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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Happy New Year: It's 1984
Bush's Orwellian Address

by Jacob Levich
September 22, 2001

Seventeen years later than expected, 1984 has arrived. In his address to 
Congress Thursday, George Bush effectively declared permanent war -- war 
without temporal or geographic limits; war without clear goals; war 
against a vaguely defined and constantly shifting enemy. Today it's 
Al-Qaida; tomorrow it may be Afghanistan; next year, it could be Iraq or 
Cuba or Chechnya.

No one who was forced to read 1984 in high school could fail to hear a 
faint bell tinkling. In George Orwell's dreary classic, the totalitarian 
state of Oceania is perpetually at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia. 
Although the enemy changes periodically, the war is permanent; its true 
purpose is to control dissent and sustain dictatorship by nurturing 
popular fear and hatred.

The permanent war undergirds every aspect of Big Brother's authoritarian 
program, excusing censorship, propaganda, secret police, and privation. In
other words, it's terribly convenient.

And conveniently terrible. Bush's alarming speech pointed to a shadowy 
enemy that lurks in more 60 countries, including the US. He announced a 
policy of using maximum force against any individuals or nations he 
designates as our enemies, without color of international law, due process,
or democratic debate.

He explicitly warned that much of the war will be conducted in secret. He 
rejected negotiation as a tool of diplomacy. He announced starkly that any
country that doesn't knuckle under to US demands will be regarded as an 
enemy. He heralded the creation of a powerful new cabinet-level police 
agency called the "Office of Homeland Security." Orwell couldn't have 
named it better.

By turns folksy ("Ya know what?") and chillingly bellicose ("Either you 
are with us, or you are with the terrorists"), Bush stepped comfortably 
into the role of Big Brother, who needs to be loved as well as feared. 
Meanwhile, his administration acted swiftly to realize the governing 
principles of Oceania:

WAR IS PEACE. A reckless war that will likely bring about a deadly cycle 
of retaliation is being sold to us as the means to guarantee our safety. 
Meanwhile, we've been instructed to accept the permanent war as a fact of 
daily life. As the inevitable slaughter of innocents unfolds overseas, we 
are to "live our lives and hug our children."

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. "Freedom itself is under attack," Bush said, and he's 
right. Americans are about to lose many of their most cherished liberties 
in a frenzy of paranoid legislation. The government proposes to tap our 
phones, read our email and seize our credit card records without court 
order. It seeks authority to detain and deport immigrants without cause or
trial. It proposes to use foreign agents to spy on American citizens. To 
save freedom, the warmongers intend to destroy it.

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. America's "new war" against terrorism will be 
fought with unprecedented secrecy, including heavy press restrictions not 
seen for years, the Pentagon has advised. Meanwhile, the sorry history of 
American imperialism -- collaboration with terrorists, bloody proxy wars 
against civilians, forcible replacement of democratic governments with 
corrupt dictatorships -- is strictly off-limits to mainstream media. Lest 
it weaken our resolve, we are not to be allowed to understand the reasons 
underlying the horrifying crimes of September 11.

The defining speech of Bush's presidency points toward an Orwellian future
of endless war, expedient lies, and ubiquitous social control. But unlike 
1984's doomed protagonist, we've still got plenty of space to maneuver and
plenty of ways to resist.

It's time to speak and to act. It falls on us now to take to the streets, 
bearing a clear message for the warmongers: We don't love Big Brother.

Jacob Levich ( is an writer, editor, and activist 
living in Queens, New York.