Sales of George Orwell’s “1984” are at their highest in many decades, following revelations of the US government listening in to our phone conversations in true “Big Brother” fashion.
I pity the federal employee who has been assigned my phone number – he must be bored out of his mind.
I was on a train in England sometime ago, with nowhere to go to escape the woman across from me who clearly was not interested in quietly reading like other well-behaved passengers (i.e. myself). She rather spent the entire two-and-a-half-hour journey calling her friends. Her inane chatter almost drove me mad! Whichever government employee keeps tabs on her might want to switch to tracking me – compared to hers, my life is far more interesting!
In the same week as the revelations hit the headlines, I did think of “1984”, one of the best books of the twentieth century, but it was for a completely different reason. I’m not going to read the book again. It’s one of the few novels I read twice but I prefer his “Burmese Days” and think that his most famous book “Animal Farm” was the most influential and perceptive book of the century.
However, “1984” has been on my mind.
The reason is the new de facto alliance between the United States and Al-Qaeda. Remember Al-Qaeda? Osama bin Laden? If you remember, they attacked us on September 11th, 2001, and killed about 3,000 Americans. The attack led to two major wars that killed even more Americans, plus Brits, French, etc. – not forgetting even more domestic casualties (“collateral damage”) in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you can remember even further back (Americans have notoriously short memories!) you will know that we actually armed Al-Qaeda in their war against the Russians (then the Soviet Union) back in the eighties. At that time, OBL was a “freedom fighter.” Then he became “Public Enemy #1;” now, of course, he’s dead.
But his organization lives on and is fighting against the Syrian regime of Bashir al-Assad, who is now “International Enemy #1” (unofficial title). And so are we. We fervently want to end his dastardly regime and replace it with another dastardly regime! Because that’s the way it works in that part of the world.
It gets more complex but I will try and simplify it for you.
Assad is an Alawite, a sect of Shia Islam. OBL and his not-so-friendly bunch of thugs are Sunnis, as are most Muslims. Assad is supported by Hizbullah, a Shiite terrorist organization in Lebanon that is in conflict with Israel – and Iran, which is ruled by Shiite nutters who don’t like us; or maybe they do, as they haven’t attacked us yet, whereas the Sunnis have!!!
Assad and the others are also supported by the Russians. Remember them? They were our enemies for over forty years during the Cold War. They are still our enemies but everybody is still hoping they return to democracy (return??? They’ve never been a democracy. Why should we expect them to embrace democracy now, especially when it’s not working any more in the West?).
This is all very reminiscent of “1984.” If you remember (and I’m going back 40 years here), there were three major powers and two of them were always in alliance against the other one. The problem was they kept changing sides. And when they did history had to be rewritten so that the people thought they had always been at war with the present enemy and in alliance with the other.
Sounds awfully like modern international alliances and wars, doesn’t it?
There’s another lesson from Orwell that’s applicable here. It’s found in “Animal Farm.”
For those unfamiliar with it, the book is a satire on communism. At the beginning, the animals rebel against Farmer Jones and take over the farm. The analogy is with Russia (Farmer Jones represents Czarist Russia; the animals the peasants who took over with the Bolshevik Revolution.) In time, the pigs start to resemble the Czar. In the final scene, when the animals look through the farm window, they see the pigs sitting at the table smoking cigars and drinking whisky.
In other words, revolutionary rulers end up being just like those they overthrew.
In the same way, when it comes to the Middle East, successive US Administrations looks like the last presidency and the one before that and the one before that . . .
Nothing changes and nothing is accomplished.
But they keep on having to take sides in every dispute and sometimes going to war.
And all for what?