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Can Broadcasting Prevent War?

Wireless World, February 24, 1938.
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Decorating the Western facade of Broadcasting House, Portland Place, is to be found the arms of the BBC in stone. The motto, read to-day, has an additional significance.

During the first thirty-odd years of its brief history wireless has proved itself, unlike so many other scientific discoveries, to be mainly an agent for good to mankind. It has speeded up, cheapened and made more easy communication between one part of the World and another. It has saved innumerable ships from disaster and has brought aid that could otherwise never have come to those that were already in difficulties. It is largely responsible for the safety of aircraft, without it the world's great air routes could probably not have been developed. In the form of broadcasting wireless has brightened the lives of millions by bringing entertainment into their homes. Short-wave broadcasting is to-day one of the strongest links of Empire.

Can wireless add to the benefits that it has already conferred upon us by becoming an important factor in the prevention of war? I believe that it can, though at first sight it might seem that broadcasting was more likely to cause war than to prevent it.

In many countries the possibilities of broadcasting for political purposes have unfortunately been realised and exploited to the full. If Ruritania dislikes the manners, the customs and the general goings-on of its neighbours in Urbania, it is a simple and not over costly matter to erect a high-power station near the frontier from which a flood of oratory, highly objectionable to the Urbanian authorities, can be poured into their country.

Urbania protests, and Ruritania replies in terms of the utmost courtesy that she is merely giving her subjects lessons in the Urbanian language with a view to cementing the friendship between the two countries.


Urbania then discovers that her own people are being provided with an inadequate entertainment service by the broadcasting existing within her borders. A high-power station is necessary, and the local equivalent of Parliament eagerly votes the money, which they have been assured is necessary to provide their countrymen with the entertainment for which they crave. Curiously enough, the Urbanian engineers discover that the only suitable site for the new station is one not far removed from the Ruritanian frontier and at no great distance from Ruritanias high-powered station.

When the new station comes into operation Urbania proceeds to give lessons in Ruritanian to her citizens. Through some strange concatenation of events the only time at which language professors (all of whom prove to be remarkably good orators) are available is just that at which Ruritania is giving her lessons in Urbanian. It is, of course, particularly unfortunate that the Urbanian station should have been compelled, in order to cover its own country, to have an output power about three times that of Ruritania's; still more unfortunate that the wavelengths of the two stations are so close to one another that the Ruritanian transmitter is heterodyned, jammed or drowned.

Purely in self-defence the Ruritanian Parliament votes the money required for increasing ten-fold the power of the Ruritanian station. And so it goes on.

The picture is not over-drawn. There are several parts of Europe in which such war in the ether exists, and it was very largely the political and propaganda aspects of wireless that prevented, a completely satisfactory wavelength distribution from being reached at the conference which produced the last wavelength plan.

Scraps of Paper

Further, though most European countries did eventually sign an agreement, there were several who did so with reservations or with their tongues in their cheeks the two are very much the same thing in the end. In any event, we find that not a few countries whose representatives did sign the agreement have shown by their subsequent actions that they did not take very seriously either the clauses about wavelength wandering or those which limit output power.

So far so bad, Europe is continually squabbling over broadcasting, and all is by no means peace in America, where Mexico and other South American authorities have found themselves unable to see eye to eye (or should one say to listen ear to ear?) with those of the United States. Even the Far East in these progressive days is not without its problems of wavelength allocation.

But when all is said and done, wireless and particularly broadcasting is far more likely to produce peace than war, In ancient days warfare was merely one of the manly sports. The Spartans made the peace-time life of their young men so unutterably boring that all looked forward to war as a relief from the horrors of peace. But nothing of the kind prevails in the modern world. Your Alexander, your Julius Caesar, your Attila simply do not exist, because it is realised nowadays that such a thing as complete conquest is impossible.

Almost every modern war has arisen as the result of a misunderstanding or a series of misunderstandings. That is where broadcasting comes in. It is the finest means that the world has ever possessed of enabling civilised nations to understand events and to understand one another. And, very definitely, through the medium of the wireless set civilised nations are coming to understand one another better and better.

Towards a Better Understanding

In these days of sensitive all-wave receiving sets and high-powered transmitting stations the great majority of listeners are able to hear programmes from a dozen or more European countries, to say nothing of America. France, Germany, Holland, Italy and Denmark are no longer, even to the stay-at-homes, countries which exist only upon the map. Evening by evening the receiving set brings us into the closest contact with them, for we enjoy in our own homes the entertainment which their stations provide. Somewhat to our surprise, perhaps, we find a Shakespeare play coming from Kalundborg, or one by Bernard Shaw from Vienna. We have, too, lessons in German, French, Italian and Spanish from our own stations, whereby thousands of listeners have acquired, at any rate, a speaking. acquaintance with these languages. And this is not all. The man-in-the-street who has never left his home town assimilates through the medium of the wireless set something of the life and of the atmosphere of foreign countries. There is no doubt that broadcasting is drawing the nations of the world much closer together.

I am not saying that wireless can in every case prevent a war from breaking out. Sometimes events move so rapidly and international hatred is so quickly aroused that the beginning of hostilities may be almost inevitable. But I do believe that even if war is started wireless may hasten its conclusion.

There can be little doubt that the Great War ended when it did not so much on account of feats of arms as on account of a gradual change of mind amongst the nations concerned. This change of mind was brought about mainly by propaganda and that was before the days when broadcasting existed.

To-day rather more than two-thirds of the homes of our own country have their wireless sets, and the proportion is not a very great deal less for most of the countries of Europe. As month follows month the number of receiving sets increases by leaps and bounds. Towards the end of the Great War propaganda reached a few people by means of leaflets dropped from aeroplanes and similar expedients. In any future War it would reach the great majority of the population through the agency of the wireless receiving set.

No country could possibly call in or cause to be dismantled all wireless sets belonging to its population, nor would it desire to do so, as it would lose a valuable means of communicating with the people. No matter how strict the censorship upon the Press, it would be a matter of complete impossibility to prevent news from leaking through to the populace.

Broadcasting may not be able to prevent the outbreak of war, but, personally, I believe that it will be one of the most potent factors in bringing to a rapid end any war that may occur in the future.


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