|Charlie Chaplin in the final scene of “The Great Dictator”|
Today I want to discuss the legendary speech made by Charlie Chaplin after the film “the Great Dictator.” I have never seen a Charlie Chaplin film before, but my girlfriend was apparently familiar with this particular scene and thought I might enjoy it. Boy was she correct.
Prior to this I only vaguely knew of Charlie Chaplin, and what I did know mostly related to his famous mustache style, something which unfortunately was bastardized and corrupted by someone even more famous who wore it.
After watching this scene though, I immediately became a fan. I don’t care what else Charlie Chaplin may have done in his career, this single 4-minute clip made me a fan. It speaks so meaningfully about all that is wrong with humanity today, describing all of our errors, how we have lost our way, but also serving as a powerful call to be better, believing that the power is within us to make the world a better place.
Before reading further, I am going to suggest that you read and or watch the speech here because nothing I can say will truly do it justice: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-the-final-speech-from-the-great-dictator-
You can also watch a version here set to the song Time, by Hans Zimmer, who has a habit of making literally anything become epic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8HdOHrc3OQ
Keep in mind the setting during which Chaplin delivers this speech. This film was made in 1943, during which the world was several years into and several years from the end of WWII, the bloodiest and most destructive conflict in human history. A time when certain groups of people were fully committed to the destruction and annihilation of others, determined to exert their superiority, while meanwhile literally millions of human lives were destroyed in the process. Over 75 million people lost their lives in this war, lives that could have been lived happily and peacefully, wasted in the names of hate and greed. Tragic doesn’t begin to describe it.
Chaplin goes on to describe all that he sees wrong in the world, with humanity. He describes how life can be “free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.” Life has so much to offer, so much joy, and happiness is abound if we but choose to see and nurture it. “Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate,” says Chaplin. Think how much damage greed has done. When I think of WW!, just 20 years or so before this speech, I see no other cause other than pure greed of the world leaders, seeing the opportunity to grab more land, more resources, the value of which to them was worth any number of lives that they couldn’t have cared less about. Think of the greed we see in corporate culture today. Entire nations are plundered for their resources, casting the native populations into abject slavery. At home, the masses are forced into mountains of debt, simply so they can afford the necessities of life, all driven by the greed of the ruling class and those who control the financial institutions. Without this greed, life could be free and beautiful, as Chaplin says, and it ought to be!
|Fun at the US-Mexico Border, how great would it be if we built bonds not walls|
“We think too much and feel too little,” he goes on. Imagine if instead of thinking of ways to exploit one another, to get more or become “better than” what if we acted with our emotions? Not: will this decision benefit me, but: does it feel right? Is this decision going to harm someone else? How often do we make decisions while being completely detached from our feelings? A business executive makes the decision to close a branch, when he thinks he sees only that it will save $1million, not feeling about the pain it will cause the 100 employees, 100 humans, who will lose their means of supporting themselves and their families. The politician helps pass a law that pleases his lobbying buddies, not feeling about the harm that such a law might do to his constituents.
“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.” Today I look at a world where the majority of youth have no future and the old have no security. The old have no security because healthcare and housing are too expensive. This is a vulnerable population, too old or sick to work and as such they have no means to take care of themselves. Even this year, many called for an early re-opening of society following the pandemic, merely to support the economy, saying that the lives of the elderly were a necessary sacrifice. Shame on those people. Who gives them the right to decide who lives and who dies, and for the economy?? Please. The situation of the youth is no better. They have no future because as a society we refuse to invest in education spending and reform, teaching our youth no skills to provide for themselves. Our reason being that the system is broken and investing in the needy is decried by many to be “socialism” or giving to the lazy. I would echo Chaplin’s call for a more compassionate call where we provide futures for the youth and security for the elderly no matter the cost. These are our fellow humans and as such they deserve our compassion and help.
He ends with the following two quotes “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.” “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.” A powerful reminder that the power of change lies within us. An urge to fight for a world where we do not divide ourselves along national, religious, or ethnic identities, but instead work together for a better and happier world for all. A united world working towards goodness and not divided by greed.
It would take a great deal of change, but it starts with each of us. If each individual begins to make the conscious decision to choose love not hate, for “only the unloved hate” as Chaplin says, then we can begin the shift of our world towards a more whole and happy place. I hope we get there.