Geopolitics

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The Patch

The Patch

The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands
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The Return of History

The Return of History

Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century
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Foreign Voices in the House

Foreign Voices in the House

A Century of Addresses to Canada's Parliament by World Leaders
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Excerpt

Introduction: Ourselves as Others See Us

Oratory is an art inseparable from politics. From Demosthenes to Nelson Mandela, from the Lyceum in Athens to the House of Commons in Ottawa, from courtrooms and stadiums to assembly halls and television studios, the spoken word animates society and stirs us to action. Orators share with audiences how they see the world.
Some speeches quickly fall into the dustbin of history. Others gain lustre in hindsight. Yet none can be judged, truly, apart from its times. Demosthenes is regarded by some as a patriot unable to persuade his declining city state to rise above self-seeking and take recuperative action, but as A.N.W. Saunders concludes: “He was too great an orator to be always unsuccessful, even though the times were against him.”
The times do matter. When introducing his 957-page collection of historic speeches, Lend Me Your Ears, White House speechwriter William Safire distinguished mere “quotable lines” — the sound bites, zingers, aphorisms, and epigrams — from “the meat and potatoes of oratory: oral communication in context, human persuasion in action.”
Putting a speech in context involves two core elements. “Occasion” is one.
Crises and periods of transcending significance provoke great oratory as individuals “rise to the occasion.” Indeed, “Human history is primarily a record of important and dramatic events which have often been profoundly affected by great speeches,” notes Lewis Copeland in his 748-page collection, The World’s Great Speeches.
On December 30, 1941, Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, delivered a stirring speech in our House of Commons. Stressing that Britain and Canada had not sought the war, he added, “with every month and every year that passes, we shall confront the evildoers with weapons as plentiful, as sharp, and as destructive as those with which they have sought to establish their hateful domination.” Broadcast by CBC Radio link-ups across our country and BBC shortwave facilities around the world, Churchill’s pugnacious defiance uplifted listeners from the discouraging depths of war. His speech was the first live broadcast from Parliament Hill.
On November 3, 2014, shortly after an armed terrorist attacking inside our Parliament Buildings was killed by House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, France’s president, François Hollande, soon to experience a number of murderous acts by terrorists in his own country, saluted Vickers’s courage, pointing out that his name had become known around the world. “I reassert here,” Hollande stated, “that in the face of terrorism there is no room for backing down, for concession, for weakness, because terrorism threatens the values on which both our countries are built.”
From speeches in 1917 by René Viviani of France and Arthur Balfour of Britain at the darkest hour of the First World War, through those speeches by Churchill and Hollande, to the 2016 speech by American President Barack Obama, history’s irreversible currents can be seen transforming the world, and Canada’s place in it, many times over. Over the past hundred years, the foreign leaders at Canada’s podium have spoken during, and about, epic transitions. Their messages were immediate, even urgent — broad in scope, yet specific in detail. They came to Canada’s podium knowing they themselves were in the midst of making history.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the leaders addressing Canada’s Parliament confronted dark matters of grave concern: the risk of nuclear war, the continuing shame of poverty and hunger in the world, the crimes of racism and genocide, the plight of millions of refugees trapped in camps of the stateless, the implications of communism’s global spread and the human costs of capitalism’s bite, the peril of small regional wars expanding to jeopardize world peace, the dilemma of stopping wars within countries as well as between them, and acidic terrorist activity corroding the guy wires of human security.
But the trigger for great oratory is not just perilous threat. As Copeland notes, “important and dramatic events” can serve equally well. Arriving in our House of Commons, foreign leaders also brought uplifting messages designed to banish fears of the day and inspire listeners to create tomorrow’s better world. Beyond reciting by rote their particular catechism of calamities and challenges, many in this parade of world players highlighted the century’s peaceful miracles.
More than a dozen were early advocates for creating the United Nations, and a steady procession of leaders following them chronicled the United Nations’ growth and successes. What the League of Nations could not accomplish after the First World War, the United Nations achieved following the Second.
A miracle, of sorts, accompanied the demise of colonialism. A number of leaders seeking to end globally integrated imperial operations trace, by their speeches, how the British Empire was made over into the “Commonwealth of Nations.” French presidents and prime ministers chronicle the stages of France releasing, in the face of military defeats, its many overseas colonies, from Algeria to Vietnam, and the subsequent emergence of La Francophonie, a voluntary affiliation of self-governing French-speaking countries. Indonesia’s President Sukarno spoke with passion and clarity in our Commons about winning his vast and impoverished nation’s independence from the Dutch, and claiming the treasure of freedom.
Other miracles, too, are represented by these foreign orators in our Parliament. John F. Kennedy’s presence epitomized the “New Frontier” spirit that made possible sending a man to the moon — and back, safely. Nelson Mandela’s advance from his prison cell to our Commons bore testament to apartheid’s end and the coming to power of black South Africans — without the expected revolution’s bloodshed. Boris Yeltsin’s dramatic speech highlighted the collapse of the Soviet Empire and European communism — without the long-dreaded Third World War.
Because this century’s worth of speeches by foreign leaders in our House of Commons was punctuated by crises and dramatic events, they are deservedly memorable. Cicero put it best: “Great oratory demands great issues.”
The second element of context is “audience.” In Great Canadian Speeches: Words That Shaped a Nation, Brian Busby observes: “A speech is not made in a vacuum. The orator receives a reaction, yet this often remains unrecorded due to the limitations of the printed word.” That’s certainly true for speeches in the House of Commons. The Hansard reporter, for example, includes allusions to audience reaction such as the commodious expression “Hear, hear.” However, that discrete phrase never accurately reflects the responsive ambience MPs witness and feel in the moment.
Of all the speeches in this book, one of the most punctuated by cheering and applause was René Viviani’s grand peroration in 1917. The Great War’s tremendous incitement to patriotic eloquence enabled that courtroom maestro and former French prime minister to tug at the emotions of his Canadian audience, who felt no restraint about giving lusty voice to their enthusiastic militancy. There was plenty of “loud cheering.”
An orator’s audience, of course, includes more people than those present in person. This book makes you part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Ottawa audience, just as you can receive here inspiration from Indira Gandhi, Václav Havel, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton, Sukarno, and the Aga Khan, because publishing speeches obliterates the restraints of time and distance. Preserving great speeches, in fact, has a triple benefit — preserving a treasured part of the historical record, providing inspiration for one’s own life work, and producing a rich variety of oratorical styles for individuals seeking to upgrade their own arts of public address. Such collections have become a special literary genre, to which Foreign Voices in the House is now added.
Today television and the Internet project orators to audiences numbering in the millions, as well, but here as in most things the book itself remains the foundation document and most enduring tangible record.

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