Bruce Kent visit: 25 October
Bruce Kent, the former General Secretary and then Chair of CND and an Honorary Fellow of the College, addressed a Principal’s Conversation. I asked some searching and (I thought) difficult questions and the 88-year-old Bruce gave a very feisty set of responses.
Before becoming a student at Brasenose he had served as an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment between 1947 and 1949. He was clearly fond of the College; he had described in his memoirs Oxford as “a slack water time, my lotus eating years”. He had come from a conservative household where the reading was the Telegraph and Express newspapers. He had not even seen a Marxist until he arrived here. His only speech at the Oxford Union was in favour of private education. He became a priest after putting his dilemma as to what to do next to our then Principal Barry Nicholas (see below).
He served for many years as a Catholic priest at St Aloysius Church, a multi-cultural parish near Euston Station. Restricting nuclear weapons however became the defining theme of his life and he achieved more in shaping the debate than if he were an elected politician (he had unsuccessfully fought the Oxford West and Abingdon seat for Labour in 1991). He stressed in answer to questions from the audience that he was not a pacifist but claimed that it was never appropriate to use nuclear weapons. He described his years in the priesthood as satisfying but he finished life as a full-time priest in 1987 when the Catholic hierarchy wanted to restrict his political activities. He said in his public retirement statement issued at the time that “I no longer find it possible to cope with the strain resulting from the tensions between my pastoral role which means so much to me and what is thought to be an unacceptable political role”.
The work in CND brought unwelcome and bitter scrutiny by the media. When he left the General Secretaryship of CND he said, “I had enough of being prodded and dissected by every journalist and politician with half an hour to spare”.
Some may have been surprised by his statement at the event that he could understand why North Korea would want nuclear weapons, given Trump being in the White House.
I strongly recommend Bruce’s Autobiography “Undiscovered Ends” which we have in the College library. It is great to have him as a Brasenose Radical Voice.
We congratulate Prof Chris Kennard who has been appointed to deal with aftermath of the Tinbergen Building evacuation.
On 1 November, I went to the Lady English Lecture at St Hilda’s, given by Bonnie Greer who is refiguring Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” with a black Hedda. Earlier in the day I went to a lecture on the Rule of Law in USA history in the Legal History discussion group series.
This term and next term, we have Student drinks receptions for the undergraduate Freshers. It is a great way to get to know students and to realise what a range of backgrounds they come from. We include our visiting Stanford students.
Bruce Kent visit: 25 October