20 DECEMBER 1963, Page 12


SIR,—May one thank the Spectator for the measured good sense of its article 'Sukarno's War,' the most balanced and the best informed I have yet seen on the subject. It is unfortunate, as I have constantly observed in South East Asia, that foreign correspondents are not more awake to the limitations necessarily imposed by lack of fluency in local tongues and are not more mindful of Mr. Dulles's dictum, 'till we know a people's language we do not know what is in their minds and till we know their language we cannot be certain that they know what is in ours,' or of Roger Ascham's aphorism that 'an interpreter is a poor wing for any bird to fly upon.' It is the more welcome that you, sir, should have put into context the wilder stories published in the national press, devised, who knows, from the fertile, inventions of Eastern interpreters eager to.please.

At the same time, while Sukarno would probably welcome a UN team on the Borneo border it would scarcely be realistic to expect him to , pull out Indonesian troops unless we pull out British troops, leaving the local government to do its police work while UN forces guard the frontiers. Then we can see how popular the Malaysia idea really is. Conceivably we might then hold a plebiscite to coincide with another in West Irian so that the true wishes of both peoples can be discovered.