Charlie Chaplin

Political life in this era of Covid presents us with some unbalanced personalities, some cruelty, and some ignorance of others’ pain.  I’ve decided to go back in time to see if history can help.  I looked for someone who could cross the decades and speak to us today.

Charlie Chaplin was a British comic and actor.  He featured in many silent movies in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was loved by some, ridiculed by others.

In 1940, Charlie starred in the movie The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler, and a biting critique of fascism.  The last five minutes of this film showed Charlie speaking to the audience, holding nothing back about the perils of the time.  His words were embraced by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.

Here they are:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.  That’s not my business.  I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.  I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white.  We all want to help one another.  Human beings are like that.  We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery.  We don’t want to hate and despise one another.  In this world there is room for everyone.  And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.  The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical.  Our cleverness, hard and unkind.  We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.  Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.  The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all.  Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.  The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.  And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers!  Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!  Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!  You are not machines!  You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!  You don’t hate!  Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!  Soldiers!  Don’t fight for slavery!  Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!  In you!  You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines.  The power to create happiness!  You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.  Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.  By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.  But they lie!  They do not fulfill that promise.  They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!  Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!  Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.  Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.  Soldiers!  In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Charlie Chaplin

Political life in this era of Covid presents us with some unbalanced personalities, some cruelty, and some ignorance of others’ pain.  I’ve decided to go back in time to see if history can help.  I looked for someone who could cross the decades and speak to us today.

Charlie Chaplin was a British comic and actor.  He featured in many silent movies in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was loved by some, ridiculed by others.

In 1940, Charlie starred in the movie The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler, and a biting critique of fascism.  The last five minutes of this film showed Charlie speaking to the audience, holding nothing back about the perils of the time.  His words were embraced by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.

Here they are:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.  That’s not my business.  I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.  I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white.  We all want to help one another.  Human beings are like that.  We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery.  We don’t want to hate and despise one another.  In this world there is room for everyone.  And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.  The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical.  Our cleverness, hard and unkind.  We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.  Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.  The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all.  Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.  The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.  And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers!  Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!  Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!  You are not machines!  You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!  You don’t hate!  Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!  Soldiers!  Don’t fight for slavery!  Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!  In you!  You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines.  The power to create happiness!  You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.  Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.  By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.  But they lie!  They do not fulfill that promise.  They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!  Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!  Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.  Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.  Soldiers!  In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Speaking

I woke up yesterday morning and opened the pages of The London Free Press, our local paper.  There was an article about Art Boon, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who had participated in the liberation of Holland.  For all these years the Dutch people have revered Canadian troops for giving them their freedom.

Art has been invited to participate in the 70th anniversary of this momentous event and he wants his son Rick, an elementary school teacher in Stratford, Ontario, to accompany him, to share in the celebration and also assist with Art’s physical needs.

Rick’s school board has turned down his request for a 6-day unpaid leave.  And the media storm has stretched across Canada.  The article mentioned that there would be a town hall meeting on Thursday evening in Stratford to discuss the situation and possible solutions.  I put down the paper and realized … I’m going.  It felt right.  It also felt strange.  I have never been very political.  But Art and his fellow veterans need to be honoured and to be allowed to stand beside their family members in Holland.

I arrived in Stratford and was advised to go to Bentley’s Restaurant for a good burger.  I sat at the bar, beside a fellow who was on the edge of being drunk.  Also, he appeared to have a memory problem, as he told me over and over again about working in a plastics factory in the 1970’s.  But I enjoyed his company.  I paid attention to him.  I wonder how many people do that.  What I was doing was nothing special, just honouring a fellow human being.

Chairs were set up in a large room at Stratford’s City Hall.  On the stage, eight people took turns speaking: Art, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan tours of duty, two representatives of the school board, an historian, a lawyer, a professional singer who lives in Stratford, and the chairman.  We also heard from a 16-year-old student and the mother of one of Rick Boon’s students.  I thought they all spoke well, with great sincerity and respect.  It’s so tempting to look at this issue as “I’m right.  You’re wrong,” but that’s not it.

I knew halfway through the proceedings that I would speak when the audience members were invited to do so.  It was a natural sureness.  No tension.  Later, I stood in a line at the microphone, waiting for my turn.  Now I was nervous, but I was fine with that.  Long ago, I learned that the best public speeches are real.  They don’t need to be polished, “professional”.  They just need to come from the heart.

My turn.  In the past I’ve often obsessed about how far my mouth should be from the microphone.  Just a wee bit of obsession last night.  Here’s approximately what I said:

“My name is Bruce Kerr.  I live in Union, Ontario.  I don’t really have an affiliation.  I read about this meeting in this morning’s London Free Press, and I wanted to come.

There are two perspectives here, and I think that they’re both valid.  However, one perspective can be “senior” to the other one – more valuable.  I’m a retired teacher.  I know something about collective agreements and I’m sure that working with them is difficult for school board members.  I know that with my former board, the phrase “exceptional circumstances” showed up in our agreements.  The other perspective focuses on the incredible gift that the Canadian troops gave to the Dutch people, and the value of father and son celebrating that together, and celebrating their love for each other.  Also I understand that Rick assists with some of Art’s physical needs.  I think this perspective is more valuable.

And I have a question: Concerning this issue, what are Rick Boon’s students learning?”

It was a rhetorical question.  I sat down.

I’m glad I spoke.  No fanfare.  No reporter asking me afterwards for further comment.  Just a natural speaking.  I said hi to a couple of people, walked out the door, got in my car Hugo, and drove home.