Tuesday, February 28

The Children's Hour

In 1933 the Oxford Union debated and passed the infamous motion that "This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country." Jan Morris recounts in her delightful book "The Oxford Book of Oxford," that the next day's Times referred to this sorry result as "the children's hour."

I was reminded of this episode when I read about the students at the University of Washington who rejected the college's plan to erect a memorial to WWII flying ace and alumnus Col. Greg "Pappy" Boyington. Now no-one should admire Col. Boyington unreservedly; he was quarrelsome and boastful, but he was also one of the best dog-fighters in Marine Corps history, a Medal of Honor recipient, and an indisputable American hero. His colorful life, which was later the inspiration for the Robert Conrad television series Baa Baa Black Sheep, is summarized well here.

But the objections to recognizing Col. Boyington had nothing to do with his heavy drinking, his chronic indebtedness, his multiple divorces, or his embellishments of his war record. The following comments offered by UW student senate members opposing the memorial are taken from this official transcript of the debate preceding the 46-45-10 voted against the proposed memorial:

Jill Edwards questioned whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people. She said she didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce.

Ashley Miller commented that many monuments at UW1 commemorate rich white men. [RP: Col. Boyington grew up poor and was part Sioux]

Karl Smith amended the first ‘whereas’ clause to strike the section “he was credited with destroying 26 enemy aircraft, tying the record for most aircraft destroyed by a pilot in American Uniform for which he was” and leaving the reference to the Navy Cross. Seconded. Objection. He said the resolution should commend Colonel Boyington’s service, not his killing of others.

Children at play, indeed. Churchill's response to the Oxford Union debate was:

We have all seen with a sense of nausea the abject, squalid, shameless avowal made in the Oxford Union. We are told that we ought not to treat it seriously. The Times talked of “the children’s hour.” I disagree. It is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom. One can almost feel the curl of contempt upon the lips of the manhood of Germany, Italy, and France when they read the message sent out by Oxford University in the name of Young England.

This quote amused me, because I found my lip curling involuntarily as I read the UW transcript. Six years later, when King and Country called, the Oxford students of 1933 took up arms and fought as bravely as their fathers had fought in WWI. I'm not as confident about the UW student senators, but here's hoping their patriotism and resolve will not have to be tested.

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