2017 – National High School 2nd Place

Kevin Hong, Illinois.

Human progress is deeply rooted in notions of cooperation and mutual aid. While our species has historically sought to resolve our differences through violence, we have since come to learn and appreciate the value of diplomacy and shared aspirations. These dissimilar approaches have traditionally been symbolized by the pen and the sword. Then pen represents a metaphorical advantage for thought and rationality, and the word embodies brute force and conflict. Whereas the sword is limited to unnecessary destruction and senseless torment, the pen excels in persuasion and the creation of new ideas. The pen spurs our hearts into motion; it invigorates the soul, sharpens our wits, and focuses our concentration onto a shared goal, and this is why the pen is ultimately mightier than the sword.

It is often said that actions speak louder than words, but action cannot exist without initiative, and the pen will always prevail over the sword in this regard because its primary function is to facilitate the exchange of human thoughts and create new meaning. Even if the sword can speak louder than the pen, it does not imply superiority or carry the same weight as the tempered, inner voice that the pen channels. The pen speaks when it seeks to establish cooperation and rational compromise, whereas the sword is driven solely to inflict suffering and cruelty upon others. This reason is precisely why the pen is humanity’s most valuable instrument when it comes to creating change. Ideas are rendered permanent and tangible when the pen is taken up, something that actions alone can rarely accomplish.

When the pen and the sword do meet, the pen exerts an overarching influence over the sword. In fact, the American nation is founded upon this very principle. Though the conflicts of the American Revolution catalyzed the birth of the United States, the American Constitution, forged in ideals of liberty and equality, was truly what paved the way for the foundation of our society. The actions of the American Revolution alone were not enough to guarantee the future of the new nation; rather, the written words of the Constitution filled that role by becoming the supreme law of the land. The American Revolution only lasted eight years, but the Constitution has preserved its message and values for more than two hundred years. The pen has the capacity to harness the latent potential of the sword, and it has the power to establish stability and order in times of emergency. Without the pen, the sword ultimately lacks direction and a solid foundation, and such a dangerous situation can easily give way to chaos and disorder. In the long run, the pen still triumphs over the sword in its ability to withstand the test of time.

In many cases, the pen even carries the power to negate the necessity of intervention by the sword. Even in The Art of War, famed military strategist Sun Tzu argued that “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” The pen’s ability to reason helps to drastically minimize losses and prioritize future consequences, and its preference of mental fortitude over physical strength outweighs the inherent savagery and devastation of the sword. In a sense, the pen acts as the invisible hand that can restrain the brutish nature of the sword and instead guide it towards more productive purposes. Thus, the pen even reigns supreme in war, which is traditionally considered a domain exclusive to the sword.

The history of human civilization is a history of complex, oftentimes bloody cultural interactions. The pen represents the human capacity for compassion and understanding, while the sword serves as a dark reminder of our natural inclinations towards conflict and violence. The pen has contributed far more to the advancement of society than the sword has, and it is mightier because it wields the power to reshape conventional thinking and unite people of different backgrounds. Conflict and strife have never brought about lasting, meaningful changes in society, but communication and diplomacy continue to drive the world towards a brighter destiny. As the sword gradually fades into distant memories of the past, the pen continues to shine with mankind’s hopes for the future.


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