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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Welcome to The Party

I just finished re-reading George Orwell's 1984, having read it some 25 years ago as a middle school student. At the time I saw it more as science fiction (it was the 1970s) and missed most of the symbolism and political commentary on Russian communism, English socialism and totalitarianism in general.

The idea of re-reading the book had been on my mind for the past couple of years, considering the reaction in the US to the Sept. 11 attacks and the obvious parallels being drawn by many writers. But what spurred me to action was my discovery of a blog called A Tiny Revolution, the name of which is taken from an Orwell essay on humor writing and vulgarity. Orwell's writing style and subversive philosophy in the essay grabbed my interest, so off the shelves came 1984.

The book is a quick and easy read, but you can spend days pondering how closely his imaginary world resembles the world today. Of course others have spent major parts of their professional careers analyzing these parallels, but as a taste just consider the slogan of The Party and Big Brother that controls all aspects of life and thought in Orwell's book: "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength."

Having finished 1984, I turned to his other works. Just last night I found this essay, "You and the Atomic Bomb," written in 1945 just after the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan. It's an exposition on how the bomb is a tyrannical weapon that only the superpowers would possess and therefore would be used to hold power over the rest of the world.

At the time of writing, it was not known publicly how far along Russia was at developing the bomb. Orwell writes:

"From various symptoms one can infer that the Russians do not yet possess the secret of making the atomic bomb; on the other hand, the consensus of opinion seems to be that they will possess it within a few years. So we have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation. But suppose--and really this the likeliest development--that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless."
To say that Orwell – real name Eric Blair – was politically astute would be an understatement. Just put Bush's consternation over Iran and North Korea's plans to develop nuclear weapons into the above political context, and it jibes with the feelings of many global security and WMD experts. Small nations like Iran feel they need the bomb so that they are not automatically under the thumb of nations that already have nukes, namely the US and Israel. Iran and North Korea see themselves as the "subject peoples" that Orwell wrote about.

I suggest you read 1984 if you haven't, or at least have not read it in many years. Here is a tidbit, from Inner Party member O'Brien to Winston Smith, the main character, as he lay prostrate in the interrogation room, learning the reality of The Party's intentions:

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
And later, O'Brien adds:

"Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.'"
For ever.


Anonymous Mike P said...

Colin...I too have a hankering to re-read 1984..congrats for beating me to it...

It's truly frightening how close we are coming to having the conditions on the novel as our reality. Bush and company are constantly rewriting history, even before the ink has a chance to dry.

9:17 AM


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