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Iraq: Roll Over, George Orwell
Published on Sunday, January 9, 2005 by
Iraq: Roll Over, George Orwell
by Bob Burnett

In "1984" George Orwell described a "Ministry of Truth," which operated a system of mind control, "Newspeak," used to keep the citizens of Oceania under the thumb of a totalitarian regime headed by the ubiquitous "Big Brother." The slogans of the Ministry were: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength."

It's not clear whether George W. Bush ever encountered 1984 - he often appears to have read only the Bible and "My Pet Goat" - but Orwell's ideas about mind control have found a home in the Bush Administration. This is a regime that delights in its own version of newspeak, "Bushspeak." Through its own Ministry of Truth, the Administration parades a series of illusions before an ever more gullible public; for example, the same George Bush who was asleep at the wheel before 9/11 and who responded to the threat of Al Qaeda by diverting our resources into a disastrous war in Iraq, is portrayed as a strong leader who will keep us safe; the Administration "balances" the budget by leaving out the cost of the war.

Make no mistake, Bushspeak is working: the 2004 Presidential exit polls revealed that Bush supporters believed that Iraq supported the 9/11 attacks (75%) and had weapons of mass destruction (73%). They saw the war in Iraq as directly connected to the war on terror, and they trusted President Bush to do the right thing to win. In a trenchant analysis in the New York Review of Books, UC Professor Mark Danner observed that in the election Bush voters, "faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted. They chose to disregard the facts."

Cloistered in the bookstores and coffee houses of Berkeley, it is easy for many of us to dismiss these Bush supporters as witless lemmings eager to follow their leader into the abyss. But their sheer numbers, more than 60 million, makes them impossible to ignore. More critically, our security is tied to theirs; whether we like it or not, we have a stake in the outcome of the war on terror - whether an American is "blue" and "red" may be important distinctions to us, but not to jihadis.

If we are to change the direction of the war in Iraq, take steps to increase our national security, it is vital that we understand the Orwellian system of mind control being used by the Bush Administration, that we dissect Bushspeak, the system that has convinced so many that "Freedom is Slavery."

Operating out of the White House, Karl Rove and Karen Hughes skillfully coordinate the Administration message. Once decided upon, a particular theme - for example, that the Iraqi elections must be held on January 30th - is relentlessly communicated through the network of conservative media outlets.

Many Bush supporters believe that we are winning the war on terrorism, despite objective evidence to the contrary, because they are told this daily by commentators such as radio's Rush Limbaugh and Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly. (The documentary, "Outfoxed," detailed the vital role that Fox News plays in disseminating Bushspeak.) Although Americans take pride in having a free press, the media has generally been content to pass on the official Bush version of the status of the Iraq war.

There are two reasons for this: the Administration has relentlessly bullied the press by, for example, denying critical access to all but the most "loyal" reporters. And, the situation in Iraq is so dangerous that most US correspondents can't get anywhere near the actual fighting; in September, a Wall Street Journal reporter, Farnaz Fassihi, complained from Baghdad that her life, "is like being under virtual house arrest, [I] can't look for stories, can't drive in anything but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news..."

The Bush version of the Ministry of Truth is constantly in attack mode, ready to pillory anyone who disagrees with the Administration, to question a critic's sanity, patriotism, and manhood; it is commonplace for decorated veterans, such as Max Cleland and John Kerry to be ridiculed by the President and his advisers - none of whom have ever been in battle - and described as cowards, appeasers, or collaborators with Osama bin Laden.

It's not unique in American politics to disparage your opponent; dreadful mud slinging has been a characteristic of American Politics since our first elections. What is different about the Bush Administration is the discipline and coordination that characterize their negative campaigns, and their understanding of how to play to fear. Bushspeak works because those in charge of the Ministry of Truth are skilled and believe that their ends justify any means.

The success of the Bush Ministry of Truth produced the paradoxical situation where, although a majority of Americans feel the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, they still expect George W. Bush to lead the nation to victory. Meanwhile, the rest of the world watches in astonishment as the US swirls slowly down the toilet. Of course, foreigners haven't fallen under the spell of Bushspeak, and therefore, don't understand our new mottos: "In George we trust," and "Ignorance is strength."

Bob Burnett is the former publisher of IN THESE TIMES and a Berkeley writer and activist.


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