Paul Harvey, a conservative American news commentator and talk-radio pioneer whose staccato style made him one of America’s most familiar voices, reached tens of millions of listeners at the peak of his career. His “idiosyncratic delivery of news stories with dramatic pauses, quirky intonations, and many of his standard lead-ins and sign-offs” made him extremely recognizable on the radio.
Although he was very accurate in his reporting, no one could imagine that his famous words from decades ago would be prophetic, describing the reality of today. Indeed, over half a century ago, the legendary ABC Radio commentator, who was born Paul Harvey Aurandt in 1918, seeming predicted how the United States is right now during a broadcast that aired in 1965.
Once most of us hear the famous line that’s also the title of the speech and is repeated throughout the essay, we recognize the broadcast almost immediately. “If I were the Devil,” Paul Harvey famously said in 1965 before discussing issues we are faced with today. However, although Harvey’s words have an undeniable truth, they may not be as prophetic as some might believe.
Yes, Paul Harvey originally wrote his famous “If I Were The Devil” essay in 1964. The broadcast of the essay aired in 1965, and it is still popular today. But, the current rendition that often circulates the internet was updated by Harvey to reflect current events throughout his life, which sadly ended in 2009. The oldest genuine Paul Harvey version of this piece we’ve found thus far appeared in his newspaper column in 1964:
I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree.
So I should set about however necessary, to take over the United States.
I would begin with a campaign of whispers.
With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whispers to you as I whispered to Eve, “Do as you please.”
To the young I would whisper “The Bible is a myth.” I would convince them that “man created God,” instead of the other way around. I would confide that “what is bad is good and what is good is square.”
In the ears of the young married I would whisper that work is debasing, that cocktail parties are good for you. I would caution them not to be “extreme” in religion, in patriotism, in moral conduct.
And the old I would teach to pray — to say after me — “Our father which are in Washington.”
Then I’d get organized.
I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull, uninteresting.
I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies, and vice-versa.
I’d infiltrate unions and urge more loafing, less work. Idle hands usually work for me.
I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could, I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction, I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the Devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild.
I’d designate an atheist to front for me before the highest courts and I’d get preachers to say, “She’s right.”
With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography.
Thus I would evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, then from the Houses of Congress.
Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science.
If I were Satan I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg
And the symbol of Christmas a bottle.
If I were the Devil I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. Then my police state would force everybody back to work.
Then I would separate families, putting children in uniform, women in coal mines and objectors in slave-labor camps.
If I were Satan I’d just keep doing what I’m doing and the whole world go to hell as sure as the Devil.
[Source: Harvey, Paul. “If I Were the Devil I Would Pray, Our Father Who Art in Washington.” Gadsden Times. Oct 13, 1964 (p.4).]
A 1996 newspaper version of Paul Harvey’s “If I were the Devil,” which actually seems to be what’s heard in the video above, is often what’s heard today and mistakenly believed to be the same piece from the 60s. However, there are key differences.
Although it kept the concept and structure of the original essay, the 1996 version evolved the content to include the current events of that time. Even so, this version is still over two decades old and very on point with what our nation is experiencing now:
If I were the prince of darkness, I would want to engulf the whole world in darkness.
I’d have a third of its real estate and four-fifths of its population, but I would not be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — thee.
So, I would set about however necessary to take over the United States.
I’d subvert the churches first, and I would begin with a campaign of whispers.
With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: “Do as you please.”
To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth. I would convince the children that man created God instead of the other way around. I’d confide that what’s bad is good and what’s good is square.
And the old, I would teach to pray after me, “Our Father, which are in Washington …”
Then, I’d get organized, I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting.
I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil, I’d soon have families at war with themselves, churches at war with themselves and nations at war with themselves until each, in its turn, was consumed.
And with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellect but neglect to discipline emotions. I’d tell teachers to let those students run wild. And before you knew it, you’d have drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.
With a decade, I’d have prisons overflowing and judges promoting pornography. Soon, I would evict God from the courthouse and the schoolhouse and them from the houses of Congress.
In his own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion and deify science. I’d lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls and church money.
If I were the devil, I’d take from those who have and give to those who wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious.
What’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich?
I’d convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun and that what you see on television is the way to be.
And thus, I could undress you in public and lure you into bed with diseases for which there are no cures.
In other words, if I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.
Whether it’s the 1965, 1996, or even another adaptation, the bottom line is that Paul Harvey’s words have never been truer. He was an incredible man with even more incredible insight. But, perhaps it’s another Harvey quote that best explains how he could seemingly so easily predict decades ago what America would look like today.
“In times like these, it’s helpful to remember that there have always been times like these,” Paul Harvey said. Regardless of whether you find his words to be actually prophetic, they are undeniably powerful, and it is a warning to our nation that we should finally begin to heed. Rather than accepting we will always have “times like these,” maybe it’s time to right our ship and throw the Devil