In 1933, the Oxford Union debated and then voted by a tally of 275 to 153
that this House "will not fight for King and Country." Well, as it
happens, that House did fight for King and Country, valiantly and
bloodily. But 1933 was the year that Hitler came to power, and almost no
one could see that war would be forced on England. Or that the success of
this resolution in an institution of the British social and intellectual
elite might actually encourage Hitler in his political dementia.
I've met a few individuals who actually voted for this resolution, and one
of them -- in the 1980's -- was still regretting his action mournfully.
The Oxford Union no longer carries its prestige with its votes, although
when my friends Andrew Sullivan and Larry Grafstein were at the helm it
still packed both prestige and power. (In 1984, to the same house and in
the very chambers, I debated Lord Mayhew, who had been Ernest Bevin's
deputy in Britain's post-1945 war against Zionism and later a mere flak for
the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the issue of Israel. Frankly, I
was traumatized by both the setting and the history. But our side
Anyway, the elite now stoops to pranks. Today, Monday, according to the
Associated Press, the Oxford Union will host as
speakers David Irving, Holocaust denier, and Nick Griffin, leader of the
fascist British National Party. Is this an undergraduate prank?
There's been much protest at the intellectual indignity of welcoming two
vicious nut-cases to Oxford. And the minister of defense has cancelled his
own scheduled appearance at the Union.
But the free speech loonies are also in the act. Once you invite someone
to address an audience, even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or David Irving, he has
some right, presumably going back to the Magna Carta, to talk whatever
malicious falsehood he chooses.