Ministry of Truth: No enemies, war’s over!
Since November 4, 2008, our language has been undergoing a revolution. The terms we learned following the 9/11 attacks are no longer in vogue. Recently, Barack H. Obama declared that the people who killed Americans on 9/11 and continue to kill Americans are no longer “enemy combatants.” Moreover, my journalist colleague, Rich Galen, reports a recent memo from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) saying there is no War on Terror. If you want your budget approved by OMB ask, instead, for money to fund an “Overseas Contingency Operation.”
This sounds like The Ministry of Truth, one of the four ministries described in George Orwell’s novella Nineteen Eighty-Four. “Newspeak,” was the language decreed by the Ministry of Truth. Spoken in “Newspeak,” a negative term such as: “ward-heeler” (a worker for a corrupt political boss) might be transformed into the more positive: “community organizer.”
But George Orwell’s Animal Farm may be more germane to today’s political environment than Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Readers may recall that the leader of the barnyard animals in Animal Farm was Napoleon, who, like his namesake, Napoleon Bonaparte, was not actually born in the place he came to rule.
The animals even cry, “Napoleon is always right.” The animals go on to observe: “No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?”
According to Barnes & Noble’s sparknotes.com, “From the very beginning of Orwell’s novella, Napoleon emerges as an utterly corrupt opportunist. Though always present at the early meetings of the new state, Napoleon never makes a single contribution to the revolution—not to the formulation of its ideology, not to the bloody struggle that it necessitates, not to the new society’s initial attempts to establish itself. He never shows interest in the strength of the animal farm itself, only in the strength of his power over it."
Orwell goes on to observe: “It had become usual to give Napoleon the credit for every successful achievement and every stroke of good fortune. You would often hear one hen to remark to another, ‘Under the guidance of our Leader, Comrade Napoleon, I have laid five eggs in six days; or two cows, enjoying a drink at the pool, would exclaim: Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes.’”
Napoleon’s chief spinner was Squealer, who always put the best possible spin on Napoleon’s pronouncements. If the TelePrompTer had been invented in those days, Squealer would have polished Napoleon’s prose and posted it for Napoleon to read.
Both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eight-Four are considered to be light, bantering looks at the British society that surrounded George Orwell at the end of World War II. For a worldview that is not so light and bantering, read D. Keith Mano’s The Bridge, a novel that presents a world dominated by global environmental fascism. A world where the government ultimately promotes the extinction of the human race by enforced mass suicide, so as to “save” the environment.
For those who are not into reading and prefer movies, check out the movie “Soylent Green” in which the people who opt for government-assisted suicide are fed into a machine that turns them into Soylent Green Wafers. The wafers are used to feed the remaining population -- the ultimate in “green” recycling.
But if all the “Newspeak” coming out of Washington these days is too troubling, pick up a copy of Voltaire’s Candide, the story of a very nice person who thinks everyone is as nice as he is. But after encountering more than his share of mean and evil people, Candide retires to his garden -- the same kind of emotional garden into which the Republican Party seems to be retreating until the 2012 elections.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton is a former assistant professor of political science and history at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
©2009. William Hamilton.