What Internet.org's Promo Video Cut From the Kennedy Speech It Quotes

The tech industry continues to make soaring declarations about connectedness, which sound increasingly out of tune in the post-Snowden era

Extending affordable Internet access to everyone in the world who wants it is probably a worthwhile endeavor. Information has economic value, after all.

Today, Internet.org launched, a new industry coalition that includes Facebook, Samsung, Ericsson, Nokia, Opera, and Mediatek. It's fronted, at least for the launch, by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.

The initial goal of the organization, as it laid out in a press release and associated New York Times article, are to "cut the cost of providing mobile Internet services to one percent of its current level within five to 10 years by improving the efficiency of Internet networks and mobile phone software."

Right now, Internet.org features exactly one thing above the fold on the site: a video of scenes from around the world, cut in Facebook's characteristic style. A piano tinkles in the background as we see children playing in Africa, agricultural workers in south Asia, people playing games, chasing pigeons, swinging on an amusement park ride, hair blowing in the wind. Friends bicycling along a road in Latin America. Et cetera.

And over the top of these scenes of the globe, we hear John F. Kennedy's New England oratory. He's talking about peace. Here's a complete transcript of what he says in Internet.org's video:

I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace. This will require a new effort, a new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding and increased understanding will require increased contact. So, let us not be blind to our differences -- but let us also direct attention to our common interests. Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal. 

Who doesn't want to cheer after that? Let's go to the moon!

And who knew that John F. Kennedy delivered such a perfectly crafted speech to emphasize the importance of communications to the concept of practical peace: "a new context for world discussion." Why, that sounds like Facebook! Or at least one of those peculiarly apt quotes you see on Facebook after a major world event. 

So, I looked up the speech from which these lines are drawn. It was given at American University on June 10, 1963. The video is cobbled together from lines across the text.

And what's left out is fascinating.

The Internet.org audio highlighted in the context of a portion of Kennedy's speech. Click to enlarge. (Alexis Madrigal)

For one, it's stripped of all context. Kennedy gave the speech in the middle of the Cold War. The world was seven months out from the Cuban missile crisis and Kennedy frankly acknowledged that "the expenditure of billions of dollars every year on weapons acquired for the purpose of making sure we never need to use them is essential to keeping the peace." These were nuclear weapons, of course. And that was back when saying billions meant something more like saying hundreds of billions now.

Kennedy asked the graduates of the school to look inward, and contemplate their own attitudes toward peace. This was not a general peace, but a specific one designed to stave off nuclear apocalypse. And it's not that Kennedy's words cannot resound beyond their original intent, but rather that their global scope and heft comes from those stakes. As he makes clear earlier in the speech, peace had to be maintained because human technologies had, for the first time, made the actual destruction of the world possible. ("[War] makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all the allied air forces in the Second World War.") The humans had to contain the possibilities of technology ("Our problems are manmade--therefore, they can be solved by man.").

Now to the speech itself. The excerpted portion begins: "I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of peace and good will of which some fantasies and fanatics dream." Then, the following line is cut, "I do not deny the value of hopes and dreams but we merely invite discouragement and incredulity by making that our only and immediate goal."

The video returns to the speech for this line, "Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace." But then cuts the rest of that paragraph:

based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions--on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interest of all concerned. There is no single, simple key to this peace--no grand or magic formula to be adopted by one or two powers. Genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts. It must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. For peace is a process--a way of solving problems.

This cut is important because it elides Kennedy's actual answer for how to attain peace -- "a series of concrete actions and effective agreements" -- and replaces it with the kind of "single, simple key" that he warns against: "a new context for world discussions."

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