Big Brother's Greatest American Hits
Big Brother’s Greatest American Hits
By Tony Palmeri
June 8th marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of 1984, George Orwell’s classic tale of life under brutal totalitarian rule. During the halcyon years of the old Soviet Union, American and Western European leaders praised the book because of the ease with which it could be interpreted as an indictment of the “Evil Empire.” Yet Orwell’s formulations of a “Ministry of Truth” indoctrinating the masses according to the principles of Big Brother’s “Party Line,” and doing it with “Newspeak” propaganda, were meant to be a warning about where the Western democracies were headed as much as a criticism of the Soviet state. Indeed, Orwell almost titled the book The Last Man in Europe.
Orwell’s fictional society found itself gripped in a permanent war economy that squandered resources in the interest of The Party’s evil elites. Via gentle persuasion or forceful coercion, citizens accepted the truth of three slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Those not fully brainwashed and dumbed down were pursued and prosecuted by the “Thought Police,” and persecuted in the “Ministry of Love.”
Even given the excesses of the Bush Administration, mind control in the United States never quite reached the totalitarian extremes envisaged by Orwell. But since 1949 we’ve certainly been a permanent war economy, as articulated most astutely by the late Seymour Melman. The squandering of resources in the name of “national security” has contributed to the debasement of our political language. Below are the top ten Orwellisms of the last 60 years. Corporate mass media have been complicit in the promotion of every single one.
10. Changing the name of the War Department to the “Department of Defense”: The name change actually took place two years before the publication of 1984, but that only provides evidence for the view that Orwell was in fact talking about the western democracies. When a government entity says it stands for “defense,” chances are good it intends to engage in aggressive war. Therefore we have “defended” ourselves in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq and other places since 1949. War is Peace.
9. Atoms For Peace: The title of President Eisenhower’s nuclear program. Author Catherine Collins describes it as a "nuclear Marshall Plan which would promote the safe and peaceful uses of atomic energy and at the same time monitor the use of it, so it couldn't be diverted to weapons programs." Collins and others have shown how the Atoms For Peace program was actually a public relations scheme designed to distract the world from hydrogen bomb testing in the Pacific. The Atoms For Peace program also increased nuclear proliferation, contributing to the development of weapons stockpiles in India, Pakistan, South Africa and Israel
8. Pacification: A term not invented by US war planners, but used during Vietnam. Pacification is the violent displacement of a defenseless civilian population, by aerial bombardment or other aggressive means.
7. Vietnamization: Also known as the “Nixon Doctrine.” Nixon’s strategy for withdrawal from Vietnam was to equip and train pro-US forces in the country as replacements for US troops. President Bush and now Obama are essentially following an “Iraqization” policy in that country.
6. The Vietnam Syndrome: The Vietnam Syndrome refers to the government’s belief that Americans had become “soft” after Vietnam and would no longer tolerate aggressive wars fought for no reason. The first Gulf War became a key test of whether the Vietnam Syndrome had been overcome.
5. Star Wars: The Reagan Administration’s name for the “Strategic Defense Initiative,” a space-based missile defense system. Clinton changed the name to “Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.” We’ll probably never have a full accounting of the billions spent on such programs.
4. Smart Bombs: Contrasted with “dumb” bombs, “smart” ones are precision guided and presumably end up killing fewer innocent civilians. “Smart bomb” language is used to downplay the human cost of war; we can “shock and awe” a population without killing it in substantial numbers.
3. Collateral Damage: Generally, the accidental killing of civilians during military strikes. Sometimes caused by smart bombs.
2. Humanitarian Intervention: Almost all US military action in other countries is now “humanitarian intervention.” If a civilian population must be pacified in the process, it is for their own good.
1. The USA PATRIOT Act: The classic Orwellism of the Bush era. Stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. When the Congress passed it (without reading it and with only Russ Feingold objecting in the Senate) in 2001, I had a student in class ask the perfect question: “who thinks up this crap?”
Thousands of other terms and phrases could have been listed along with the greatest hits mentioned above. What the ten have in common, however, is their largely uncritical use in the mainstream media. Big media have always been steady accomplices to the military-industrial-complex assault on language.
In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell wrote that “in our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” The same hold true today, probably and unfortunately much more so. For assistance in deciphering our Orwellian media, go to the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=SourceWatch