Monday, September 18, 2006

No News Might be Good News

It seems to me that the speed of modern communications has a good deal to answer for when it comes to spreading misery around the world.

The other day the Pope made an unguarded statement that, in the good old days, would only have been noticed by someone with very acute hearing standing just outside the walls of The Vatican with a glass pressed against them.

When Pope Urban II started all this business of religious crusades, the Arab world would not have noticed it until there was a clanking of armour outside the gates of Constantinople. His rabble rousing speech in November 1095 to the Council of Clermont and hosted by the Bishop of le Puy, would not have made headlines in the Jerusalem Gazette that day and most of the inhabitants of the Holy Land would have gone on watching their flocks by night and pursuing other domestic matters, unaware of the impending tourists. Even when they arrived, many would have remained blissfully ignorant and thus blissfully happier.

And the time taken to prepare messages in the age before typewriters and computers gave one ample time to reconsider any hasty words and possibly do a quick rewrite. It’s probably sage advice to never mail a letter out in a fit of pique – by the next day, things may be seen in a different light.

King George III wrote in his diary on July 4th. 1776, “Nothing of significance happened this day.” And of course nothing had, as far as he was aware, so he probably spent a happy and carefree day. Why mess it up with an E-Mail from a bunch of rebels a few thousand miles away delivering instant bad news?

Winston Churchill, too, recognised the value of less than instant communication. At the start of World War II, he had been infuriated by Roosevelt sending a destroyer to collect Britain’s gold reserves from South Africa. He wrote, “it was like the aspect of a sheriff collecting the last aspects of a local debtor.” On thinking it over, and as he was busily courting the sheriff at the time, he deleted the line from his letter to Roosevelt.

A few days ago I wrote of the delay in communications that caused Claudius’ general to waste his time on the beach at Boulogne. I mentioned the name of the general as being Marcus Aurelius which was, of course, a deliberate mistake to see if you were all paying attention. (If you believe that, I’ve a bridge to sell you!) The name of the general was, in fact, Aulus Plautius and his messenger a freed slave by the name of Narcissus. As you all knew, Marcus Aurelius was a respected Roman emperor, a good deal more respectable than most. Those of you that wrote in with the correct answer will receive a 100 Dinar note bearing the image of President Hussein.

But while he was idling his time away at Boulogne (and those of you that have been there will appreciate his problem) Aulus would undoubtedly have put a few final touches to his invasion plans which were, ultimately, to prove successful. The time was well spent.

And had the leaders of the so-called free world taken a little more time to consider matters, perhaps as they awaited a courier to arrive by sailing ship from the Middle East, the present conflicts there might have been resolved more peaceably and sensibly.

So if communications weren’t so instant, we’d all probably still be enjoying ourselves a lot more.

Sometimes ignorance may be bliss.

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