Constant Warfare in 1984 and Today
Constant warfare forms an underlying tenet of dystopian society in 1984 by George Orwell. Orwell describes war in the past as having a defined enemy and eventually coming to an end.
He states that governments could not ignore physical facts, as war in the past provided ways to keep in touch with physical reality. However, for the author, the future hints at a new normal based on permanent war. As described in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emanuel Goldstein, “war is peace,” meaning “a peace that is truly permanent is the same as a permanent war” (Orwell 164). As long as Oceania remains at war, the enemy and the ally do not matter. “It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War… is now a purely internal affair” (Orwell 164).
When society engages in permanent war, the superstates of the world do not need to stay in touch with reality, military necessity no longer exists, and by becoming continuous, war ceases to be dangerous. According to the definition of permanent war in the future established by Goldstein, the United States and the world today display signs of venturing into a state of constant war. The central dogma of constant war and a slogan of the Party, “War is Peace,” conveys meaning and relevance to the world today. The true meaning, Goldstein explains, lies in the statement, “a peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war.” Current wars do not yet measure to the degree of permanence required to make a lasting peace, but some countries in the world inch closer to the meaning of the slogan every day. In Afghanistan, war affects its citizens daily.
The country remains in a fluctuating state of constant war, beginning in 1978 after the Soviet-Afghan war (Collins 25). An entire generation only remembers a perpetual state of war, and eventually the constant war becomes a staple in their daily lives. In Afghanistan, constant war moves towards mirroring constant peace. North Korea displays many of the characteristics described by Goldstein as well, representing another country in the world today that moves closer to the meaning of the Party slogan in 1984. Since the aftermath of the partition of Korea in 1948, Korea has been in a constant state of war with South Korea and the West, even though the two sides negotiated a cease-fire and a demilitarization zone exists between North and South Korea (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs). Generations of its citizens do not know a time when peace existed, so war for them means nearly the same thing as peace.
North Korea edges closer every day to a time when constant war means the same thing as constant peace. The War on Terror, declared after the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Centers represents another perpetual war with no definition of an ending. Dick Cheney, speaking on Meet the Press within five days of the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was on television proclaiming that the war against terrorism was “a long-term proposition,” the “kind of work that will take years” (Meet the Press With Dick Cheney). The attacks prompted the “War on Terror,” a fight against a tactic and idea, but not a true enemy. This leads the war to a new style of war when countries don’t define enemies or indicate what ends the war.
This war in the United States changes the meaning of war and leads to questions about a constant war against terror that will never come to an end. Emanuel Goldstein reveals the true purpose of permanent warfare in 1984 by stating that, “[w]ar, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair” (Orwell 164). It consumes surpluses and ensures respect for authority and placing of the government’s needs above the citizen’s own needs. This prediction for permanent warfare fails to ring true in today’s state of war. The United States considers warfare a driver of the economy.
Many oppose cuts to the defense budget each year because even small alterations may hurt the economy. Murray Rothbard, an economist, historian, and political theorist, said, “[i]t is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society” (Rothbard 347). Although this represents a biased view of government and politics, he outlines the concept of warfare and its impact on a country’s economy. In today’s society, warfare serves one of the purposes that Goldstein outlines in his description. It elevates respect for authority and encourages the citizens of the United States to put some interests of the government above their own, including the USA Patriot Act, enforced security at airports, and security checkpoints at major events, museums, and government offices. George Orwell also predicted that futuristic warfare would not require countries to stay in touch with reality.
His predictions from 1984 hold true in today’s world of warfare. Instead of combat fighting with armies of many men and weapons, countries fight wars from thousands of miles away with technology. Drones cause a loss of reality, and they have the capability to destroy entire cities at the push of a button. Warfare requires no physical strength, only technology and knowledge (Benjamin). Another aspect of modern day warfare that causes loss of reality exists within the thousands of men and women who serve in the U.
S. Military. In 1968, over 27 million veterans lived in American society. They made up 13 percent of the total population, and 47 percent of the adult male population. In contrast, currently 25 million veterans occupy American society, and they only compose 20 percent of the adult male population (Laurence; Veteran Population Projections). A large portion of society does not witness direct impacts of warfare in their daily life, and for many, warfare remains something from the past.
Current locations where the United States engages in conflict include Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Libya, Syria, and Egypt (Torreon; Casey-Maslen). However, none of the conflicts are located in the United States or even close by. For example, conflicts located in the Middle East span distances of seven thousand miles away. The absence of veterans within the country with an all volunteer army, the physical distance between conflict and the United States, and drones that kill at the touch of a button from thousands of miles away provide a gap that causes loss of reality in the United States. In 1984, Emanuel Goldstein argues that countries will no longer use the concept of military necessity to convince their citizens to undergo unfair treatment or difficult living conditions.
However, America does not accept this concept as a reality in current society. The government passes laws and bills through the concept of military necessity, arguing that even though something may have negative impacts, it benefits the country as a whole in fighting the war. The USA PATRIOT Act, which stands for Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act demonstrates the concept of military necessity and its prevalence in American laws. Passed on October 25, 2001, one month and five days after President Bush declared the “War on Terror,” it provided a means of breaching the privacy and security of American citizens (USA Patriot Act). The act passed 98 to 1 in the Senate and 357 to 66 in the House of Representatives (US Senate; US House).
Many supported the act because of its relation to fighting the “War on Terror” and believed it to be a matter of military necessity. Also related to the concept of military necessity, the US Department of Defense issues fiscal budgetary requests each year, asking for money from the government to spend on the military. In 2012, the request for $631 billion passed unanimously in the Senate, demonstrating willingness to give any amount of money to the military, because of wartime necessities (US Senate). Even though Emanuel Goldstein predicts that in the future, there will be “no such thing as military necessity” (Orwell 164), his prediction has yet to come true in the United States today. Military necessity remains a needed justification for support of America’s wars.
Though many of George Orwell’s predictions about the future of society and the current society in his dystopian novel 1984 do not reflect current states of affairs, some futuristic ideas have transformed into reality. Constant war occurs for other citizens in other nations across the world for generations. The United States population’s willingness to relinquish privacy because of war, spend billions of dollars on a defense budget for protecting the country, and use bombs and drones instead of soldiers and guns reflects a trend toward a state of constant war in the distant future. I predict that as time passes, more of Orwell’s predictions will convert to reality. The United States and other countries use war to their advantage.
People accept otherwise invasive measures. This research has made me more aware of my oblivion about wars going on and citizens and soldiers getting killed each day. As a solution to oppose the direction towards constant war the United States and other countries seem to head towards, I suggest paying close attention to current events and using the past as an indication of the future. George Orwell forms relevant facts about the future of our society today in 1984, warning about permanent war and its connection to permanent peace.