Jewish World Review May 11, 2000 / 6 Iyar, 5760
Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
question came to mind last week, because of a couple of things.
The question -- how would history have been changed had
"Nightline," and television, been a part of our world when Hitler
was coming to power -- is one I think of during most world
crises. If television had been around in the years that led up to
World War II, and if Hitler had answered questions live from
Ted Koppel, or Koppel's 1939-'40-'41 counterpart, would
World War II have happened? Could it have been defused -- if
the planet had been able to look Hitler in the face, live, if he had
answered questions before a global public, would he have
gotten away with what he did?
The impulse is to say no -- the impulse is to say that modern
communications would have been the end of Hitler, before he
really got started. But perhaps not -- perhaps he would have
been able to use the live television camera as the greatest
propaganda tool at his disposal. Perhaps he would have been
able to use a 1939 "Nightline" as a recruiting tool for his point
What brought this up is two e-mails I recently received -- and
also, the "I love you" computer-message mess last week.
The first e-mail (and I'm going on trust here -- you never really
know from whom or where your electronic messages are
coming) was from a 43-year-old man who said he lived in St.
Petersburg, Russia. "I want to know what your readers think
about Russia and Russian people," the man wrote. "And from
myself and from many inhabitants of St. Petersburg I want to
say: `Let's communicate direct.'" He went on for a while; he
said that his hobby was collecting fire department badges and
medals, and that he wanted to trade with Americans.
I thought about how scared of Russia, and Russians, we had
been taught to be when we were Cold War children; I thought
of what would have happened during my childhood if,
unsolicited, a letter from the Soviet Union had arrived at our
home. What would we have done? Probably called the FBI.
Probably have been terrified -- how did someone in Russia find
our house on our block?
Now you don't even really ask yourself that question. Someone
somewhere taps a key, and the connection is established. The
second electronic letter -- from the Philippines -- was from a
19-year-old man who told me there is a book of mine he has
been reading since he was 16. The book was not available in
his school library, he said, so he had to travel to a provincial
library to get it. Apparently it wasn't a book he could take
home -- he had to keep going back to the library to read it.
He, too, taps a key -- and I find out what his story is. It makes
you think of the endless possibilities of our new world -- and
then the "I love you" thing happens, and you realize that it could
all come tumbling down. That we can be reached by unfriendly
electronic visitors just as easily as by amiable ones.
(By the way . . . a nice little short story could be written about
the worldwide e-mail mess last week. The plot: A woman,
during the first week of May in the year 2000, decides that she
wants to reestablish contact with the man who means the most
to her. They have been apart; she does not know how to tell
him what she's thinking. Does she write? Maybe he won't see
the letter. Does she call? She's too afraid -- what if his voice is
unwelcoming? She decides to e-mail him. She gets no
response. She goes through the rest of her life, she grows old,
never knowing whether he read her e-mail and rejected her --
or whether he never saw it. Because the message-line words on
the note she had written to him that night in May 2000, the
words she chose to serve as a label for her message, were: "I
love you." The next day was the day the e-mail screwup hit the
world -- the day that people were instructed to delete without
reading any message that carried the label "I love you." So she
never knew whether he had seen what she had written --
whether he had ever clicked open her letter.)
All right . . . getting a little carried away there. But it is a modern
dilemma -- the world has an unobstructed pipeline to any of us,
and the ramifications of that are so complicated that we're only
just beginning to figure them out. Probably best to end today's
column with words from a commencement speech that was
delivered last weekend. The speaker was John Mellencamp, at
Indiana University. He told the graduating students that the
somber and serious concerns that await them in the business
world may seem important, but:
"Take this with you from me: Try to enjoy your life, 'cause this
is it, baby. This is all we
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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