‘Rabbit brained louts’ is what the Daily Express called ‘Young Oxford’; the Oxford Union debating society students who in February 1933 voted by a large majority of 122 that ‘this house will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country’.
Sparked by a bogus letter to the Daily Express, the right-wing papers were spitting fire and fury within days. They declared the vote ‘an outrage on the memory of those who gave their lives in the Great War’. Retired colonels, ex-Oxford men and Conservative MPs all condemned the students in no uncertain terms as ‘aliens and perverts’, ‘woozy-minded communists’ and ‘sexual indeterminates’.
So was this mass pacifism? The students were rejecting what they knew of Lord Kitchener’s famous recruiting slogan in 1915 – ‘your country needs you!’ By the 1920s, the public was questioning what the war had actually achieved. At the time of the debate, the early 1930s, the public backlash against the arms trade – popularly considered to be a cause of the war – had been growing for a decade.