17 January 2011

50 years since John F Kennedy asked not in his inaugural (1) Sounds of silence



This is the first in a series of posts marking to the 50th anniversary, on 20th January 2011, of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech.

The BBC website recently asked me to provide some comments on the speech, which will be appearing there on 19 January. Leading up to the anniversary itself, I'll also be posting a series of related comments here.

To begin with, it seemed appropriate to post a video of the whole speech, together with a transcript laid out in a way that you may not have seen before - where the gaps between each line represent a pause.

Sounds of silence
I begin most of my courses by emphasising that speaking in public and speaking in private (e.g. conversation) are very different - for more on which, see Lend Me Your Ears, Chapters 1-2.

One difference is that we spend most of our talking lives trying to avoid silences, which is one reason why "ums" and "ers" are so common in conversation - where even pauses of less than half a second are likely to be noticed as 'embarrassing' and often indicate that some kind of trouble is on its way (e.g. disagreements, refusals, rejections, etc.).

As a result, pausing far more frequently and for much longer periods than we typically do in everyday conversation doesn't come naturally to inexperienced public speakers and presenters, who have to learn to stop doing something they're thoroughly familiar with - "umming" and"erring" - and start doing something that feels very strange to them - pausing.

Two simple exercises
To get an idea of just how often effective public speakers pause, it's a useful exercise to listen to famous speeches while, at the same time, reading a transcript showing the pauses. Another is to read text of a speech aloud and pause in different places with a view to finding out what difference it can make to the mood and meaning of the message.

Here you can try out the first of these exercises by paying particular attention to how frequently he pauses. Check this against speeches by other effective speakers like President Obama, Martin Luther King and Tony Blair, and you'll quickly discover (and perhaps be surprised by) just how short each continuous burst of words actually is.

Pause-by-pause script of JFK's inaugural speech
We observe today
not a victory of party
but a celebration of freedom.
symbolizing an end
as well as a beginning
signifying renewal
as well as change.

For I have sworn before you
and Almighty God
the same solemn oath
our forbears prescribed
nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now.
For man holds in his mortal hands
the power to abolish
all forms of human poverty
and all forms of human life.
And yet the same
revolutionary beliefs
for which our forebears fought
are still at issue around the globe —
the belief that the rights of man
come not from the generosity of the state
but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today
that we are the heirs of that first revolution.

Let the word go forth
from this time and place,
to friend and foe alike,
that the torch has been passed
to a new generation of Americans—
born in this century,
tempered by war,
disciplined by a hard and bitter peace,
proud of our ancient heritage—
and unwilling to witness or permit
the slow undoing
of those human rights
to which this nation has always been committed,
and to which we are committed today
at home and around the world.
[Applause]

Let every nation know,
whether it wishes us well or ill,
that we shall pay any price,
bear any burden,
meet any hardship,
support any friend,
oppose any foe
to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
[Applause]

This much we pledge--and more.
To those old allies
whose cultural
and spiritual origins we share,
we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends.

United there is little we cannot do
in a host of cooperative ventures.
Divided there is little we can do—
for we dare not meet a powerful challenge
at odds
and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome
to the ranks of the free,
we pledge our word
that one form of colonial control
shall not have passed away
merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny.
We shall not always expect to find them
supporting our view.
But we shall always hope to find them
strongly supporting their own freedom-
- and to remember that, in the past,
those who foolishly sought power
by riding the back of the tiger
ended up inside.
[Applause]

To those people
in the huts and villages
of half the globe
struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,
we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves,
for whatever period is required —
not because the communists may be doing it,
not because we seek their votes,
but because it is right.

If a free society
cannot help the many who are poor,
it cannot save the few who are rich.
[Applause]

To our sister republics
south of our border,
we offer a special pledge—
to convert our good words
into good deeds—
in a new alliance for progress—
to assist free men
and free governments
in casting off the chains of poverty.

But this peaceful revolution of hope
cannot become the prey
of hostile powers.

Let all our neighbors know
that we shall join with them
to oppose aggression or subversion
anywhere
in the Americas.
And let every other power know
that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.
[Applause]

To that world assembly of sovereign states,
the United Nations,
our last best hope
in an age where the instruments of war
have far outpaced
the instruments of peace,
we renew our pledge of support
--to prevent it from becoming
merely a forum for invective-
-to strengthen its shield
of the new and the weak—
and to enlarge the area
in which its writ may run.

Finally,
to those nations
who would make themselves our adversary,
we offer not a pledge
but a request:
that both sides
begin anew the quest for peace,
before the dark powers of destruction
unleashed by science
engulf all humanity
in planned or accidental
self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness.
For only when our arms
are sufficient beyond doubt
can we be certain beyond doubt
that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great
and powerful groups of nations
take comfort from our present course—
both sides overburdened
by the cost of modern weapons,
both rightly alarmed
by the steady spread of the deadly atom,
yet both racing to alter
that uncertain balance of terror
that stays the hand of mankind's
final war.

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.
[Applause]

Let both sides explore what problems unite us
instead of belaboring 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.
[Applause]

Let 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."

And
if a beachhead of cooperation
may push back the jungle of suspicion,
let both sides join in creating
a new endeavor,
not a new balance of power,
but a new world of law,
where the strong are just
and the weak secure
and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished
in the first one hundred days.
Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days,
nor in the life of this Administration,
nor even perhaps in our lifetime
on this planet.
But let us begin.
[Applause]

In your hands, my fellow citizens,
more than mine,
will rest the final success or failure
of our course. Since this country was founded,
each generation of Americans
has been summoned to give testimony
to its national loyalty.

The graves of young Americans
who answered the call to service
surround the globe.

Now the trumpet
summons us again—
not as a call to bear arms,
though arms we need
-- not as a call to battle,
though embattled we are
but a call to bear the burden
of a long twilight struggle,
year in
and year out, "
rejoicing in hope,
patient in tribulation"-
-a struggle against the common enemies of man:
tyranny,
poverty,
disease
and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies
a grand and global alliance,
North and South,
East and West,
that can assure a more fruitful life
for all mankind?
Will you join in that historic effort?

Yeah [Applause]

In the long history of the world,
only a few generations
have been granted the role
of defending freedom
in its hour of maximum danger.
I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it.
[Applause]

I do not believe
that any of us
would exchange places with any other people
or any other generation.

The energy,
the faith,
the devotion
which we bring to this endeavor
will light our country and all who serve it-
-and the glow from that fire
can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans:
ask not
what your country can do for you
- ask what you can do for your country.
[Applause]

My fellow citizens of the world:
ask not
what America will do for you,
but what together we can do for
the freedom of man.
[Applause]

Finally, whether you are
citizens of America
or citizens of the world,
ask of us here
the same high standards
of strength and sacrifice
which we ask of you.

With a good conscience
our only sure reward,
with history the final judge of our deeds,
let us go forth to lead the land we love,
asking His blessing
and His help,
but knowing that here on earth
God's work must truly be our own.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Poetry, and that's a compliment.