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Issue 474, 3 December 2001

Letters

Exploration or colonisation?

Dr Eva Frojmovic
Director, Centre for Jewish studies

I felt ambivalent reading David Frier’s letter (Reporter 472), reminding us of ‘Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India in 1497-8’.

The (standard enough) use of terms such as ‘charting the seas’ and ‘maritime exploration’, or the ‘progress of many of the modern sciences which made long-distance navigation a feasible proposition’, implies disinterested and peaceful scientific work; I am glad that Dr Frier’s last sentence explicitly mentions ‘European overseas "expansion"’. After all, trade routes (sea and land) between India and Europe had functioned for half a millennium previously; they just weren’t controlled by European powers. Muslims, Jews and diverse Indian communities had shared these routes.

When the Portuguese reached the Malabar Coast, they weren’t content with sharing. To the bewilderment of the locals and foreign Jewish and Muslim traders, they opened fire and conquered. That’s what exploration was all about.

Tobacco first step in ethical investments

Peter Coltman
Media services

It was good to see that the University has decided to disinvest from tobacco products. I hope that ethical concerns will inform other areas of investment as well. Organisations like Eiris allow investors to make knowledgeable choices by providing detailed information, not only on a company’s products, but also the way it is managed, whether in terms of equal opportunities policy or waste disposal.

My own wish is that the University would remove any investment from companies engaged in the manufacture or sale of armaments: Britain is second only to the USA in the export of arms.

Pacifism is a recent phenomenon

Jim Walsh
Emeritus registrar

Dick Taylor’s letter (Reporter 473) arrived just as I’d been giving some thought to the basis of British pacifism.

Since 1945 there has been only one year — 1968 — when a British serviceman has not been killed in some war. The 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were crowded with wars in which we played an integral and frequently an aggressive part. We fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, the French against the Dutch, the Germans against the French, the French against the Russians, the French and Italians against the Germans, the French, Russians and Americans against the Germans and Italians.

Yet we have a strong pacifist movement, which holds that all war is evil. It is a fairly recent phenomenon. I’m not aware of any pacifism in relation to Spain in the 16th, the Dutch in the 17th, or the French in the 18th century. What gave a tremendous moral basis to pacifism was the carnage on the western front in WW1, but it did not have that effect in Germany or France, where the carnage was even greater: in the latter case it gave rise to a ‘Maginot mentality’ — very different from pacifism. Russia has never been a democracy and its various rulers have never permitted such sentiments.

The notion that you turn the other cheek to aggression is based on the teachings of Christ, but I doubt whether the moral basis of pacifism was ever Christian at all — after all the churches were behind the state in the anti-German wars of those times. No — its moral basis came from socialism, in the notion that all evils derived from capitalism: all you had to do was get rid of capitalism for everyone to be happy and peaceful. This theory carefully circumnavigated the fact that wars had existed on a large scale long before capitalism arrived. Moreover some of the advocates of socialism were prepared to use terror as a weapon: W. H. Auden’s poem Spain (1937) required ‘conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder’; however he shot off to the capitalist USA the moment the European stage of WW2 began. The bloody arrival of socialism in the USSR did not prevent war, and the activities of Herr Hitler put paid to pacifism, for a while, in this country.

The later attempts of the USSR to harness a peace movement to its own international power games did not impress the Great British Public, but some fairly large numbers were prepared to join anti-nuclear marches, which did not exist anywhere else in Europe on this scale. This too requires some thought.

My own contribution is that the British, and to be more specific the English, have over centuries developed a culture of free thinking based on the virtual impossibility of foreign conquest. The basis of this freedom is our geographical inaccessibility, reinforced by the existence of the Royal Navy. There is a certain irony in the fact that the great peace demonstrations are held in Trafalgar Square.

Holliman pioneered combined studies

W F Williams
Life fellow

I was sad to learn of the deaths of Fred Holliman and his wife Dora. The University quite properly acknowledged his substantial contribution to its life and organisation.

What was not adequately recognised was his very imaginative and thoughtful establishment of combined studies in science, the first of its kind in the country. In four short years, he laid the basis of a very successful system. As one of my colleagues said, he was a trailblazer. He decided that the standard of admission and of the courses had to be high, comparable at least to those of the honours courses in the contributing departments. The two subjects had to be of equal standing, neither subsidiary to the other. The method of determining the final joint classification was carefully worked out. Syllabuses were agreed. A sympathetic and eminent first external examiner was appointed. All students were given support throughout their undergraduate years and thereafter as needed.

Although both I as his immediate successor, and Chris Hatton as mine, added to and developed combined studies (now joint honours) in different ways, we built on the sound foundations laid down by Professor Holliman. The success of the system in Leeds (and to some extent of similar systems established elsewhere) owes much to him.


 
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