Freedom is Slavery; War is Peace; Ignorance is Strength. This is the motto heralded by Big Brother in George Orwell's book, “1984.” This motto might as well be from the George W. Bush administration. Since the tragic Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has incrementally been seizing power, desecrating the U.S. Constitution and subordinating our civil rights in the name of national security.
We are told that to protect freedom, we must forfeit our liberties. To have peace, we must fight a prolonged war. To be strong, we must be kept ignorant of our government's actions. In short, to be good Americans we must believe in apparent contradictions and submit to our government entirely.
The parallels between Orwell's dystopian vision and Bush's post-Sept. 11 governmental policies are so striking some journalists have facetiously accused Bush of plagiarism. Orwell's book depicts a society dominated by a totalitarian government in which citizens' liberties are suppressed on the basis of an endless war. In post-Sept. 11 America, the same reasoning is being used to justify turning our nation into a police state.
In Orwell's society, a person can be arrested not just for public speech, but for their private thoughts as well. In our nation, this nightmare has come to life through Bush's USA Patriot Act. This act enables law enforcement departments to spy on citizens and non-citizens alike: To read private e-mail correspondence, monitor Internet usage, tap into phone conversations, delve into computer files and conduct “sneak-and-peak” searches of homes and offices without immediately, if ever, presenting residents with a search warrant. Law enforcement no longer needs judicial oversight or probable cause. So, be careful: Big Brother is watching.
Furthermore, this act states that citizens and non-citizens can be detained on mere suspicion. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 1,100 immigrants have been imprisoned. The charges against them remain undisclosed; even their names and identities remain largely unknown. The Bush administration admits these prisoners are not terrorists. So far, the FBI has racially profiled and interrogated more than 5,000 recent immigrants. Those immigrants Bush deems “terrorists” can be tried before closed military tribunals rather than in open court.
In Orwell's society, citizens join the government in the suppression of speech and thought; citizens constantly monitor neighbors and coworkers, informing the government if a person seems “suspicious.” Bush's “Operation TIPS” makes such paranoid spying a reality. This program asks mail deliverers, utility meter readers, truckers and other citizens to spy on their neighbors and customers, and report any suspicious activity that could be related to terrorism. A recent example of TIPS in action occurred just two weeks ago. Three men were detained, searched and interrogated for being overheard apparently joking about Sept. 11 at a restaurant in Georgia. Bush and a federal law enforcement official in Washington eventually exculpated the men, reporting they had no evident ties to terrorism.
Increasingly, it seems we must all be wary of saying or doing anything that could be construed as subversive; after all, your neighbor might turn you in to the thought police. The reach of the thought police has even extended to academia, where certain factions have attempted to stifle the free exchange of ideas. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, for example, has sought to “blacklist” more than 40 professors who were deemed “anti-American.” One professor, an emeritus from the University of Oregon, was blacklisted for recommending that “we need to understand the reasons behind the terrifying hatred directed against the U.S. and find ways to act that will not foment more hatred for generations to come.” Even one of the Daily columnists has received threatening letters for suggesting that U.S. foreign policy might be somewhat casually responsible for terrorism.
It seems that to be strong and united, we must silence all dissenting voices. Attorney General John Ashcroft has declared that critics of the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 measures “only aid terrorists” and “give ammunition to America's enemies.” For this reason, the Bush administration has explained we need to “suspend” certain liberties for the duration of the war.
The message is clear: To criticize America, right or wrong, is either to be unpatriotic or, worse, to be a terrorist sympathizer (Does anyone smell McCarthyism yet?). It seems ignorant patriotism has become a virtue.
The Bush administration has heavily promoted the idea of ignorance as strength. On this basis, it is making sure the media and American public are kept ignorant. Invoking the excuse of national security, the Bush administration has imposed heavy restrictions on what we can know. For example, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security includes an exemption from the Freedom from Information Act. Additionally, the military has disallowed journalists from accompanying American forces fighting in Afghanistan and even from interviewing military personnel after their missions.
In addition to this governmental censorship, the media has even censored itself. CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson, for instance, ordered his news staff to limit reports of Afghan casualties and to use World Trade Center deaths to justify the killing abroad. Furthermore, the largest U.S. radio station owner, Clear Channel, sent out an internal memo prohibiting certain songs from being played on the air — including “Imagine” by John Lennon.
In Orwell's society, the duration of the war is never-ending, waged against an enemy that is ever-changing and ambiguous. The same is true of Bush's declared “war on terrorism.” This war has no fixed, geographical definition. It is directed against an expansive “axis of evil” and a shadowy faction known as al-Qaida. Moreover, this war has been estimated to continue indefinitely (current estimates say at least 10 years).
This ambiguous, protracted crusade is an efficient way to fuel the hatred and fear necessary to justify the Bush administration's seize of power. With the winds of war behind him, and a 90 percent approval rating, Bush has hurdled the checks and balances of the other two governmental branches and has used “war” as an excuse to increase his dominance and serve his administration's interests — for example, finishing his dad's business in Iraq or squelching opposition to NAFTA and the WTO.
To rally the war cry, Bush spews monosyllabic propaganda, simplistically characterizing the terrorists' purpose to be to “attack our freedom,” and that those individuals and nations who oppose our policies are satanically “evil.” We, of course by contrast, are righteous and good. Disregard our past alliances with these “evil” regimes, our training and financing of radical Islamist terrorists, our forcible replacements of democracies with dictatorships or any instances of our past foreign policy that might be relevant to understanding why the United States is resented in many parts of the world.
Terrorism isn't what terrifies me. I fear fear itself. As a result of our nation's fear, our constitution is being desecrated, civil rights are being trampled, and our democratic nation is degenerating into a fascist regime. Disturbingly, it seems the only inaccuracy of Orwell's prescient book is that it was 17 years off.
Surely we must make some sacrifices in times of war, yet we must not sacrifice the very principles upon which the United States was founded. In the words of one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Matthew Brophy: ‘Bush creates Orwellian society’
© 2002, ‘Minnesota Daily’, September 27. Original of this work is on:
Machine-readable version: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2015-09-24
George Orwell and USA today: (1903–????)[Index page]