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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Comparison and Contrast Between Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Post 9/11 World

Comparison and Contrast Between Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Post 9/11 World

     George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been written against totalitarianism and in support of democratic socialism. It is a futuristic novel in which Orwell shows how political systems can suppress individual freedom through lies and cruelty, how power could become the ultimate goal for one undermining the basic rights and freedom of people in the process (Williams 16). The year 1984 has come and gone. The essay aims to discuss the contemporary relevance of Nineteen Eighty-Four in the post 9/11 world of terrorism, uncertainty and political power play and see how much of Orwell’s prophecy of a totalitarian future has been realized.
     The attack on the World Trade Centre, New York on September 11, 2001 changed the course of history for the world. The U.S. under the Bush administration vowed to eradicate terrorism from the face of the world. This was the beginning of the “War on terrorism” and this it has been called ever since. In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the three totalitarian states of Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia remained perpetually at war against each other. The war was not fought within the periphery but it served to create fear and hatred in people, and justify the Big Brother regime’s autocratic practices. The U.S. led war on terrorism to capture Osama bin Laden, the suspect mastermind of 9/11 attacks, turned into a war against ‘terrorists’ residing in Afghanistan. Later this war spread to Iraq. Thus the U.S. got a passageway into South Asia and the Middle-East. The Party in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four wanted to create fear in the people so that they could always control them. Spread of power and exercising of control over the people are the main aims of the war on terrorism (Kurtzman 2). Hobbes believed that society was in a perpetual state of war. The Hobbesian theory stated that although the pursuit to achieve personal aims was the basic right of people, safety and happiness was of greater importance for people, and they would give up those rights to an absolute monarch to achieve safety and happiness. Many countries supported the U.S. when it waged the war against terrorism after the 9/11 events only because though the U.S. had assured the countries of support and protection if they joined it in the war, it had simultaneously issued a warning to the countries who were contemplating to abandon the U.S.(Bryson 7-8). The only difference between the war on terrorism and war in Nineteen Eighty-Four is that the latter was almost bloodless. It was more of psychological warfare. Orwell called the perpetual war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia a never-ending, shape shifting struggle that “helps  to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchal society needs”. The war had been stripped of its material attributes that is armies, fighting, even death. But the “atmosphere” that wars produce had remained (Bryson 10). War in today’s world is much more dangerous. The fear of a nuclear war is forever looming as all major countries like the  U.S., India and Pakistan have the weapons. Terrorism in today’s world, the practices being employed to fight it and fear together make up the perpetual war in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four real in today’s world. Display of power was the ultimate aim of Big Brother while creating the atmosphere of states being at war (Danner 3). Orwell gives his own analysis of politics of warfare in the subversive book of Emmanuel Goldstein which Winston reads secretly.
The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor….War, it will be seen, not only accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way……Even the humblest Party member …… should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic, whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist (Orwell 157-158).
The only difference between Orwell’s 1984 and today’s world is that people are aware of the fickleness and futility of this war, (Kurtzman 4) a fact evident by the campaigns and protest going on in all forms against war all over the world.  
     Orwell draws our attention towards the fact that the fear produced by war and terror enables those in power to create their own truth (Danner 4). The Ministry of Truth, one of the Party’s ministries, in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four spread lies in order to meet the Party’s aims. Falsification of the past by removing information and distorting the facts was also one of its functions. Propaganda was used to spread lies to suit the Party’s strategic goals. It has been claimed by the American governing body again and again that it seeks to end tyranny in the world by eradicating terrorism. Yet the U.S. has continued to invade sovereign states, spying on its own citizens and shrouding itself in secrecy (Rivers 2). The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had started in search of the weapons of mass destruction that could be used to spread terrorism. Although no such weapons have been discovered in these countries, the U.S. continues its campaign against terrorism in these areas. Truth is subservient to power. Power rightly applied makes truth. And that truth can be history. In the novel Orwell expresses the view that history is something to be created. Events are rearranged to reveal or conceal certain events and depict imaginary triumphs (Green 16). In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Ministry of Truth made people forget a truth by stating its opposite. Oceania was at war with Eastasia, but if the Party would say the next day that Oceania was at war with Eurasia, the people had no choice but to start believing it.
      The people could not go against the Party as they were being watched and heard by telescreens everywhere; their homes, workplaces, public places. It was the psychological pressure of being subservient to a higher authority and privacy had been almost eliminated under the Big brother regime. Telescreens were put up everywhere that could be dimmed but never shut down. Any act that went against the Party was immediately detected. Winston and Julia attempt to consummate their love in room above Mr. Charrington’s junk shop but are caught with the help of a hidden telescreen as the Party did not allow it and the begetting of children was for the benefit of The Party only. Thus there was no privacy under the totalitarian rule of Big Brother. Surveillance has played a major role in earlier societies, but advancement in technology and improvement of lighting system in dark and shadowy public places led to surveillance becoming a part of human life (Green 20). Although surveillance has not become an epidemic in today’s world, the lack of privacy for a man is becoming more and more apparent. After the 9/11 events, surveillance has become a right in the name of security. In the U.S. the Patriot Act was launched in 2001 after the 9/11 events which gives the FBI the right to obtain any person’s financial, telephone, e-mail records by giving the explanation that it is related to investigation regarding international terrorism and the plan of protection against it (Eland 1). The United States is well on its way to becoming a fascist empire due to the fact that creating a surveillance society is one of the steps to fascism (Alston 4). In the U.S. a spy agency known as the National Security Agency monitors all the international calls of people inside the U.S. for fears of conspiracy of any terrorist attack. Domestic calls are supposed to be exempted from this monitoring according to the original plan, but it has been discovered that no such exemption has been made so far. Monitoring by CCTV is rampant in the U.K. Monitoring public behavior, except for emergency services, is completely unacceptable in any free society and should be received with outrage by responsible citizens. The authorities argue that it has led to increased crime detection and thus terrorism can decrease. In Russia, Holland and Germany the laws allow monitoring of any communication device without any warrant or consent (Eschman, Lee, Conelly 2).         
     Language is an important social tool. It can be used as a tool for promoting political powerlessness and by the state to distort the truth (Giroux 1). Orwell valued its significance in politics and wrote an essay in 1946 called Politics and English Language. In the essay Orwell expressed the point of view that language can corrupt thought. Language used in politics is designed in a way that lies appear to be the truth and every action, whether wrong or right, seems justified (Orwell 4) and this can make the average citizen incapable of thinking clearly (Prose 3). In Nineteen Eighty-Four, these lies are quite obvious. The media is controlled by the Party and has to refer to the Ministries of Truth, Peace, Love and Plenty. However, the Ministry of Truth distorts facts to misrepresent truth and the Ministry of Peace deals with war. The Ministry of Love has been described as “the really frightening one” since suspected offenders against the Party are grilled for questioning in there and torture is used to get the desired answers (Berkes 2). The purpose of creating Newspeak, the official language of Oceania was to limit thought and make dissent impossible. Syme, who is a specialist in Newspeak, tells Winston that Newspeak is the only language whose vocabulary gets smaller every year, and it narrows the range of thought to eventually make thought crime impossible (Orwell 46). It was the Party’s primary tool of creating power. The term Newspeak in today’s world has been reserved for dual meaning in political language. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush’s words “We ask every nation to join us in fighting terrorism”, have been interpreted as “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.” (Gee 4) In the political newspeak, words have been created to serve the government’s own purposes, and to create a certain desirable impression on a common person’s mind (Keils 2). This political jargon has contributed towards creation of mind sets of common people. The association of terrorism with Islam, justification of the war against terrorism all has been achieved through manipulation of words.
     The aim of the essay was to draw a comparison and contrast study between Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the post 9/11 world. We do not live under the watch of the telescreens, we can voice out our opinion against the ruling parties most of the times quite freely, and the relationships of life are still very much intact. But in this post 9/11 world we are slowly moving towards it. The perpetual war between the totalitarian states has become very much a reality after the U.S. led invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. People believed to have links with terrorist groups are picked up on suspicion and are never heard of again, very much like the process of vaporization of dissenters in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But there is hope that Orwell’s dystopic future may never be fully realized as people are aware of the atrocities of the authorities and are willing to raise their voice against them through media, and create awareness in others.
Works Cited

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Eschman, Katherine; Kioung Lee; ; James Conelley. “Privacy” (Date not mentioned). 06 March 2008

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Keils, R. M. “Pentagon English Is Sort Of a Newspeak”. Studies in Language 14 (1)(2006)34-44. 02 February, 2008
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