Nowadays in a world full of throw away texting, email and instant messaging, writing a physical letter is fast becoming a dying art. Before the digital take over, it was customary to write or type a letter to express what you wanted to say. Whether to a loved one or in official correspondence, letter writing was the only way to get your message across. And while receiving a text or email can be life changing on occasion, there always seems to be something so much more significant and personal when putting pen to paper. After all, you can’t put a text in a box and cherish it forever.
Here we take a look at just how significant letter writing can be, by exploring a small selection of the most important letters that did or could have changed the course of history as we know it:
Gandhi’s Letter to Hitler
In 1939 tensions were high across the world and war was very much on the cards with Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia, but Mohandas Gandhi still had faith that Hitler could very much stop what he started. In his letter, Gandhi described the impending upset as a “war that may reduce humanity to a savage state” and addresses Hitler as his friend as he tried in vain to persuade the dictator to reconsider his actions. Unfortunately the letter never reached its intended recipient due to intervention by the British government and just over a month later, things took a dramatic turn for the worse when Germany invaded Poland. Turning the whole world upside down as Hitler continued on his path of destruction.
Had the letter reached the Führer, could it have been enough to stop him? Could the catastrophic devastation that we know about today be a somewhat different part of our history?
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
It was 1963 and Martin Luther King Jr. had been incarcerated for demonstrating in Alabama against white supremacy and racial ignorance. From his jail cell, he penned an open letter in response to a statement that white religious leaders were putting pressure on the black community to give up protesting. King was infamous for his commitment to nonviolent resistance again segregation and was seen as a key political figure to those that stood beside him. In his letter, King politely and eloquently explains the reasons for his arrest and why he felt it was unjust. He set out to appeal to the more moderate-minded white Americans, who he castigated for sitting passively on the side-lines while he and others fought for change. King drew inspiration for his words from many historical religious and political philosophers, quoting everyone from Socrates to Thomas Jefferson as well the current Chief Justice at the time, Earl Warren, who had overseen the Supreme Court’s landmark civil rights ruling against the Board of Education.
Over 50 years later and Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter and the message it delivers still resonates with each passing generation, often used as part of the curriculum in many American schools. The letter became a powerful reminder to call on leaders to intervene in matters of racial, economic and social justice.
Bill Gates’ Open Letter to Hobbyists
In 1976 personal computers were very much in their infancy but were growing popular among hobbyists and home users. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and now one of the best-known entrepreneurs in the personal computer revolution, was at the forefront of this technological turning point. A key figure in developing the Altair BASIC software for use on MITS Altair 8800 computers, a programming language that would define Microsoft as pioneers and pave the way for the software we see today. Unfortunately for Gates, it’s reception to the open market didn’t quite go to plan and was often copied and distributed without permission, MITS computers were selling thousands per month with the software barely selling in the low hundreds. In response to this, Gates penned a heartfelt open letter expressing his dismay at the rampant amount of copyright infringement taking place in the hobbyist community and stressed the importance of investing in development. He asserted that such widespread unauthorised copying would effectively discourage developers from creating quality software in the future. This forged the beginnings of the software copyright laws and regulations that we see today.
Writing letters may seem like an arduous task for some, but we hope the few we’ve shared with you will inspire you to give it a go and see just how wonderful and empowering it can be. You never know, that one letter you write, might just change the world.