A conceit in which I contend they are the same
In an electronic world is one permitted to muse upon the future of expressions such as ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’? Today, can we say, ‘the (computer) key is mightier than the sword? Or, more appropriately, the ‘chip is mightier than the missile’? Then too, with the integration of computers/electronics and warheads/missiles does a comparison exist? After all neither one can be mightier than the other when they are, in fact, the same. Or, should we, in musing, revert to what the expression originally meant, ‘that an idea expressed in words can effect more change faster and sooner and with further reaching implications than a single, short, swift death’?
Somehow having explained the proverb in such detail, the essence of its trenchant wit is lost in a mire of, what can one call it in modern parlance, subtext? No, that doesn’t do justice to the wealth of implication, understanding and complex comprehension that goes into the appreciation of that aphorism. So we must return in time to that period in human history when a pen was a mere feather and a sword a heavy, ungainly shaft of beaten steel at best. The only resemblance between the two at the time was the fact that they both ended in sharp points. And there the similarity ended. The methods of employment and the end results were distinctly different. A pen was dipped in ink and then it ‘stabbed’ at parchment or paper. A sword, on the other hand, stabbed at a body and then was dipped in blood. The words stabbed out by a pen often lived on in the minds and hearts of readers; however, a body stabbed often died and was heard no more.
What paths did these two disparate instruments travel? What happened to their evolution? The quill evolved into the fountain pen and the ballpoint pen. The sword, which once killed man to man, withdrew further and further away from physical contact and grew into the blunderbuss, the shotgun, the rifle – and various versions thereof – to the missile/ rocket. When did the distance from mortal combat of the one shrink and collapse into the immortality of the other? When did the pen lose its point in preference to the soft smooth bluntness of the key?
Their journey to convergence, through some vat and cosmic irony is that in our times, the ‘pen’ is the ‘sword’ is the ‘key’ is the missile. And if one key (pen) were so arranged that a single missive could be linked to a missile, powerful enough to annihilate the world, then indeed it would be the mightiest of all. Its effects would be so far reaching that there would be no need to ponder on the future of such expressions as there could well be no future at all.
And yet we pray for peace in our times.