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IS IT 1984 YET? part 2
by Joseph Miranda
WAR IS PEACE
In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Oceania is fighting a global war against the rival superstates of Eurasia and/or Eastasia (the enemy changes with casual frequency). It turns out that despite the telescreens proclaiming great battles and even greater victories, the war is largely a fraud, fought by a small number of professionals for limited goals. None of Nineteen Eighty-Four's superpowers is strong enough to conquer another, and that, in any event, there is no economic reason to win a total victory. Instead, what has developed is a situation wherein the ruling class exploits the public perception of enemy aggression to increase its own power. In war, Orwell points out, it appears natural to the majority of people to give the government extreme powers in order to save the day. This is based on the supposition that such grants of power are temporary and will be rescinded when the war ends.(17) But in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the war is never-ending and thus government repression becomes a permanent state of affairs. This is the situation the United States finds is in today with the "War on Drugs." (I use quotation marks because this "war" is, like Oceania's, functions essentially as a propaganda show designed to enhance the power of the ruling class.)
Consider the international situation the United States finds itself in as the 20th century closes out. The Soviet Union, which was the major threat to the Free World for the better part of the 20th century, is no more. The other threat, that of a militant Third World challenger, was blown to pieces by the US-led Coalition victory in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. It is now apparent that the West is dominant in the world. Logically, the various restrictions on freedoms which grew up in the Cold War era, such as the extensive classification of documents and extensive security regulations on federal employees, should be dropped. But no ruling class ever give up its power voluntarily. What has happened has been that the government has designated a variety of social and economic problems‹health care, energy shortages, crime‹as "national security threats" and given itself increased powers to deal with them. (18)
The most prominent example of this process has been the "war on drugs." Americans are told that drugs are invading the country, subverting young people, initiating a wave of crime and terrorism, undermining industrial efficiency, generating poverty, raising health care costs, and so forth. In response, the government must fight a "war" against drugs, and in so doing, take extraordinary measures, which means, in practice, tearing up the Bill of Rights. (19)
Consider some of the elements of the "war on drugs"‹the formation of paramilitary police forces; the implementation of DARE type programs encouraging children to inform on their parents (an interesting comment on a government which talks about "family values"); co-option of medical authorities to declare people unfit and mandate attendance in rehabilitation programs; the kidnapping of foreign nationals for alleged crimes; and the occasional death squad type killing of citizens who get in the way of drug enforcement operations. (20) The ultimate goal of the war on drugs‹to make the United States "drug free"‹echoes the Nazi objective of a "Judenfrei" Germany.
At the same time Americans were expressing their collective horror at Nazi concentration camps, as exposed in Steven Spielberg's motion picture Schindler's List, the government proudly announced the construction of even more boot camps for non-violent offenders. Boot camps are, of course, America's concentration camps, places where those who were arrested for daring to defy the state will be sent en masse (the original Nazi concentration camps were, in fact, originally conceived as detention centers which would reform asocial and radical persons via a regime of strict discipline; the mass murders in the camps would only come later, in the Second World War). The entire machinery of the totalitarian state has been, in effect, implemented in America as a result of the "war on drugs."
But despite all the military-style policy statements, nowhere has there been a real mobilization for a "war" against drugs. The Department of Defense has estimated that it would take a number of military units far in excess of the entire active duty US armed forces to perform successful interdiction of America's borders against the drug trade. (21) Yet the federal government has deployed only a few thousand law enforcement and armed forces personnel to fight drugs abroad. The majority of smuggled drugs get through, and drug use continues unabated. Why the deception?
The purpose of the US "war on drugs" is not, as stated, to make America drug free. Prohibition, historically, always fails‹and fails miserably. The type of military effort which it would take to even begin to make a dent in the world's production of drugs would easily bankrupt the United States. It is helpful to pull out a world map and look at the sheer size of the world's coca, cannabis, and poppy producing regions‹the Andean tier of South America, Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, much of the United States itself. It would take literally millions of troops to occupy them (compare these regions in size with Vietnam, where half a million US troops failed to control the countryside). A real war on drugs would require a restoration of military conscription in America and tens of thousands of casualties. The US would be force to fight against the guerrilla warfare that drug producing peoples routinely practice to defend their crops in Colombia and Peru and Afghanistan and Thailand. Unlike Saddam Hussein, the drug lords will not conveniently march their armies into a compact formation in the middle of a desert where they can be blown to pieces by American airpower. Certainly the US experiences in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia indicate that prolonged guerrilla warfare would be political suicide for the American government. A real war would lead to real casualties, massive anti-war agitation, social disorder, and even the collapse of the government itself.
The genius of the US "war on drugs" is that there is no chance of the government ever losing or winning. The government has precisely what it needs, a war which need only be fought. Since the war is being fought primarily as a propaganda exercise, the government can manage its course in toto. The state of emergency becomes permanent and governmental powers can increase forever. And since no real war is being fought, there is need to raise taxes or conscript young men and women to fight abroad. The amount of social disruption which would otherwise be caused by war remains at a minimum. Indeed, the "war on drugs" has proven quite useful as a means to control what might become an otherwise radicalized underclass in American cities via massive arrests and police harassment. At the same time, the average citizen, by taking their drug test and turning in their neighbor who might be using illegal drugs, can be part of the national struggle against the drug menace.
Orwell states in Nineteen Eighty-Four that "War is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is to keep society intact." (22) Given that the proponents of the "war on drugs" have stated that defending American society‹i.e., a society in which the managerial elite have a monopoly of power‹is their goal, we can see that Orwell's world has truly come into its own. Since the war on drugs can neither be won nor lost, the state of war is now permanent. As America closes out the 20th century, its national strategy has truly become "War is Peace."
Nineteen Eighty-Four ends on a suitably pessimistic note with Winston Smith broken by the state and proclaiming his love of Big Brother. "The End" are the last words of the novel, proclaiming this is finis for freedom.
Or is it? Orwell added a long afterword to Nineteen Eighty-Four explaining the principles of Newspeak, the Party's official language. But there is a little more to this afterword than a commentary on the abuse of language by modern elites. Here, Orwell gives the answer to the totalitarian ideology. But to understand it, we must backtrack a bit.
When in the custody of the Thought Police in the Ministry of Love, Winston had been told by O'Brien that the Party's rule is forever. Now at this point readers are usually inclined to take umbrage and say, as Winston does, that eventually the forces of freedom will win. This is a nice thought, but one which does not reflect reality. After all, freedom has existed in only a few brief periods in human history, and there is no indication that the forces of totalitarianism now at work in the United States are planning to give up their power voluntarily. Orwell himself recognized this, and wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a warning of what could happen in the democratic states of the West. In a press release dated June 15, 1949 for the book, Orwell writes, "Don't let it happen. It depends on you." (23)
But despite all its apparent strength, the omnipotent state has its vulnerabilities. The first its physical‹when confronted by a foe who refuses to play by their rules, totalitarian ruling classes are at a loss. The determined resistance of insurgents in places like Afghanistan, and the power of ideas about freedom in Eastern Europe, were enough to bring the entire machinery of the Soviet Union crashing down.
In order for the state's media-generated wars to work, there has to be no real enemy. But when there is an enemy who will not be buffaloed by state propaganda it is another matter. A good example is what happened in the New World Order's confrontation with the people of Somalia. The Somalis, with their traditional independent clan politics, their guns, and, yes, their drugs (the much ballyhooed khat) fought the combined forces of the United Nations to standstill. A real war, unlike the phony wars television promotes, is that dose of reality which brings the system to a halt. The sight of their soldiers coming back in bodybags was enough to make most Americans call for an end to intervention in Somalia. The Somalis could not be conquered because they valued their own freedom above all and were willing to fight for it.
Similarly, we can look at the rise of the militia movement in the United States during the mid-1990s. The militia is, to a large degree, a mass based armed political movement. It will not go away simply by turning the television off. The militias have stalemated the American government because the militia has posed force, or at least the threat of force, against the state. For the government to crush the militia would require the equivalent of a major counterinsurgency war, but, as demonstrated, such an action would unleash the social forces which would bring the government itself down.
On another resistance front are the various cybernetics freedom advocates. What makes these cybernetic groups so effective is that they dominate the computer communications network. If control of the means of production determined the power base in the industrial age, then control of the means of information will determine the power base in the approaching information age. This can be seen in the attempts of the government to gain control of the Internet via blatantly unconstitutional bills like the Communications Decency Act. The fact that cybernetic activists have rallied to the cause of freedom should be seen as a positive sign. The growth of encryption is also frustrating the state's war on internet freedom. While television may be the great managerial propaganda front, the internet still is free.
Like any political struggle, the ultimate arbiter will be the victor in the battle of ideas. The problem is recognizing the real issue here. Too frequently, Americans become bogged down in the single issues‹gun control, censorship, drug policy, health care, cybernetics freedom, and so forth. But the real issue is FREEDOM. If Americans hope to break the onrushing tide of repression then they must actively promote liberty as the central value. Quite fortunately there is a guide to this struggle. At the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four's appendix, Orwell himself quotes a selection from the United States Declaration of Independence‹
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." (24)
Orwell states that this passage would be impossible to translate into Newspeak. Exactly. It is impossible for our modern managerial elite to recognize any of Jefferson's words because what the Declaration is saying is diametrically opposed to their political values.
Americans often forget how revolutionary the United States Declaration of Independence really is. Liberty is an unalienable right which all people are entitled to. It is the individual, not the government, who is to determine what his or her own values are. And when the government usurps the people's rights and infringes on their liberties, then that government is no longer legitimate and the people have the right and duty to rebel. The struggle must be placed in terms of individuals fighting for freedom against the monolithic state.
This is something to think about as the 21st century approaches.