These days, it seems no one can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Watch any politician being interviewed on TV.

Read any advertising agency CEO being interviewed in Campaign.

Sit in any meeting, or read any brief.

Their entire job seems to be to take as many words as possible to say nothing.

So is it possible to give an answer in a single word?

In 1944, General McAuliffe was in charge of the 101st Airborne.

Hitler threw absolutely everything he had into one last gamble, and a massive force surrounded the 101st Airborne in the little town of Bastogne.

The 101st, being an airborne unit, was lightly armoured, the Germans had the latest 50-ton Tiger tanks.

On December 22nd, General von Lutwitz sent in four men, under a flag of truce, to deliver an ultimatum, it read as follows:

“To the USA Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the USA forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armoured units.

More German armoured units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet.

Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled USA troops from total annihilation: that is the honourable surrender of the encircled town.

In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German artillery corps and six heavy AA battalions are ready to annihilate the USA troops in and near Bastogne.

The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander”

General McAuliffe thought it over, and sent back his reply, as follows:

“To the German Commander.


The American Commander”

152 words from the German commander, 1 word from the American commander.

McAuliffe knew that, whatever the number of words, it all came down to the same thing: surrender or fight.

So he started the fight right there in that note, forget manners, if we’re going to start killing each other let’s get to it.

But that single word galvanised his forces, it was just what they needed to hear.

Interestingly, McAuliffe’s personal aide later said “General Mac was the only general I ever knew who did not use profane language.”

Because of this, the newspapers back in the USA were able to reprint it, it lifted morale by showing the no-nonsense fighting spirit of the American soldier.

The Germans never took Bastogne.

I have always found the amount of words used is inversely proportional to action.

The term ‘laconic’, for short, pithy speech, comes from Laconia, the region around Sparta.

Spartans were famously drawn more to action than talking.

When most of the Greek city-states had submitted to Phillip II of Macedonia, he sent a message to Sparta as follows:

“If I win this war you will be slaves forever. You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”

The Spartans sent back their one word reply, as follows:


Phillip II never entered Sparta.