It’s my recollection that the argument about whether CW proficiency was a valid (contemporary) requirement even in the 1970s was that as it was in the ITU requirements, no country could ignore the requirement to examine amateurs for morse proficiency.
I think a hard look at what happened when ships at sea needed to call SOS post about 1930 would reveal that they would do it on the 500 khz band which until 20 or so years ago (it doesn’t matter) was still monitored by competent operators at shore stations and in theory at least also by other ships radio officers. It was almost never monitored by radio amateurs unless they were also professional operators of a coastal station or a ship. I never monitored the 500 khz band.
So you could ask why was morse a requirement for radio amateurs. Well, here’s my theory. When all this was dreamt up, pre 1930s, (in fact not far past 1901, Titanic was sunk in 1912), radio wasn’t neatly divided into bands and tuned by people using receivers with sub khz bandwidth as they do today. Transmitters were a choice of spark or higher powered spark. That was a wideband mode. It probably covered DC to 1 MHZ and beyond, if anyone had the equipment to examine it. A tuned circuit, probably in the antenna matching, probably reduced the bandwidth to a couple of hundred khz.
Receivers were little better than what we would now call a crystal set. Tuning was equally broad. So everyone with a “receiver” heard everything if they were in range. That is why amateurs needed to be competent enough to copy and respond to an SOS, because if it happened, they might be the only operator in range, awake and able to respond. They may have to summon help by riding their horse down to the nearest police station, but that may have been better than nothing. Better equipped amateurs might have one of those new fangled telephones.
So why did the requirement for amateurs to be competent at morse stay in the rules? Perhaps the IARU feared that pointing out that more modern modes and equipment had actually made amateurs redundant for the purpose of hearing SOS calls, might have unpleasant consequences?
Indeed the WIA used to point out that by raising the question of morse proficiency, we might be opening up a pandora’s box of issues that in some scenarios could result in a significant downgrade of amateur privileges, or worse. So the sleeping dog stayed comfortably sleeping on the rug and nobody disturbed it.
(No ship would ever call SOS on an amateur band, would they? )
Re learning morse, which is the topic here, I equate it [edit: compare it] with learning a language, a very small vocabulary, but still, the brain needs to learn new stuff. Something that is easy at age 12-15 is much more difficult at age 50+. I’m still trying to learn more Spanish than I did in 2019, it is slow going and I don’t put enough time into it. But I am gradually learning more. An incentive like having to book a hotel room, or order a meal, accelerated my learning in 2019 much more than anything else has since.
73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2DA