Roy Exum: The Great Dictator

Friday, May 10, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Earlier this week, a small yet most despicable group of men – less than 20 -- was cast on the world’s stage as they protested a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony in tiny Russellville, Ark. The protesters, who we insanely identify as ‘white supremists’ when in truth they are our society’s most-rock-bottom dwellers, chanted “Six million more!” and had a sign that read, “The oven is preheated.”

In a seemingly unrelated event, a day or two earlier I had read, once again, a very famous speech of 80 years past by the legendary silent film genius Charlie Chaplin. In 1940 – when Germany and the United States still appeared as friends -- Charlie made his first speaking role. In what was only more popular than “Gone with the Wind” at the time, the film “The Great Dictator” was a political satire comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by, and starring the British comedian.

In the film Charlie hooted Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, and Chaplin played both leading roles: a ruthless fascist dictator and a persecuted Jewish barber.

Ah, but here’s the knot that holds today’s gift together. Back in September, I was enjoying my Morning Readings when I came across a blog written by a guy in California named Tod Perry. He wrote this as he shared excerpts of Chaplin’s forever-famous speech and I was fascinated. When I saw photos of the signs in Tuesday’s Holocaust protest, I went back and read what the writer Perry penned eight months ago. Mind you, Chaplin wrote ‘The Great Dictator’ almost 80 years ago … yet less than a year ago here’s what Tod Perry shared.

Perry began, “Democracy calls for citizens to take a stand and fight for their beliefs around dinner tables, in public forums, and on social media. But in the Trump era, rancor has eclipsed civil discourse far too often.

“Vulgarity, lies, and violence have marred the democratic process, and in some cases, the animosity between those on the left and the right has become so personal, it’s easy to forget we’re all fighting for the future of the same country.,” he wrote, much to my agreement.

“As a nation fully engaged in the politics of the moment, it’s valuable to step back and reflect on the true goals of a democracy. Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of ‘The Great Dictator’ provides an excellent road map of how a citizenry can conquer the issues that divide it and how a selfless leader should view the world.”

Here is the text of Chaplin’s closing speech, and I need not add more …

* * *

THE TEXT OF CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S SPEECH, “THE GREAT DICTATOR’

(from the film, 1940.)

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 all 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 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 {sic] 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 [now] liberty will never perish…

Soldiers – don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and 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 as cattle, 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. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.

In the seventeenth chapter of Saint 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, the people.

You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s 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 you the future and old age and security.

By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfil their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, 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!

Look up! Look up! The clouds are lifting – the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world. A kind new world where men will rise above their hate and brutality.

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, that glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up. Look up.

* * *

Charlie Chaplin died in 1977 at the age of 88. In an interview in 1966, he was widely quoted that had he known the extent of Hitler’s atrocities, he would have never made the film. I am so glad that he did.

royexum@aol.com


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