Movements and organizations have brought in radical changes that transformed societies and cultures all over the world. Most of these happened because of certain individuals who initiated, strengthened and spearheaded the movement. Their charismatic and captivating presence have instilled vigour and enthusiasm among the people. Most effective instrument that stimulated and influenced millions was the historic speeches made by these great individuals. Many such speeches have relegated over time to oblivion. Interested readers had to search for the same in available biographies. Researchers had to explore the archival data to get the finer details. Present generation is fortunate to have a glance on some of these great speeches.
Attempts made by a few to compile some of the great speeches that left lasting impressions in the history of the world are appreciable. One such compilation is exceptional for the selection of speeches and unique style and presentation. The book, under review is published by Quercus Publishing Co London with the title, ‘Speeches that Changed the World’. The book has made a beautiful presentation of the words and stories of the moments that made history.
The compilation starts with a wonderful introduction by the historian and writer Simon Sebag Montefiore (who wrote the famous book ‘Stalin: the Court of the RedTsar’). It contains thought provoking and inspiring speeches by about 50 historical figures. The cover picture is of Nelson Mandela waving to the crowd from the lectern with his charismatic smile. The book contains speeches from Moses, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, AdolphHitler, Emperor Hirohito, Martin Luther King Jr, Indira Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, to name a few. For Montefiore, the best speech is one that marks no great event but merely pinpoints with splendid language, moral rigour and righteous fury, ‘the essence of all decent civilization’. He is influenced very much by the speech of Elie Wiesel ( who is a writer famous for his witness to the sufferings endured by Jews in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany) on the ‘perils of indifference’ and invites readers to the thoughts on history and the private individual beautifully presented by Wiesel.
There is no uniform criterion in the selection of speeches in this volume. One cannot find any uniform thread that connects any common theme. However, these speeches unravel unique personality traits, ideological underpinnings, emotional dimensions, public confessions, repentance, convictions, and double standards of the respective speakers.
History of the world is marred by frequent wars and rivalries, both covert and overt. Obviously in most of these historic speeches, the main theme is either inspiring people for renewed fight against the enemy or appealing people for peace. The war-peace dichotomy is very much evident in different historical periods. Wars were fought in the name of God. Even today the ‘Holy wars’ continue in different parts of the world.
Speakers took the name of God to legitimize the war and violence. Saddam Hussain and George Bush and many other rulers have just continued the historic divine legitimization. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1588) spoke against the potential Spanish invaders. In her famous speech at Tilsbury near London, she said ‘we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom and of my people’. King Charles-I (1600-1649) said ‘I have a good cause and a gracious God in my side’. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) believed that God had been behind his victories in civil wars and that he had been chosen to enact God’s will on earth. He tried to get rid of the parliament, to establish a ‘godly society’ in England. He spoke, ‘..by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do, I command you…..’.
Sources of the speech and the version of the translation are not clearly given. This is very important, especially of the non-English speeches of early centuries. In the speech called the ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ by Jesus Christ, serial numbers for the sentences should have been avoided as that will be confused with the original numbers of the Biblical verses. Similarly, it would have been better if the speech was presented in modern English rather than in the archaic style.
Anyone who is interested to understand these great persons and the historical, cultural and political contexts of their times shall pick up this book. This book would also provide the much needed motivation to present day youth and students who aspire to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Some of the excerpts that I found interesting in the volume are given below.
The discoverer of radium invites all to the world of experiments
‘There is always a vast field left to experimentation and I hope that we may have some beautiful progress in the following years. It is my earnest desire that some of you should carry on this scientific work and keep for your ambition the determination to make a permanent contribution to science’ (Marie Curie)
The champion of non-violence calls for giving the poor their fair share
‘What did we witness in the great pandal in which the foundation ceremony was performed by the Viceroy? Certainly a most gorgeous show, an exhibition of jewellery, which made a splendid feast for the eyes of the greatest jeweller who chose to come from Paris. I compare with the richly bedecked noble men the millions of poor. And I feel like saying to these noble men, ‘There is no salvation for India unless you strip yourself of this jewellery and hold it in trust for your countrymen in India’. … Whenever I hear of a great palace rising in any great city of India, be it in British India or be it in India which is ruled by our great chiefs, I become jealous at once, and say ‘ Oh, it is the money that has come from the agriculturists’. (Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi)
Real power is people’s power
‘Only if power is based, obviously and unconditionally, on a majority of the population can it be stable during a popular revolution, i.e., a revolution which rouses the people, the majority of workers and peasants, to action’ (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin)
The words of the peace maker
‘We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall cheerfully make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.’ (Woodrow Wilson)
You Love and You get Peace
‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Jesus Christ)
Nehru’s vision of Globalism and Globalization
‘And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments’
Ideal of a democratic and free society
‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die’
Let the oppressed go free
“So let us begin anew - remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.
Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us.
Let both sides, for the first time formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.
Let us both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah – ‘to undo the heavy burdens…..and let the oppressed go free’ ”
(John F Kennedy)
The dream came true
‘ I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. …..
……I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together’
(Martin Luther King Jr)
The most hurtful poverty
‘When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtful and so much, and I find that very difficult’
Interior form of love
‘Every life is determined and evaluated by the interior form of love. Tell me what you love, and I will tell you who you are’
(Pope John Paul II)
(The book ‘Speeches that changed the World’ was published by Quercus Publishing Plc, London, 2005, Edition 2008)
Sibichen K Mathew
(Views are personal. Comments are invited)
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