief operations officer of Black September and, as such, one of those responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Adwan was an operations and intelligence officer of Black September, part of the team that plotted the massacre. Nasser was a PLO spokesman and member of its executive committee at a time when the PLO was formally committed to driving all Jews out of Israel. If these three are ‘politicians’ then so are those responsible for the recent London bombings.
University of Haifa, Israel
Jane Harrison’s young guide to Bassae must have been better informed than his modern counterparts if he indeed knew, as Mary Beard claims, what ‘she would love to hear’ (LRB, 18 August). I find it hard to believe that the illiterate shepherd boy in Western Macedonia in 1945 who, when I asked his occupation, answered ‘o dhoulos’ (‘slave’), was deliberately humouring an Englishman whose classical education he had divined. Nor can I believe that the joke was on me in assuming the hospitality was genuine when in September 1944 a shepherd and his wife, marooned with their flocks on Vermion mountain because the Germans were below, took me into their bracken-covered kalyva out of a storm and gave me food and bedding. Nor do I know of another language in which the word for ‘hospitality’ means ‘love of a stranger’.
Mary Beard describes the story of Patrick Leigh Fermor sharing lines from Horace with the German general he’d just kidnapped in Crete as having ‘a blokeish tone’. None of the blokes I know, or none of the blokes I know who behave what I think of as blokeishly, know two words of Horace. And even if they did I doubt they would have proved much cop at lurking under cover, looking for German army high-ups to kidnap. That could have been quite dangerous. Leigh Fermor’s exploit, qua exploit, was very splendid, whatever one may think of the lessons we may have been asked to draw from it: to wit, that a sound education in the classics is enough to take the edge off any set-to between nations at war, and that if we go high enough up the social or educational scale good manners will always out. Beard no doubt finds those sorts of implication silly or distasteful, as I do. But that’s no reason to relegate Leigh Fermor and the German general to the beery category of ‘blokes’.
Mary Beard’s piece, especially the story of the canny boy who got out of having to take Jane Harrison to the temple of Bassae by telling her it was haunted, reminded me of rather a good joke. A Greek shepherd is sitting on a hillside in the shade of an olive tree, keeping half an eye on his flock while enjoying a flask of retsina and some bread and cheese. A cloud of dust on the horizon eventually materialises as a silver Mercedes. A smart young man in a suit gets out of the car and comes striding up the hill. Mopping the sweat from his brow, he says: ‘I’ll tell you what. If I can tell you exactly how many sheep you have, will you give me one?’ The shepherd says he will, so the young man rushes excitedly back to his car, logs onto the EU website with his wireless laptop, and looks up how many sheep are kept on the hillside. Running back up the hill, he announces that the shepherd has 168 sheep. ‘Quite right,’ the shepherd says. ‘Now I’ll tell you what. If I can guess what job you do, can I have my sheep back?’ The young man agrees. ‘Well, let’s see,’ the shepherd says. ‘You turn up uninvited, expect to be paid for telling me something I already know, and understand absolutely nothing about my job. You’re a management consultant. Now give me back my dog.’
Stephen Sedley says that, ‘in spite of recurrent criticism’, the right of a jury to refuse to return a verdict ‘against their conscience’ is ‘better than its alternatives’, and brings ‘a genuine element of democracy into the courtroom’ (LRB, 21 July). In the US that baneful practice is promoted as ‘jury nullification’. It should be discouraged for several reasons. First, conscience and prejudice are often indistinguishable, as was the case for two centuries in the South, where it was impossible for someone white to be convicted of murdering someone black. Second, it extends the jury’s sole proper concern, guilt or innocence, to include matters relevant only at sentencing, of which they are ignorant. For example, only in rare cases are juries permitted to know a defendant’s prior history. And so a lawyer may argue to the jury, without fear of contradiction, that his client has suffered enough from the humiliation of being publicly accused and tried, even when the defendant is in fact a hardened criminal. Such pleas succeeded in my courtroom more than once. Third, weeks of jury selection have become the norm as lawyers seek out jurors who will vote according to their conscience, as guided by counsel. Psychologists and social counsellors are often at the table with the lawyers, the goal being to select a jury not with open minds but with empty ones.
Nick Cheel (Letters, 4 August) is exuberant with his numbers, or else reproduces somebody else’s extravagance when he counts ‘more than four million’ Palestinian refugees and 3.5 million inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza in addition to the one million Arab citizens of Israel (still the only Arabs anywhere in the Middle East, with the partial exception of Lebanon, who freely and equally choose their parliamentary representatives). His total comes to 8.5 million people, which must include chiropractors in Toronto, shopkeepers in Paraguay and many residents of Jordan and other Arab countries who are no more refugees than Andrew Grove of Intel or Lord Weidenfeld, and indeed very much less so, because most were born where they reside. Cheel writes of the ‘gerrymandering that has deprived Palestinian refugees of their legal, political and human rights’. They were not ‘gerrymandered’, they were defeated, and if Cheel now wants to undo the consequences of all contemporary victories (and why only those?), he must want to return Ukrainian Lviv to the Poles, western Ruthenia to the Czechs (or to the Slovaks?), Koenigsberg to the Germans and so on. Or does Cheel have his own, no doubt excellent, reasons for confining his revisionism to just one country and just one people?
That Palestinians are deprived of their rights is not in doubt, but their deprivation is shared by the inhabitants of all Arab states except Lebanon, although even there special legislation was enacted to deny Palestinian refugees the right to work or to vote. Other Arab countries mistreat Palestinians in ways large and small, while Kuwait simply expelled them in 1991 because Arafat sided with Saddam. Perhaps Cheel can find a cause for himself in that direction: he could demand that Palestinians living in Arab countries should enjoy the same rights as Israeli Arabs, which would be an exceedingly modest demand if they are as terribly deprived as he insists. To be sure, Israeli Arabs do suffer from specific if constantly diminishing inequities, but most arise from their non-participation in compulsory military service, which they could instantly overcome by volunteering to serve in the Israel Defence Forces, as an increasing number (thousands, not a few oddballs) of Muslim Arabs are already doing (Arabs of the Druze have always served; some are now senior officers).
I cannot ignore Cheel’s most powerful argument, that the situation in Israel is tantamount to apartheid when judged by the standards of the ‘United Nations’ deliberations on supremacist regimes’, the same human-rights committee that has never had the time to deliberate on the rights of some two billion Chinese, North Koreans and Saudis, among others, because it, like Cheel, was preoccupied by one very much less populous state. Also, I forget: was the chairperson of that committee the representative of Libya? Or of Sudan, where I am told the price of decent house slaves has dropped in these Darfur days?
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Tony French is sceptical of John Connelly’s claim that the Nazis meant to ship Europe’s Jews to Madagascar, on the basis that Britain still held Suez and much of East Africa, and wonders whether Madagascar is ‘another Nazi euphemism’ (Letters, 18 August). This is history by hindsight. At the time, Hitler believed the British were beaten but simply hadn’t realised it yet. He talked of plans to seize Gibraltar, establish bases in West Africa (Dakar, for instance) and overrun Suez, thus threatening India, all of this to be achieved with the possible help of France, which would be allowed to secure its Mediterranean colonies. On 20 June 1940, a Führer Conference on naval affairs discussed operations as far away as Indo-China, and Admiral Raeder recorded: ‘The Führer intends to use Madagascar for settling Jews under French supervision.’ That doesn’t sound like a euphemism. Hitler had just conquered most of Europe in less than a year: adding Madagascar probably seemed a minor detail.
Hannah Crafts tells the story of an old slave and her dog being ‘gibbeted’: suspended from an iron cage and left to die. According to Elaine Showalter and English Showalter, ‘no one has found a historical or a literary antecedent for this incident’ (LRB, 18 August). In Letters From an American Farmer (1783), John Hector St John Crevecoeur describes a ‘negro who has murdered someone and has been suspended in a cage and left to be picked to death by birds of prey, his eyes have been picked out and he is dying from thirst’.
E.S. Turner’s mention of the apocryphal encounter between John Wesley and ‘Beau’ Nash in Bath in 1739 reminded me of another later meeting in which Nash was supposedly bested (LRB, 21 July). Walking towards Wesley along a narrow pavement, Nash is said to have proclaimed, ‘I never make way for a fool.’ Stepping aside, Wesley replied: ‘Don’t you? I always do.’
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