In 1948, when George Orwell was writing 1984, he modeled his Big Brother government after Joseph Stalin’s regime in Russia. The oppressive Big Brother was always watching, always at war and always controlling the flow of information to the people of Oceania (England and the Americas).
Does this sound familiar to anyone out there? Well for those of us caught on the wrong side of the “You’re either for us or against us” fence, the Bush administration bears a striking resemblance to Big Brother.
Start with the Patriot Act. (Orwell would have loved the doublespeak quality of the name.) Patriots are in favor of being watched. Patriots have nothing to fear from our dearly beloved Big Brother/Bushies as long as we behave, post an American flag out front and do what we are told. Those that don’t follow the rules can be taken away, held without charges and questioned without representation. The Thought Police in 1984 employ this same type of governmental control over the people of Oceania.
The Homeland Security/Ministry of Love is there to protect us from the outside evils of the enemy, isn’t that right? We are supposed to feel safer, aren’t we? If it weren’t for Tom Ridge and his boys wouldn’t the evil enemies kill and destroy us? It is this type of fear that allows us to relinquish our rights for supposed safety. Oh, so we give up some of our freedoms, at least we are safe. As I recall we had a pretty good streak of being safe before 9/11. I can hear you out there already, “Those times were different. We weren’t targets of terrorist attacks then. We are now.” Just keep telling yourself that as we pour billions of dollars into “fighting terrorism” overseas as we sink deeper and deeper into debt here in the United States. As long as fear rules we can allow our infrastructure to deteriorate, we can allow big business to run amok, we can allow our environment to take a backseat to terrorism, and we can continue to pay more and more for all of those services that used to be part of our lives.
Fear also gives the Bush administration the right to attack Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction and then shift the war to one of ultimate good. We wanted to free the people of Iraq. We wanted to build a democratic nation in the Middle East. We needed to rid the world of a great evil.
In 1984 the government is constantly at war with shifting enemies. The people of Oceania begin to forget who the enemies are and who the allies are. The Bush administration has clearly delineated who is an enemy and who isn’t. This axis of evil has identified the good guys and the bad guys or has it? Where does France fall? How about Saudi Arabia? (Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from there.) Is anyone outside of the “Coalition of the Willing” an enemy. The lines get a bit blurry when we look beyond what the Bushies are telling us.
The one certainty is that we are going to be at war with evil for an undetermined length of time. Don’t worry; we have already adjusted to being at war. Unless you are in the military or have a loved one in Iraq, how has your life been changed by this war? I still go to work. I still take my children to school. I still do my patriotic duty and go shopping at Wal-Mart. For most Americans this war has little or no impact on our lives other than enduring the body count on the evening news. We really have entered into a situation where “War is Peace” (one of the three slogans of Big Brother).
The Bush administration has also restricted the free flow of information within our country. Mass media monopolies give us lots of flashy pseudo-news, but where is the substance beyond talking-heads ranting on both sides of the debate? News seems to be boiled down to sensationalized hysteria and not newsworthy. The Bushies have capitalized on this element of our culture more than any other administration. The use of the media during the Iraqi invasion was pure genius. Embedded journalists gladly gave up their ability to view the war objectively for the ability to ride along with the troops. It was a form of censorship the media seemed too dumb to notice and no one seemed to question because it made for great television.
When one looks deeper into the media relationship with the Bush administration, one begins to see how difficult getting information directly from the top really is. President Bush is reluctant to allow the press to question him directly, but he is always there with a grin and a wave for a photo op at his ranch looking the part of the everyman. These canned news items are easy to cover and provide the Bush administration just what it needs, the appearance of news without any real news. Orwell would have admired this aspect of the narrowing of the news. Big Brother narrows the news and narrows thought through newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Big Brother certainly has more direct power over the people than the Bush administration, but the areas of debate have been restricted and will continue to be.
At the end of 1984, Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, has been tortured by the Ministry of Love to the point that he agrees that 2 + 2= 5. He is then returned to the streets of London, not as a martyr but as a disciple of Big Brother. When Winston finally gives up his independence of thought and loves Big Brother he is killed and the novel ends. This bleak end to the novel is intended as a warning. We should never allow our government to gain too much power. We should never allow ourselves to be manipulated into unthinking drones swallowing whatever the government feeds us. We should never be satisfied with a government which places its own self-interest above ours.
Orwell would have been horrified by the policies of the Bush administration and so should we.