THE SPINE NOVEMBER 26, 2007
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 won...handily.)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.