Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Speeches that Changed the World

I have finished reading ‘Speeches That Changed the World’ by Alan J. Whiticker. It  contains a wide array of speeches by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jnr., Lenin, Stalin, Adolf Hitler, John F. Kennedy, Indira Gandhi, Arundati Roy,  Margaret Chase Smith, Mary Church Terrell, Emmeline Pankhurst, and many others.

It is difficult to express the delight I felt reading them—being cheered, being gripped, being moved to tears. The speeches I have read have the finest qualities, delivered during critical periods of human history.

For instance, as I read Mary Church Terrel’s ‘Being Coloured in the Nation’s Capital’, I get the impression of what it meant to be coloured in 1906 in the U.S.

Speaks Terrel:

“As a colored woman I cannot visit the tomb of the Father of this Country, which owes its very existence to the love of freedom in the human heart and which stands for equal opportunity to all, without being forced to sit in the Jim Crow section of an electric car which starts from the very heart of the city—midway between the Capitol and the White House. If I refuse thus to be humiliated, I am cast into jail and forced to pay a fine for violating the Virginia law…”

Then there is Emmeline Pankhurst in her speech ‘Freedom or Death’. This English barrister fought for women’s suffrage. The quote I really liked from her was this:

“…I am here as a soldier who has temporarily left the field of battle in order to explain—it seems strange it should have to be explained—what civil war is like when civil war is waged by women. I am not only here as a soldier temporarily absent from the field of battle;  I am here—and that, I think, is the strangest part of my coming—I am here as a person who, according to the law courts of my country, it has been decided, is of no value to the community at all; and I am adjudged because of my life to be a dangerous person, under sentence of penal servitude in a convict prison. So you see there is some special interest in hearing so unusual a person address you. I dare say, in the minds of many of you—you will perhaps forgive me this personal touch—that I do not look either very like a solider or very like a convict, and yet I am both.”

And how can we forget the terrifying statement of Adolf Hitler in his speech ‘The Jewish Question’ delivered in The Reichstag, Berlin, 30 January 1939:

“Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth, and thus the victory of the Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

On an encouraging tone is the ‘Russel-Einstein Manifesto’ denouncing use of nuclear weapons. But again, with sobering realities of Nuclear consequences.

“It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima. Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish. No one knows how widely such lethal radio-active particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.”

The Eulogy of Robert F. Kennedy given by his brother, Edward ‘Teddy’ Kennedy, is a moving one. But the words that stick to my mind are:

“This is the way he lived. My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it”.
“As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”

And there is this chilling quote from John Kerry from his speech “Against the War in Vietnam”:

“The country doesn’t know it yet, but it has created a monster, a monster in the form of millions of men who have been taught to deal and to trade in violence, and who are given the chance to die for the biggest nothing in history; men who have returned with a sense of anger and a sense of betrayal which no one has yet grasped”.

I was greatly inspired by these lines by Jesse Jackson in his 1988 Atlanta, Georgia speech titled ‘Keep Hope Alive’:

“As for Jesse Jackson: "I'm tired of sailing my little boat, far inside the harbor bar. I want to go out where the big ships float, out on the deep where the great ones are. And should my frail craft prove too slight for waves that sweep those billows o'er, I'd rather go down in the stirring fight than drowse to death at the sheltered shore. We've got to go out, my friends, where the big boats are.”

And this one:

“At 3 o'clock on Thanksgiving Day, we couldn't eat turkey because momma was preparing somebody else's turkey at 3 o'clock. We had to play football to entertain ourselves. And then around 6 o'clock she would get off the Alta Vista bus and we would bring up the leftovers and eat our turkey -- leftovers, the carcass, the cranberries -- around 8 o'clock at night. I really do understand.

Every one of these funny labels they put on you, those of you who are watching this broadcast tonight in the projects, on the corners, I understand. Call you outcast, low down, you can't make it, you're nothing, you're from nobody, subclass, underclass; when you see Jesse Jackson, when my name goes in nomination, your name goes in nomination.

I was born in the slum, but the slum was not born in me. And it wasn't born in you, and you can make it.”

Finally, this moving speech by Ryan White, the Indiana Schoolboy who contracted HIV/AIDS in 1984 when he was given a blood transfusion during an operation to remove part of his lung.

“My name is Ryan White. I am sixteen years old. I have hemophilia, and I have AIDS….
This brought on the news media, TV crews, interviews, and numerous public appearances. I became known as the AIDS boy. I received thousands of letters of support from all around the world, all because I wanted to go to school. Mayor Koch, of New York, was the first public figure to give me support. Entertainers, athletes, and stars started giving me support. I met some of the greatest like Elton John, Greg Louganis, Max Headroom, Alyssa Milano (my teen idol), Lyndon King (Los Angeles Raiders), and Charlie Sheen. All of these plus many more became my friends, but I had very few friends at school. How could these people in the public eye not be afraid of me, but my whole town was?”

I think that Ryan’s Speech helped a great deal in fighting stigmatization. Though he died in April 8 1990, aged 18, Alan writes that “his short life made an extraordinary impact”.


Sherry Blue Sky said...

Such inspiring words! I especially love Bobby Kennedy's "I dream things that never were, and say why not?" I so loved him.

Salem Lorot said...

Thank you Koko. :) Yes, I ran across that wonderful quote sometimes back and I just admired it. It makes me have confidence in my abilities and potentials.

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