By John Kendall Hawkins
"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.
- O'Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four
Just over seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock'em-sock'em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam -- held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell's dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces -- Oceania and Eastasia -- have gone from Cold to Hot.
Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn't felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage -- telling Gorby to "tear down that [Berlin] wall," touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan's flippant words ("the bombing begins in five minutes") put the Soviets on edge -- and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).
But it wasn't all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump -- Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached Das Kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese -- and borschtroot -- and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.
Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation -- the president ("Fake News"), the MSM ("Putin's Puppet"), the People ("they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn't tell the difference"). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump's 2017 Inauguration, "US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller."
Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the "'largest audience to ever witness an inauguration -- period -- both in person and around the globe.'" It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with "alternative facts." Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey's citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the "doublethink" gobbledygook of Orwell's totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.
Like Dorian Lynskey's previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell's masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).
In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell's creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces "the political and cultural life" of the novel, from Orwell's death to Trump's Inauguration. The point being, to show that Orwell's presence is still relevant, even among the impressive millennials.
Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. "The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would," Lynskey writes, "but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him." He'd come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil -- writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness -- but "[w]hat he found was 'a bad copy of 1914-18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.'"
Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered "that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right." However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes,
Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.
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