Sixty-six years ago this month, on October 15, 1940, Charlie Chaplin released what is, undoubtedly, his most controversial film. "The Great Dictator" depicted the story of two very different people (both played by Chaplin) who could be (but are not) identical twins: A timid little Jewish barber and Adenoid Hinkle, the dictator of a fictional country called Ptomainia. The film was a satirical attack on Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Toward the movie's end, the two men are mistaken for one another and the little barber is taken to speak at a massive rally that the dictator had called for on the eve of the invasion of an entire continent. The speech he gives, which is really Chaplin's plea to the world for peace and understanding, still resonates all these decades later:
I'm sorry, but I don't want to be a 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 men - 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. Machinery that gives us 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 airplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man - 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 has come 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 these 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 and 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! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!
Soldiers!!! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke it is written that the kingdom of God is within man - not in 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 the happiness of us all. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!!!
Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah! The clouds are lifting! The sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness and into the light! We are coming into a new world - a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and their brutality. Look up, Hannah! The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow - into the light of hope; Into the future, the glorious future, that belongs to you, to me - and to all of us. Look up, Hannah! Look up!
Charles Spencer Chaplin
He spoke to us then. He speaks to us still.
Pray for peace.
To watch this incredible oration - the best of the twentieth century - please go to the following YouTube link:
AFTERTHOUGHT, September 3, 2012:
The greatest speech in all recorded human history was not made by a politician. It was not made by a king. It was not made by a queen. It was not made by a prince or a princess. It was not made by a preacher. It was not made by a businessman or woman. It was not made by an old soldier or a young one. It was not made by a billionaire. It was not made by a potentate. It was not made by a senator or a congressman. It was not made by a president....
The greatest speech in all recorded human history was made by a little tramp
"The Rant" by Tom Degan