Watching BBC correspondents and analysts poring over footage of the British sailors being ‘interviewed’ by their captors on Iranian television reminds me, as it must others, of the Vietnam war, and how captured American pilots were wheeled out for propaganda purposes.
What has this got to do with technology? Well, if you recall, one Jeremiah Denton, a co-resident of the Hanoi Hilton with John McCain, managed to subvert the propaganda value for his captors and also convey important information to his superiors by blinking the word ‘torture’ in Morse Code. According to his official biography:
Throughout the interview, while responding to questions and feigning sensitivity to harsh lighting, denton blinked his eyes in morse code, repeatedly spelling out a covert message: “T-O-R-T-U-R-E”. the interview, which was broadcast on American television on May 17, 1966, was the first confirmation that American POWs in Vietnam were being tortured.
Independence Day made some homage to this when it had survivors of the alien attack communicating around the globe via Morse Code. The point? It wouldn’t make much sense, in this era of sophisticated communications, to teach British soldiers Morse Code. But as a survival tool an old technology like Morse Code might prove invaluable.
Lesson? We shouldn’t ever reject old communications technologies because we never know when we might need them.
Morse code is on the wane: the FCC and other licensing authorities no longer require amateur radio operators to know telegraphy, so unless private organisations step in to keep it alive, it’ll be gone soon.
Fascinating though – I didn’t know about Jeremiah Denton.