“The pen is mightier than the sword.” How many times have you heard that quote over the years? For my part, I’ve certainly heard it dozens of times. Scores of times. Hundreds of times, probably. But is it true? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure.
The “pen” is, of course, a metaphor for the inspiration provided by the spoken or written word. The “sword” represents violence, the pen’s ostensible opposite. While words can definitely motivate and direct swords, the opposite is also true. The pen can motivate (and sometimes mitigate) the sword, but the sword can silence the pen. Permanently. At the end of the day, a sword is going to beat a pen, every time, literally or figuratively.
When I was younger, I firmly believed that a pen was better than a sword. But then I began to have my eyes open to the way the world actually works. Pens can motivate people towards violence, or away from it. But even before pens existed, even before there were such things as “words,” or “swords” for that matter, people were motivated towards violence. They didn’t need verbal or written inspiration to engage in it. Violence is in our nature. It’s our default setting. Just look at what people revert to when they are stripped from the bounds of civilization, be it through natural disasters, catastrophes created by their fellow man, or simply in a moment of madness. What good is your pen, at that point? You had better put it down, and pick up your sword…
There is a short clip from the show Game of Thrones that really brings this concept home. I’ve provided the clip below, but simply put, the bottom line is that soft power, like “knowledge,” gets trumped by “power” (i.e. violence) every time.
We only need to look as far as the events of October 2023 at the terrorist attack that Hamas committed inside Israel as further evidence. Plenty of people had plenty of words about “peace in our time,” or “Oslo Accords,” or a “two-state solution.” But other people had other words. Words like: “There is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”
So they did. With the modern day equivalent of a sword.
So as we saw in those terrible events in Israel, or in Ukraine, or the streets of our own country, your pen is only as useful as its utility in getting someone else to wield a sword. Everything else is just parchment and air.
Scott Faith is a veteran of a half-dozen combat deployments and has served in several different Special Operations units over the course of his Army career. Scott’s writing focuses largely on veterans’ issues, but he is also a strong proponent of Constitutional rights and has a deep interest in politics. He often allows other veterans who request anonymity to publish their work under his byline. Scott welcomes story ideas and feedback on his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.