In George Orwell’s epic “1984,” the world in which Winston, the main character, finds himself exists in perpetual warfare. This, he later learns, is to keep the citizens of Oceania, the fictional nation in “1984,” patriotic and unquestioning of their government’s activities and secret objectives. The rationale and enemy continually change as well, but Oceania’s officials refuse to admit it, arguing instead that the new “truth” has always been the truth, no matter what was said a month, two months ago.
Recently, President George W. Bush sounded dangerously as if he is taking a page from Orwell’s book in his address to the nation. He stated that “we will take the fight to the enemy. We will not wait to be attacked again.” Terrorism and terrorists are the enemy in this ever-lasting war. As it seems clear that there will always remain people who dislike America and wish it harm, this war will never end. And that, it appears, is exactly how Bush and his Cabinet prefer it.
The speech seemed the perfect opportunity to offer hope of victory and to outline a clear strategy to return America’s brave soldiers home. Bush did nothing of the sort, instead once again, in Tim Russert’s words, “stalling for time.” I, along with most United States citizens, certainly hope it is not the case that our government is perpetrating perpetual war, but more and more it seems probable.
In the U.S. armed forces, it takes two to three months of basic training to transform a civilian into a soldier, ready for battle. For some reason or another, according to the latest reports, it will take two years to train Iraqis. Again, stalling for time.
Terrorism will not, as communism did in the late 1980s, simply crumble away from one-half of the world. Superpowers are always hated by some, namely because they are superpowers. Therefore the tactic of creating a “War on Terrorism” is just another way to discreetly place America in the position of a warfare state, which has traditionally aided the party in power, forever.
Bush also “officially redefined” the Iraqi conflict, Russert suggested during NBC’s post-speech coverage. The new “truth” is supposed to be accepted as gospel, and not questioned, else one risks the chance of becoming “unpatriotic.” How terrifically Orwellian of the White House.
The catch phrase of three years ago, when Bush was busily prepping the nation for war, was “weapons of mass destruction”; WMD for short. Not once did he mention those words, not once did he intimate that Saddam Hussein represented a threat to our security, or that we were within seconds of an attack if we did not remove him from power.
Instead, the war officially became about helping “Iraqis build a free nation that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.” If that is the U.S. mission, there are quite a few other places, in the Middle East even, which could conceivably become the location for our next invasion in our new perpetual war. (Saudi Arabia is markedly out of the question, of course, as it is difficult to imagine the president attacking a country whose leaders he is fond enough of to hold hands with.)
Additionally, Bush again attempted to make the connection between Iraq and 9-11 (which he mentioned five times); a connection which holds no solid ground.
The prospect is certainly a scary and chilling one. A war without end, complete with fluid and ever-changing rationales, is something that is supposed only to happen in story books. In Orwell’s “1984,” Winston is arrested for the crime of writing, and eventually ends up in Room 101. There, guards play on the prisoners’ greatest fears and try to gain a confession from them. In Iraq, we have had Abu Ghraib, our own version of Room 101, in which prisoners are taken without being told why, and guards use vicious dogs inches from their faces, humiliate them by stripping and posing them, to achieve certain goals. Guantanamo Bay is another of these modern-day Room 101’s.
The United States is by no means equivalent to Oceania as it stands today. However, there are certain trends taking place that make one somewhat cautious. Let us hope I am not arrested for a thought-crime.
Michael Rocque lives in Augusta.