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Monday, November 07, 2005

Orwell's Oceania and Bush's America: Coming Together

Published on Friday, November 4, 2005 by
by David Benjamin

Paris -- Lately, I'm re-reading many of the books I read when I was in high school. Predictably, it's a checkered experience. Some of these cherished works recall, revive and even expand the literary pleasures I enjoyed some 40 years ago; other beloved books betray flaws I overlooked when I was 16. And some of these books reveal insights that were inconceivable back then.

Among my more revelatory experiences has been re-visiting George Orwell’s dystopian classic, "1984." Although Orwell failed to anticipate Western cultural and political reality in the year of his prophecy -- when Reagan and Thatcher ruled real-life Oceania -- he eerily foresaw both the corruption of language and the erosion of civil liberties that marks the second Bush administration, some 20 years beyond 1984 (the year, not the book).

In rereading Orwell, I didn't plan to draw parallels between Big Brother and Boy George. They just kept popping up. I recorded 11 instances in which Orwell somehow anticipated White House jive in the first decade of the 21st century.

For instance, like Orwell's Oceania, Bush's America relies on a constant state of war to instill fear and passion in the masses, and -- in both regimes -- the enemy's identity is an afterthought. Big Brother shifted his enmity from Eurasia to Eastasia and back again. Bush began his bellicose ascendancy by targeting Al Qaeda, then switching to Saddam's Iraq, and now he’s screen-testing among Syria, Iran and Al Qaeda (again) for the role of supervillain. The key, said Orwell is this: "The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible."

Note Orwell's stipulation that the purity of the enemy's evil requires that "past" agreements, if they ever existed, must be either forgotten or expunged. Consider, for example, Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Baghdad during the Reagan era, when he was filmed hugging Saddam Hussein. But that never happened, right? We always hated Saddam, and we never sent him vast stockpiles of weapons to help him fight America's previous "enemy of the moment," Iran.

"History has stopped," explained Orwell. "Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right."


read the rest:

Orwell's Oceania and Bush's America: Coming Together


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