November a month of historical speeches

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Speeches worth recalling have featured in the month of November. They were delivered at the physical distance of half a world and 130 years apart but both provided memorable words recalling human sacrifice in the cause of developing their nations.

Reflection at this time is appropriate because of international commemoration for Remembrance Day on 11 November and the anniversary of a speech presented on 19 November, 1863.
Abraham Lincoln arguably delivered the more recognised of the two speeches through his Gettysburg address at a cemetery containing the remains of many of those killed in battle the then continuing US Civil War.

School students in that country learn to quote many of his lines through studying the history of their country while people in other nations are familiar at least with its opening line: “Four score and seven years ago …”

Addressing the crowd at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Lincoln was remarkably frugal in his use of words.

It would have taken only about three minutes to deliver all 272 of them while the previous speaker, Edward Everett, regarded at the time as possibly his nation’s leading orator, had spoken for a couple of hours – which political observers recorded as being nothing unusual.

Controversy flared after the reporting of Lincoln’s speech because of conflicting reports about whether he had used the words “under God” which had not appeared in some of the five versions of the script he had prepared.

In some ways the 16th President of the United States was a textbook example of a fine speaker, given to regularly writing and re-writing his material and known to have usually rehearsed his delivery.

The other speech, delivered in Australia in 1993, also saw attention later placed on it through attempts to remove references to God by wishing to borrow from it to replace the words “Known unto God” on a tomb honouring the victims of battle.

The Prime Minister of the time, Paul Keating, delivered the speech on Remembrance Day of that year at the funeral service for the Unknown Australian Soldier.

“He is all of them. And he is one of us” were the words that those wanting to erase “Known unto God” were keen to promote as replacements for that reference to the Divine.

They were strong words, as was the entire speech, which proved powerful enough to be read again at the annual Remembrance Day commemoration at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra last year.

Mr Keating said the tomb was “a reminder of what we have lost in war and what we have gained” and part of that gain was the Anzac legend which has been paid increased respect through this centenary year of the Gallipoli landing.

“It is a legend not of sweeping military victories so much as triumphs against the odds, of courage and ingenuity in adversity. It is a legend of free and independent spirits whose discipline derived less from military formalities and customs than from the bonds of mateship and the demands of necessity”.

Other words put figures on the losses: 45,000 Australians who died on the Western Front were among 416,000 from this country who volunteered for service in the Great War “which sowed the seeds of a second, even more terrible war” contributing further to the deaths of a total of about 100,000 Australians in all conflicts of the 20th century.

More recently, Mr Keating has spoken of broadening the Anzac legend beyond links to its birthplace to embrace bravery and sacrifice shown in the Pacific battles of World War II – surely a point to consider on this Remembrance Day which will see ever-decreasing numbers of survivors alive to reflect on their carriage of that earlier bravery.

Commemorations internationally on Wednesday and in the United States on Thursday week for the anniversary of the Gettysburg address will spark in people of religious faith a hope that those who have paid a heavy price will enjoy the glory of life eternal.

They will mourn the many human deaths, while pondering on those who have sought to dismiss references to God from such occasions.

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