Vol. 33 No. 19 · 6 October 2011

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It’s already happened

There is an aspect of the NHS reforms that James Meek doesn’t refer to (LRB, 22 September). Currently, press and public can scrutinise the NHS via the Freedom of Information Act. Under the new plans, it will not be possible to keep a watch on the private companies into whose pockets taxpayers’ money will be diverted. Lord Howe, minister of health, wrote to me recently confirming that the ‘FOIA does not apply to private companies providing general medical services’. It was the last Labour government which, in a minor schedule to another statute, hid the clause freeing tax-funded private medical companies from public scrutiny. The implication is that the proposed government regulators for the new NHS – Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and the NHS Commissioning Board – will not be able to publish the results of any investigation they might make into services outsourced to the private sector.

John Heelan
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

Principally Agricultural

Bernard Porter is correct in expecting an unhappy Australian response to Lizzie Collingham’s assessment of Australia’s contribution to the Allied war effort as principally agricultural (LRB, 14 July). She takes her place in an unpleasant tradition. Winston Churchill, who didn’t like Australia’s wartime Labor government or Australians much in general – apart, that is, from their infantry force at El Alamein, naval units in the Mediterranean, and contingents in RAF Fighter and Bomber Commands (four of the 16 Dambuster aircraft were captained by Australians) – commissioned two confidential reports on Australia’s war effort, hoping to find it lacking, but was disappointed. Australia had one of the highest levels of mobilisation among the Allies. From early 1942 to mid-1944, Australia provided a base for General MacArthur and supplied the majority of his army’s fighting divisions. The New Guinea campaigns were an essential step on the road to the Philippines. Collingham is trapped in the belief that the whole Southwest Pacific theatre was irrelevant.

The massively successful American air campaign against the Japanese was initially based and largely maintained in Queensland, and assisted by Australia’s own air force. Unfortunately, the Pacific RAAF tended to have obsolete aircraft, essentially because Churchill blocked all its attempts, until late in the war, to secure better ones. He did, however, smile on New Zealand, which was never threatened, and allowed it to obtain hundreds of F4U Corsairs, a leading naval fighter, while poor Australia slogged away with Kittyhawks.

John Stephenson
Leura, Australia

Despising Rab Butler

Ferdinand Mount states that Harold Macmillan despised Rab Butler for not having fought in the First World War (LRB, 8 September). He may have, but surely the principal reason was that Butler’s loyalty at the start of the Second World War was to Lord Halifax and his faction and he was not, therefore, averse to a deal with Hitler.

Jack Adrian
Cradley, Worcestershire


Eric Hobsbawm writes of Alan Nunn May: ‘What hurt was the growing conviction that he should have been strong enough to refuse altogether to take part in the project to use the atom bomb, as the admirable Joseph Rotblat had done. He was the only member of the British or any other research team to do so’ (LRB, 25 August). Rotblat worked at Los Alamos for most of 1944, though he was the first well-known person to resign from the Manhattan Project. There were others who refused. Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Frisch were the first to understand how an atom could release huge amounts of energy. When Frisch came to Britain, Meitner remained in Sweden. In 1940, Erwin Schrödinger left Oxford for Dublin and stayed there. In 1936 Max Born left Germany for Edinburgh and stayed there, torn but refusing to work on the bomb, while some of his students and assistants – Oppenheimer, Fermi, Teller, Wigner and Weisskopf – joined the Manhattan Project. In 1940, Walter Heitler joined Schrödinger in Dublin, while a number left physics for biology, as Leo Szilard was to do.

Bill Gilmour

How to Remember

In wondering whether the National September 11 Memorial and Museum can both ‘rehearse the trauma of the day and help with its assimilation’, Hal Foster might have found it useful to compare it with the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima (LRB, 8 September). There, only the exhibits on the ground floor are devoted to the memory of 6 August 1945, with both still and video photography, scale models of the city and a wealth of information about the scientific and historical contexts that led to the dropping of the bomb. The floor above, unexpected and salutary to any visitor looking only to indulge a fetish, explores in depth the development of nuclear weapons since that day – from experiments following the war right up to the present. A large globe displays, with clusters of proportionately sized model missiles, various countries’ competing firepowers. The museum looks forward as much as back, and remembers mostly for the sake of instruction. Across the park, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial – the domed building miraculously left standing after the blast – is carefully maintained, and suffices for sordid remains.

Ollie Brock
London E2


J.G.A. Pocock is right to identify the Treaty of Waitangi as the focal point for subsequent histories of Maori-Pakeha relations (LRB, 8 September). However, his analysis of the words rangatiratanga and kawanatanga is too simple. According to the English version of the first article of the treaty, the chiefs cede ‘sovereignty’ over their land to the Queen of England. It is not qualified, as Pocock implies, by any reference to ‘sale of land’. The Maori version of the second article grants rangatiratanga over their land to the chiefs and tribes of New Zealand. The sense of rangatiratanga would have been conveyed by the English ‘sovereignty’, but the English version of the clause does not include the word. Instead, it grants to the chiefs and tribes ‘full, exclusive and undisturbed possession’ of their lands, and gives Her Majesty ‘the exclusive right of pre-emption’ over them. The fact that the Maori version is much shorter than the English has led some to claim that there were really two treaties: the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’, an English legal document, and the ‘Tiriti o Waitangi’, whose wording was designed to allay the fears of the chiefs.

The word rangatiratanga is used in the third line of the Maori version of the Lord’s Prayer, which would have been familiar to many of the chiefs present at the signing of the treaty. To them, the sovereignty of the land would have been no more ‘alienable’ than the Kingdom of God.

Peter Davies

J.G.A. Pocock gives readers the impression that Pakeha took possession of Maori land in the 19th century by exploiting Maori incomprehension of land sales and individual ownership. But comprehension was not often the problem. Some land was sold with full understanding and disclosure on both sides, but usually Pakeha were dishonest in their transactions, or obtained land by force. From 1840 (and earlier) until the unjust wars of the 1860s, far from being ‘“natives" too uncivilised to understand what was happening’, as Pocock puts it, many iwi were an economic force to be reckoned with. They had created considerable wealth through trade, which they then invested in flour mills, ploughs and ships of up to 60 tonnes. This prosperity came to an end as a result not of one party’s misunderstanding of the other, but of Pakeha greed for Maori land.

Pocock writes that Anglo-British settlers ‘looked on land with no less veneration than the tangata whenua’. For this to be so, ‘veneration’ would have to encompass contradictory cultural attitudes to land, and the treatment of it. Land referred to in a Maori context is almost always ‘the land’, a specific, particular place, to which one is tied by ancestry and history, not the general, European concept of ‘land’ anywhere. The subtext of Pocock’s statement is very clear: Anglo-British settlers were as deserving of land (in Aotearoa) as Maori. This message is contentious, to say the least, but has recent precedents. As Jacob Pollock has pointed out in the New Zealand Journal of History, both Michael King and James Belich have drawn an equivalence between Maori and Pakeha, rather than problematising the presence of Pakeha in Aotearoa. Their ‘bicultural’ general histories of New Zealand are part of the ongoing project of ‘cultural colonisation’.

Colonialism by force hasn’t stopped either. In October 2007, in the Tuhoe area, masked police pointed weapons at young children and detained them without food or water for several hours during national raids, and police, seeking their prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act, imprisoned a number of Tuhoe activists (among others). They were unsuccessful: all charges were dropped, save against four people, because the ‘evidence’ was gathered illegally. The New Zealand Chief Justice Sian Elias said that the police knew they were breaching human rights with their surveillance activities yet continued what they were doing. It seems that colonialism in New Zealand is now called the ‘War on Terror’.

Janet McAllister

J.G.A. Pocock writes: ‘Sovereignty’ is a word with several meanings, and I meant to reveal its ambiguity. The Crown did not claim sovereignty over a sovereign state, or there would have been no Treaty of Waitangi. When it inserted the word kawanatanga, and claimed an exclusive right of pre-emption over land sales, it claimed some kind of ultimate authority; but at the same time it conceded rangatiratanga, meaning an original possession of the land, for which the word ‘sovereignty’ was already in use. The treaty debate has become an open negotiation between these meanings of the word.

Janet McAllister wrongly supposes that I am endorsing the settler worldview by stating what it was. If by ‘equivalence’ she means that you can’t do the latter without doing the former, it becomes impossible to write history at all. She also puts words in my mouth that I was putting in the mouths of settlers. The story she tells is 90 per cent true, but we need to know more about those who acted unjustly than that their actions were unjust. This does not mean defending them.

There after all

Marina Warner is confident that ‘social history’ remembers Elizabeth Garrett Anderson but my experience is that few in the medical profession do, let alone among the general public (Letters, 22 September). Now, however, her work and that of other pioneering women doctors will be celebrated within the red-brick walls on the Euston Road. The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery, recounting, in a variety of media, the story of EGA, her hospital and her life and times, has been installed inside the restored 1890s building that forms part of the new Unison Centre. The battle to provide treatment for women by women may have been lost – at least for the time being – but women’s struggle to enter the medical profession will no longer go unremarked. The gallery is due to open to the public shortly.

Elizabeth Crawford
London EC1

Enough, surely?

‘It’s a lasting puzzle that there aren’t simply more poems,’ Michael Hofmann writes of Elizabeth Bishop (LRB, 8 September). Allen Ginsberg told Auden that he tried to write a poem a day, to which Auden replied: ‘One a month is enough, surely!’

Joe Nuttgens
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

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