Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chronicles III

Sir Winston Churchill, served as British Prime Minister during the Second World War and was an early proponent of what became the sound bite. His wartime speeches, immortalised through the magic of BBC Radio were written the way he meant to read them. You can read more about Churchill's illustrious career at

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old."

In 1961, at the height of the cold war, John F. Kennedy, US President captured the imagination of the world with his speech that signaled America's intention to win the moon race. It was really an attempt to mitigate the effects of communism and the war in Vietnam. The full text can be found

" First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations--explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there."

These are two examples of great Leaders speaking to their publics. While it may be said that they both had great speech writers, and no one disputes this, one hallmark of great leaders is their ability to convincingly deliver declarative statements and rouse the listener to action. Churchill arrived early in the Communications revolution but quickly realised the power at hand. He stirred England and cemented his place in history because of how widespread his audience was, for the first time, messages could be heard by a great number of people at the same time.

His nemesis Adolf Hitler was also an early adopter of technology and it has been said, repugnant though it might be to contemplate, had the medium of television been available to him, the outcome of the war might have been different. Hitler in fact used film and radio to great effect in Germany and across Europe to spread his message and even today, his techniques are still studied by communications students.

Today, radio, television and print media play a small part in the huge communications links that bring the world together into a small global village. Events occuring in one hemisphere can be transmitted instantly at the touch of a button and as fast as you can upload. The sound bite is common and we have up to the minute news. The World Wide Web got it's start from a bunch of Geeks at CERN in Geneva who were using Web technology when computers still filled a room and we were talking COBOL and FORTRAN. Bet you don't know what that is! You probably don't know what punch cards are either but that's how you coded information for computers then. In the space of one century we've made huge strides in technology, made it smaller, more widely available and cheaper to use. We take for granted our ability to google, instant message and all the other those other things. Do we really need 120 channels on tv, 200 radio stations cluttering up the airwaves, yet another version of the iPod? We can however, respect that information is one of the most valuable tools we have as humans. Kennedy charged us to go to the moon, funny that we've not been back in thirty eight years, but we still benefit from discoveries made as man made his giant leap into space.

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