As I Please

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 and Nineteen Eighty-Four

As we remember the terrible events of five years ago today, we should pause to reflect that different people will invoke memories for different reasons. Up to now I have made no references to George Orwell other than in my first post, but I think today it is appropriate to do so, particularly in regards to his most famous novel, the dystopian satire (that it is a satire should not be forgotten) Nineteen Eighty-Four. Why do I refer to that novel? Because I believe that because among its many important insights, it gives us insight into the way war can be used by government to manipulate a country's population, particularly a war whose outcome or time of ending remains undetermined. In the novel the three great totalitarian world powers Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia are at apparently perpetual war with one another over the rest of the world not under their rule i.e. the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, southern India, Indonesia, and northern Australia. The fact that the war is apparently without end means that the civilian populations of each of the three superstates are under a condition of perpetual mobilization i.e. rationing, surveillance, suspension of civil liberties etc. so the state maintains its hold on absolute power on the basis of being at war.
Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon we apparently have a new kind of war apparently without end, the "War on Terror". Fighting terrorism is far more suitable to being made into a perpetual war because terrorists are not a conventional threat, they do not operate in the open as a military force but in the shadows until they strike, and so even when and where they are not apparently a clear and present threat they can be said to be, because after all they are a hidden enemy that may stay hidden for a long time, so it is argued a country's population, particularly one a section of which has been attacked, must be on constant guard, if not official alert, be prepared to give up some of their civil liberties or condone them being taken away from others suspected of being terrorists. And in the process by keeping a population in constant fear of being attacked, a government is able to maintain its hold on power. Just as the totalitarians of Orwell's novel were able to maintain their power by means of an apparently perpetual condition of war, so the neoconservatives of the United States, most of all those who make up the Bush administration, have so far been able to do so by means of what they have said will be a war that will last for a very long time. The threat of terrorism is real, but it will not be defeated by military means but by the means the Western Europeans used to defeat their own domestic terrorist threat in the 1970s, e.g. the Baader-Meinhof Gang and Red Brigades, through concerted intelligence, police, and special forces work. How many Americans realize this?
In his farewell message to the nation on 17 January 1961 Pres. Dwight Eisenhower warned of the danger of the "military-industrial complex", the first time that term was ever publicly used. Its participation in the "war on terror" is undeniable. Eisenhower midway through his great address said, "Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together." So far I am afraid the great majority of Americans have been neither alert nor knowledgable in the ways that matter regarding the threat of terrorism or of the one Eisenhower revealed. We should remember the victims and true heroes (the firemen and police and other rescuers who went into the collapsing WTC, the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93) of 9/11 but we should also remember the ways that event was and continues to be exploited by those in power.


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