I FOUND myself in broad agreement with Kate Forbes’s assertion that we cannot and should not try to ban anything that might offend someone somewhere. (Plenty offends me – but let’s leave job of judge and jury to the legal system, Aug 23).

I also agree that the law plays a significant role in drawing a line where free speech can no longer be deemed an absolute right – for instance shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema or urging people to lynch Jews.

However, I think there needs to be further nuancing of her argument. Roman philosopher Seneca said, “What narrow innocence it is for one to be good only according to the law.” In 1950s America it was legal in the Southern states to discriminate against black citizens; in many countries until recently it was legal for a man to beat his wife or force sex upon her.

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Sometimes the law has to catch up on social values (abolishing book censorship), and sometimes it needs to move in advance of entrenched prejudices (decriminalising homosexuality). It is always a struggle battled out between competing moral beliefs and ideologies, and the process involves judgment calls rather than seeking definitive absolutes of right and wrong.

However, as regards the principal focus of Kate’s article on comedy and satire, for those of us who believe in fairness, equality and genuine tolerance there is a simple rule of thumb – only punch upwards. Comedians should not use powerless or discriminated-against minorities as the butt of their humour. Few of us would nowadays accept jokes ridiculing the mentally ill or black people. Would you be happy if your local community centre allowed an antisemite stand-up performer to appear on the grounds of a right to free speech? Or the likes of Andrew Tate to give a talk on the innate inferiority of women?

Where you draw the line is always uncertain and shifting, but there is a line, and decent-thinking people should agree that some things just cannot be given licence by elevating freedom of speech to the highest human right – which is exactly what Donald Trump and his fellow co-conspirators are currently putting forward as their defence for their attempt to subvert the 2020 US election.

David White

THIS is an odd reaction to the interesting piece in the Sunday National by David Pratt, in which he writes about the increased use of drones in the war in Ukraine and the more sophisticated guidance technology being employed (Fight for superiority in a new drone war, Aug 20).

This makes me think about about Hobart’s “Funnies”, which were the multi-use tanks that were used in World War Two after D-Day. These could bridge trenches, sweep mines and use flame throwers; this last ability was valued by

the Americans who had nothing like them. Thus they were in constant action, which explains why my father who commanded them and survived it was troubled by the experience.

Instead of battle tanks which Nato has given to the Ukrainians, perhaps they should have been encouraged to turn their ingenuity to designing autonomous land vehicles which could explore the Russian defences and on reaching them be exploded. There was a TV programme based on such vehicles which fought each other and could right themselves and in this case remove tank traps.

The obvious source of the vehicles upon which the machines could be based is in the millions of petrol-driven cars and buses which are now obsolete and which could be easily altered. Is this is an example of making ploughshares into swords?

Iain WD Forde