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Letters to the Editor: August 2013

A selection of readers' correspondence with the editor, Paul Lay.

Share your thoughts with the readers of History Today.

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Misunderstood

To claim that Emily Wilding Davison was ‘simply trouble’ to the leadership of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) because of her freelance militancy is to overstate the case (The Good Terrorist, June 2013). As late as 1912 the WSPU secretary was trying to help Davison find literary employment, while Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the WSPU, sent her an invitation to a reception at WSPU headquarters on March 1st.

When exploring whether Davison intended to commit suicide it is necessary to read her writings and hear her voice. Pugh quotes only four words: that, following a previous failed suicide attempt, she told the prison doctor in June 1912, that ‘a tragedy is wanted’. Further quotations would have revealed that Davison was willing to risk her life because she felt that ‘by nothing but the sacrifice of human life would the nation be brought to realise the horrible torture our women face. If I had succeeded I am sure that forcible feeding could not in all conscience have been resorted to again’.

Although we will never know what went through Davison’s mind on the day, she was a risk-taker who knew that her action might have fatal consequences. Rather than blame the failings of successive Liberal governments to grant women the parliamentary vote, Pugh, predictably, blames the women, the structure of the WSPU and its leadership. He speaks of the ‘illiberal’ methods politicians used to try to control the militants – ‘brutal’ would be a better choice, especially when discussing Davison’s death. A committed Anglican, her death was not a suicide in the ordinary meaning of the term, since she risked her life to save her comrades from any further suffering. It was an act that the Suffragettes themselves understood and Pugh, unfortunately, does not.

June Purvis
University of Portsmouth

Keynes’ Insight

There is an interpretation of Keynes’ famous dictum ‘In the long run we are all dead’ (From the Editor, June 2013), which makes it much more profound than is recognised. Prior to Keynes, most macroeconomic analysis derived conclusions about the impact of various economic events using a ‘comparative static’ approach, i.e. comparing the equilibrium outcome of one set of conditions with that of a different set; and inferring the impact of the altered conditions from the different equilibrium. How one got from the one equilibrium to the other was often ignored because ‘in the long run’ that is what would happen – as long as markets, including the labour market, were free to respond. So if, in particular, full employment did not emerge, it must be due to restrictions keeping wages too high; and the policy prescription was to cut wages.

Keynes’ great insight was to see that the adjustment, the disequlibrium process (or ‘dynamic analysis’) was absolutely critical; and that disequlibrium forces could easily take the economy further and further away from a new, supposedly long-term equilibrium. Thus, lowering wages might help the labour market, but then cut spending power and so reduce demand for goods and services. This would actually worsen prospects for employment, thereby. The response that ‘in the long run it will all come right’ could mean (and in the 1930s did mean) persistent high unemployment over many years, so that this appeal to the long run was at best irrelevant or, in fact, very damaging. His dictum neatly summarises the need to dismiss appeals to the long run as a supposed reason against more immediate policy action.

Sadly, Keynes subsequent acolytes failed fully to understand the truly revolutionary nature of his insight.

Sir Derek Morris
Oriel College, Oxford

Loyal to the Kirk

Your interesting article on St Columba and Iona (Scotland’s First Minister, July 2013) claims that Dr George MacLeod attempted to create an ecumenical community. Though ecumenical in spirit, MacLeod was a loyal son of the Kirk and his aim was to train ministers for going out into industrial parishes. The abbey needed substantial rebuilding and student ministers and the unemployed would do it communally.

I worked on the rebuilding of the abbey in the 1950s before being sent to a parish in Glasgow’s East End. The four emphases of the community were: healing, mission, liturgy and politics – only in that sense was Iona ecumenical. Iona is what it is today due to MacLeod’s physical and mental strength, his vision, faith and what he called ‘prevenient grace’.

Rev William Shackleton
Glasgow

Human Bridges

The observation that Robert Bridges was accused of failing to write during the First World War (Months Past, July) leaves the impression that he was idle. Far from it. In 1915 he compiled an anthology of 449 pieces, taken from the poetry and prose of many countries and cultures, entitled The Spirit of Man, to bring fortitude and peace of mind to his countrymen.

The publication was hugely successful. It reprinted in the ‘ordinary’ edition three times in 1916, once in 1917, again in 1918 and twice in 1919. It continued in print for many years thereafter. An India paper edition, slender and better suited to the tunic pocket of a serving soldier, was printed twice in 1916 and then alongside the ordinary edition for the next three years.

I was still ordering reprints for Longmans, Green in the 1960s. It was found to be an indicator of social or political tension in English-speaking territories; for example, a peak in sales in South Africa was experienced two months before the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960.

My copy, from the 1934 printing, continues to be a companion in time of trouble. Bridges created a work of considerable value during the war.

Martin Marix Evans
via email

Greenhouse Debate

The article on John Tyndall (From Peak to Trough, July 2013) made very interesting reading, but it is debatable to say he discovered the greenhouse effect. Textbooks usually credit Joseph Fourier with that discovery. Tyndall’s vital insight was that carbon dioxide and water vapour are atmosphere greenhouse gases, i.e. they absorb and emit infrared radiation. Svante Arrhenius was then the first to calculate that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels could cause global warming.

Peter Brooker
West Wickham, Kent

Fantastic Claim

Reading George Vassiadis’ review of Nicholas Doumanis’ Before the Nation (Reviews, March 2013), I was astonished to learn that the premise of the book is that the Muslims and Christians of Anatolia ‘enjoyed a sort of Ottoman belle époque between 1890 and the outbreak of the first Balkan War in 1912’.
In the mid-1890s Sultan Abdul Hamid II massacred close to 200,000 Armenians. In 1908 Turkish soldiers and mobs killed another 30,000 Armenians in Adana. These genocidal acts were widely covered and condemned in the West, including in British and American publications.

In addition to the massacres, Armenian and other Christian minorities were considered second-class citizens, who could be mistreated by the authorities at will.

It seems to me that the premise of Before the Nation is a fantasy rather than a point of view based on facts.

Jirair Tutunjian
Toronto, Canada

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