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Friday, February 07, 2003
The last refuge

According to Boswell, Dr Johnson described patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Last night, at St Catherine's College, Oxford a panel, chaired by Hermione Lee (Virginia Woolf's best biographer), discussed the issue.

Other panellists were Michelle Roberts, Richard Sennett and William Shawcross. It would appear that only the latter thought patriotism a good thing. The others, and the largely student audience, were at best lukewarm about it. Several students thought of themselves as European, or even as citizens of the World. But then, fervent national patriots would be unlikely to attend such a meeting.

Naturally, some of the discussion turned to the US attitude to Iraq. Perhaps the most significant contribution came from Richard. This was to suggest that opposition to US policy within America is generally seen as anti-American - unpatriotic - rather than part of the debate. The left, such as it is, is largely ineffectual because of this inhibition. Discussion in other countries is not affected in this way. Hermione did suggest that Margaret Thatcher's rhetoric with respect to the striking miners treated these British citizens no differently from external enemies but GCHQ and unions might have been a better UK example.

Richard pointed to opinion polls in the US that indicated a nation divided on the matter of the forthcoming war. A remarkable statistic he adduced, but for which I have been unable to find the source, was that only 4% of the eligible draft (?) population confessed themselves willing to fight in Iraq.

William finds the strong identification of Americans with the flag, given their diverse origins, most remarkable and positive. This is a subject Josh will examine in more detail, one day. Without going as far as Ambrose Bierce (an American, please note) in describing patriotism as the first resort of the scoundrel, such an attachment may be undesirable and even unhealthy.

Bierce's definition of 'Invasion' is also instructive: 'The patriot's most approved method of attesting [to] his love of his country.' Hmmm.

Virginia Woolf, writing (in Three Guineas(1938)) from the point of view of women, given their history as slaves, property and the disenfranchised 'other', suggested indifference to country quite appropriate. Better to be a citizen of the World, she thought.

An interesting Panorama programme

Last night, Tony Blair faced an audience of sceptical Tynesiders in a programme moderated by Jeremy Paxman. Right from the start, Paxman indicated that he would not let Tony tell obvious porkies. When Blair told the old lie that the previous weapons inspectors had been expelled, Paxman pointed out the truth: that the inspectors had been withdrawn. Blair said that it was splitting hairs. It was not.

Subsequent revelations about the origin of the 'intelligence' dossier further undermine Blair's case. Here is more detail.

It also appeared that Blair had been conned by his own inadequate/flawed/plagiarised 'intelligence'. He further went on to say that, were a member (or members) of the UN Security Council to use the veto unreasonably [as, perhaps the US has done in most cases when a resolution has been too critical of Israel - Josh], then the veto would be ignored. Here is more detail.

When putting over a difficult argument, students are often exhorted
Not to lie,
Not to plagiarise,
To quote sources wherever possible and
To accept wiser counsel.
Blair fails in all four respects. Back to college, you nitwit.

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