Published on Friday, August 15, 2008 by the Bangor (Maine) Daily News
George Orwell, in his novel “1984,” described Oceania, a society in which the prime motivating force for controlling the populace was fear, both fear of its own government and its enemies. He wrote of continual war, of enemies so horrendous that the public was constrained to rigid compliance with its rulers in order to demonstrate its patriotism. Much of Orwell’s description is found again in the teachings of University of Chicago Professor Leo Strauss, who died in 1973.
Strauss’s political philosophy contains many subtle and not-so-subtle effects evident in the Bush administration’s activities since Sept. 11. And remarkably, taken as a whole, they resemble the fictional world of Oceania. For instance, there’s the perpetual political deception between rulers and ruled, a necessity according to Strauss. There’s the obsession with secrecy and the Machiavellian conviction that stability among the populace requires an external threat, that if no such threat exists one must be manufactured. John Foster Dulles fully understood this when he recommended that, “In order to bring a nation to support the burdens of great military establishments, it is necessary to create an emotional state akin to psychology. There must be the portrayal of external menace. This involves the development of a nation-hero, nation-villain ideology and the arousing of the population to a sense of sacrifice.”
Strauss and today’s neocons believe that our nation must maintain the appearance of continuous war. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, “This war may last for the rest of our lives.” The government can thus sustain a continued state of war hysteria to keep the population motivated. Through this creation and control of mass paranoia they can maintain an intense nationalism with complete loyalty and total subservience to the “national interest.”
Orwell described a “labyrinthine world of doublethink …” for instance, “to believe that democracy was impossible, and that the party was the guardian of democracy.”
Americans believe very deeply in the ideals that America stands for, will sacrifice their lives and those of their children when necessary to defend them. Yet at the same time, the neocons have convinced the public to believe that these ideals are impractical in dealing with the complexities of today’s world. To burden the federal government with our revered Constitution and its checks and balances would cripple it in its difficult fight against terrorism. We must, they say, sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve them.
The neocons, who have controlled the White House for the past seven years, have utilized Strauss and Orwell’s observations to provide a society much like that described in Orwell’s novel.
Oceania had an archenemy which the population was encouraged to fear and hate. In the novel this demonic figure was of Jewish heritage, but today’s “hated” figure is an Iranian leader named Ahmadinejad.
Our government and news media must keep painting him as a terrible threat, not only to Israel, but also to world peace. Our administration has distorted many of Ahmadinejad’s talks into violent threats, and the media has repeated them endlessly, making them seem truthful, just as Orwell described in his novel.
For instance, in a talk by our president in March 2006, “the threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace.”
Yet Ahmadinejad was actually calling for a regime change in Israel and the U.S. He was not threatening to physically “wipe Israel off the map.” His goal was to end the terrible oppression of the Palestinians. Common sense must reveal that, should Iran acquire nuclear weapons, bombing Israel would also destroy the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. And it would mean certain suicide for Iran.
This fostering of fear and hate among Americans is necessary in order to prepare our nation to go to war. It was carefully crafted prior to the invasion of Iraq and is now being used to stir up the blood of Americans for invading another country. This is the “continuous war” predicted by Orwell. When will we ever learn?
Eliot J. Chandler of Bangor is the author of “Ancient Sagadahoc,” a book on Maine history.