From Academic Kids
Silence as a mark of respect
Since its inception, silence has been a part of the rituals surrounding Armistice Day. A two-minute silence is held at 11am, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" (the time at which the armistice became effective), both on Armistice Day itself and on Remembrance Sunday. In the early years of the century the two minutes were very fully observed, even to the extent of traffic stopping in the streets. The practice declined somewhat (except as part of the Remembrance Sunday ritual itself) but regained popularity in the 1990s, partly through the agency of the then prime minister John Major. The two-minute silence was first observed in Cape Town, South Africa in 1916 following the publication of South Africa's first casualty list of World War I. Sir Harry Hands, the Mayor of Cape Town, ordered a two-minute silent pause, to follow the firing of the Noon gun, in commemoration of those lost.
Such silences, usually of between one and three minutes, are now quite often observed wherever large numbers of people are gathered, to commemorate the deaths of people who have died tragically or after a distinguished life, such as the murdered toddler James Bulger, the football manager Sir Matt Busby, or the Queen Mother in April 2002.
The normal British convention is two minutes of silence (though Buckingham Palace suggested one minute for Diana, Princess of Wales on 6 September 1997). This dates from the first Armistice commemorations in 1919, where the original proposal of one minute was increased to two by the King. The victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks were commemorated by two minutes' silence in the UK, three elsewhere. The 2002 Bali bombing was commemorated with a one-minute silence on 5 July 2003. There were international silences of three minutes on 15 March 2004 for the 11 March 2004 Madrid attacks, and on 5 January 2005 for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. On the evening of 8 April 2005, the lights were switched off in houses throughout Poland and five minutes of silence observed to commemorate Pope John Paul II.
One widely recognized symbolic gesture of silence consists of a forefinger laid vertically across the lips. Comic emphasis is achieved with a gesture of thumb and finger zippering the mouth shut. For the cultural misunderstanding that made Harpocrates an emblem of silence from Roman times, see Harpocrates.
Silence in music
One famous example of silence in music, or even as music, is the avant garde composer John Cage's 1952 work 4'33". Cage had this to say about silence: "Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music."
- Ralph Lichtensteiger on Silence & Music (http://www.lichtensteiger.de/silence.html)
- Ralph Lichtensteiger: Try to Make a Silence (poem) (http://www.lichtensteiger.de/Psilence.html)
- Silence/Stories (http://www.lichtensteiger.de/stories.html) Participants/Contributors: Lowell Cross, AP Crumlish, Karlheinz Essl, Raymond Federman, August Highland, George Koehler (coming soon), Richard Kostelanetz, Ian S. Macdonald, Beat Streuli, Dan Waber, Sigi Waters (coming soon), John Whiting ...
- Site of Silence (http://www.vantoll.nl/sil)