Shortly after September 11, 2001, I contacted a person I knew only through reputation in influence and propaganda studies. His name was Phil Taylor and he was professor of international communications at the University of Leeds. I had just read one of Phil’s books, Munitions of the Mind, and was struck at how prescient it was in describing the “new normal” of 9/11. His online presence, “Phil Taylor’s Web Site” was a treasure trove of material. It identified its purpose as a “One Stop Shop for matters relating to international communications and strategic communications.” Since 1995.
I did not know if I would hear back from Professor Taylor. He was a prolific writer and was director of the Institute of Communications Studies. Little did I know that I would soon experience what so many others already knew. He was a down-to-earth, friendly, generous soul, who readily engaged with his legions of admirers who loved his work.
Phil and I became email friends and started co-presenting at numerous conferences in the UK, US, and Spain. Phil’s last book, the Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy, was our joint project. All of my writings paid homage to Phil, whom I considered my greatest teacher in influence studies. I felt privileged to work with a giant in the field of propaganda and public diplomacy who was also a personal friend and mentor.
I learned that Phil’s death was imminent the day before Thanksgiving. He let me know that his cancer was aggressive, advanced and terminal. Very few knew how sick he was. I said a prayer for Phil on Thanksgiving and gave thanks for having known such a special person like Phil, whom I knew I would probably never see again. I was so touched that he was even sparing his mother the news, another testament to his thinking about others’ feelings.
Phil died far too young and had much more work to do. His work will go on, as it must. I know his students will miss him dearly, but will also want to honor his legacy through continuing to engage in global communications in pursuit of mutual understanding and respect.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Munitions of the Mind. It sums up why Phil worked so tirelessly:
“In a nuclear age, we need peace propagandists, not war propagandists – people whose job it is to increase communication, understanding and dialogue between different peoples with different beliefs. As much of the truth as can be, must be told. A gradual process of explanation will generate greater trust and therefore a greater willingness to understand our perspective. And if this is a mutual dialogue, greater empathy and consensus will emerge. We might not always like what we see about others, but we need to recognize that fear and ignorance are the principal enemies of peace and peaceful coexistence.”
Phil’s last words to me were “I hope we can meet up soon or talk in some way or other” and he signed, “Yours ever.” I regret that we were not able to fulfill that hope, but I’m thankful my friend knew how much I loved, admired, and respected him. RIP PMT.