The Pen is Mightier than the Sword – Or is it?

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

This is a phrase – or quote – we hear often nowadays. It comes from the play Richelieu, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton written in 1839, and has been used by many people since, politicians not least. There are lots of quotes that have sprung from this original phrase. Here are a few of them:

“With a pen in my hand I have successfully stormed bulwarks from which others armed with sword and excommunication have been repulsed.” Georg Lichtenberg

“The pen is mightier than the sword if the sword is very short, and the pen is very sharp.” Terry Pratchett

“The strokes of the pen need deliberation as much as the sword needs swiftness.” Julia Howe

I’d like to talk a little on my thoughts on the quote and perhaps whether I agree or not. The standard meaning behind the quote is that we can achieve more through words and diplomacy than we will ever be able to force people to do. Obviously, the phrase ‘actions speak louder than words’ directly contrasts this, suggesting that what we do is of a lot more consequence than anything we could ever say. Well, do you know what I think? It all depends on context and situation.

For the most part, it is much easier to convince somebody to work with you than force them against you. People don’t like being told what to do, unless they’re really out of their depth. In time of need, people will much rather follow a tall man with a sword than a scholarly wise-man with a pen, despite the fact that the scholar may have the greater experience. People will group around someone with power, and weapons give power. Another example of the metaphorical sword being better than the pen – writing Osama bin Laden a nice letter asking him for a friendly chat would never have worked; America did the right thing in moving for the sword (or gun). That’s not the point of the post though, it’s just an example.

Let’s think about pens, now. If David Cameron walked into the House o’Commons with a claymore and beheaded Mr. Clegg, I expect that he’d find himself in a high security delusional prison – not at the head of a successful Britain (though perhaps in his own mind). In this, I think we imbue Mr. Lichtenberg’s comment above – we can storm bulwarks with words that we would be sent running from with sword and shield.

Let us thing also, along the vein of Mr. Obama. Horses and bayonets, you see! We have these things called guns, we have no need for swords. Therefore you tell me this; is it the sword or the pen that has outlasted? Whether or not the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, it has outlasted it, and that shows that it is the most adapted to our modern way of thinking.

What is it that holds the power, here? It is the sword that strikes the head from the body, but the pen that sanctions the deed. The sword is an instrument, as is the pen. However, it seems to me that it is those in power that use the instruments of writing, and those of a lower calibre that strike the blow. We sign our names with a pen, not a sword. We can sign the death warrant of a criminal with a pen, but even now it is inhumane to end the life of that criminal with the sword.

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