Tuesday, August 08, 2006

It Feels Like "1984"

Was George Orwell's political novel about the future prophetic?

Well, maybe "prophetic" isn't the word to use: perhaps perceptive might be better. There are no "telescreens" to monitor us in every room, and in every public place -- although there are many technological equivalents that can do the job as well, or better, than Orwell described. (For example, what might Orwell have done in his novel with the "eye in the sky" technology used for covert surveillance of crowds at major public events, such as a Super Bowl, or by some cities around the country; or the facial recognition software used in parallel with such covert systems?) There are no "thought police" -- at least, not on an official basis. (There is the "politically correct" element that attempts to redefine, and control, speech...) "Big Brother" -- the strong, silent, vigilant Leader -- is not watching us. For all his faults, President George W. Bush is not the Josef Stalin of his generation. (In fact, if President Bush were to be compared with a fictional political figure, Robert Heinlein's "Nehemiah Scudder" more nearly fits the bill than does Orwell's "Big Brother.")

Of course, on one level, 1984 described life in the Soviet Union under the dictatorship of Stalin. The attendance at indoctrination sessions, the rewriting of history, the atmosphere of fear and betrayal among the members of the "Party" in the novel all have deep connections to real events and experiences in that time and place. What prompts me to say now that it feels like 1984?

Oceania was at war with Eurasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.

My thoughts are probably triggered by the continuing "War on Terror"; and by the deepening conflict between the state of Israel and "Hizb' Allah" in Lebanon. I can't help but feel that we are not being told everything; we are only seeing and hearing those bits and pieces that are designed to engender in us an unquestioning support for our current foreign policy -- and for what feels very much like a preparation for an assault against Iran. Today, a report on the "FoxNews Channel" made reference to the "War on Terror" as "World War III"; and the comment that followed spoke about how such a war would essentially be without end.

Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.

Iran is undoubtedly guilty of providing the rockets being used by Hizb'Allah for their operations against Israel; and many other forms of support. An article at MSNBC.com (I've lost the link) mentioned that Hizb'Allah has received technical assistance from the North Koreans in the construction of their tunnel systems -- and, of course, the North Koreans are experts in tunneling. (How many people realize that the Korean War has never been formally ended; that we have what is, essentially, merely a 53-year old ceasefire?) We should not be blind to the connections; and I certainly understand the desire to "do" something.

What deeply concerns me is the way our society is changing to accommodate the demands of being in a perpetual state of warfare, as the "War on Terror" does not conform to what most of us imagine when it comes to trying to grasp the concept of war. For example, the news this morning showed Israeli tanks in Lebanon. According to the classic definition of war, the presence of a foreign military unit on the territory of another country without the express and uncoerced invitation of said country constitutes an invasion; and an invasion is an act of war. On the level of international law, the entry of Israeli tanks into Lebanon establishes a state of war between Israel and Lebanon, whether declared or undeclared. Yet Israel maintains it is not at war with Lebanon; it is, we are told (and it may very well be true) that Israel is acting in self-defense against Hizb'Allah -- in part, because Lebanon is unable to do so.

The transition from who we were, and how we viewed freedom and liberty, to what we must become in order to sustain the "War on Terror" is underway. When I recall that it was the state of permanent warfare that transformed the United States and Great Britain into becoming "Oceania" in 1984, I cannot help but wonder where we will arrive as the transition is completed...