Seventy-five years ago next month, the Oxford Union debated the following resolution: "That this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." The motion passed 275 votes to 153.
Winston Churchill called that a “disgusting symptom” that would breed “contempt”– not least in Germany where Hitler was already making plans to wipe various European nations off the map. The Manchester Guardian disagreed, noting the mistakes British politicians had made in wars past, and the hypocrisy they exhibited in the present.
The spirit of the Oxford Union lives on, not least on America’s campuses. Professor Ward Churchill’s characterization of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 atrocity as “little Eichmanns” is only the most infamous example.
Here’s one more recent: This month, five Iranian swift boats threatened U.S. Navy war ships in the Straits of Hormuz. Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan and former president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), was livid: “This episode is just about the most pitiful thing I have seen since Bush came to power, and believe me I've seen plenty,” he wrote. “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards issued their own video and audio of the encounter, which shows a routine identity check. … The Iranian press is suspicious about the timing of the Pentagon videotape, noting that it was released just as Bush was heading to the Middle East to try to convince the Arab allies of the US to make common cause with Israel against Iran.”
Hollywood moguls also have adopted the Oxford Union approach to national security, reheating Pogo’s Big Idea of the 1970s: that we have met the enemy and he is us. Among recent propaganda flicks: “Lions for Lambs” (right-wing politicians selling an unpopular war), “Rendition” (CIA torturers and a sexy suicide bomber), “Redacted” (U.S. Marines raping and murdering children), and even “The Good Shepherd,” a film about the CIA’s early years, features American secret agents letting loose locust plagues on Third World farmers and waterboarding an innocent man. Why would anyone fight for such a country?
But those of you who do – be warned: You may turn into homicidal maniacs! Last Sunday, The New York Times ran a front-page piece headlined "Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles.” The story suggested that military service in Iraq and Afghanistan is transforming nice young men into crazed killing machines.