Trumping Orwell

By Richard Franklin

Bush and Ashcroft have fashioned a language that sometimes trumps
Orwell's Newspeak. Take the case of Jose Padilla. He apparently once shot the breeze with some allegedly bad guys about what kind of sabotage one might engage in on American shores.

It's my impression this talk was not unlike what I heard in many bars and taverns frequented by counter culture students during the Vietnam War. They would speculate on how much fun it would be to blow up the draft board building, or the Marine recruiting office, or the local FBI office. These were almost invariably alcohol-fed fantasies of angry young antiwar students. During the Clinton years, there were many of us who had fantasies about what we would like to do to the violent and corrupt Bubba.

In Orwell's Oceania, even fantasizing such acts would constitute "crimethink." In Bush-speak, casual bar talk can constitute a conspiracy to commit an act of "terrorism," a nebulous catch-all crime. There isn't a shred of evidence Padilla was ever involved in planning to locate, acquire, and detonate a so-called dirty bomb in D.C.

Pronounced guilty of crimethink (i.e. Bushthink), Padilla was surrounded by armed federal agents, cuffed, and transported to a secret jail. It was said he had been "detained."

Detained: this does not mean being charged with any crime, arrested, or imprisoned. It merely means one has been cuffed and tossed into a secret cell where one is to be kept incommunicado for an indefinite period of time without being charged with any crime other than "crimethink," another Orwellian crime.

Detainee: this does not mean "prisoner" or one who has been incarcerated. It does mean one has no rights whatsoever. One can be "detained" for life without being charged or being brought to trial. Since the "detainee" in this case was turned over to the military, he has no right to a trial, no right to an attorney, no right to seek a writ of habeas corpus, no right to communicate with anybody. In short, all rights normally assigned to American citizens are inoperative once one becomes a "detainee," especially after the feds have turned over the "detainee" to the military.

During a despotic and bloody period of military rule in Argentina, thousands of people "disappeared." Suddenly we now have "disappeareds" in the land of the free. Apparently Bush considers it vital that many of them stay disappeared. He refuses to sign the proposed international convention on torture because it would mean foreign observers could visit and speak to Bush's hidden prisoners.

Russ Feingold stood alone when he said the Patriot Act had a bad smell to it. I wonder if any other senators have finally began to get wind of the growing stench.

Ashcroft tells us we have to stop thinking in our old ways (Orwell's "oldthink"?). We have to adopt new ways of looking at civil liberties (Orwell's "newthink"?) and other annoying impediments to "homeland security" (another term with a slightly Orwellian feel to it).

Doublethink: this Orwellian term is so common, you will find it any good dictionary. This refers to a method of thought in which one holds two completely contradictory thoughts simultaneously. For example: some people who are locked up in prisons are prisoners and some are not prisoners. Many of the best examples can be found among the drug warriors, who have created a whole glossary of doublethink items.

Goodthinker: Orwell's term for those in Oceania who had fervently embraced all the principles and dictates of the existing state. Ashcroft has suggested that all those who disagree with his programs or attack the Patriot Act are unpatriotic. In short, they are not "goodthinkers."

Hate Week: Orwell's term for the annual celebration during which Oceania's citizens are whipped into a patriotic frenzy with flag waving, military parades, and endless oratory -- all directed toward inflaming hatred toward those persons or groups who have been designated as enemies of Oceania or who have failed to engage in goodthinking.

Malreporting: if a newspaper slips up and prints the truth about misdeeds of the state, the citizenry are assured the newspaper simply made a mistake in reporting the facts. It has malreported. Oceania's Ministry of Truth simply fixed this by giving the populace the correct facts. Simple and effective.

Newspeak: it would take several pages to analyze Newspeak. Suffice it to say that it was designed by the rulers of Oceania to severely limit the scope of thought citizens might have. Words that might make a person think about what X really was were slowly eliminated from language and replaced with Newspeak terms. The term "forced labor camps," for example, makes one think about what they really are, so this term was slowly erased from the language and was replaced with "joycamps." It's clear Bush has chosen to use the term "detainee" to turn people's thoughts away from what is really going on.

If you have strong memories of the Vietnam War, you will remember we were inundated with ingeniously coined Newspeak in government reports and press conferences. I collected a huge file of these coinages and even considered writing a book on the subject of Vietnam War Newspeak.

I love to get feedback, and I would be doubly delighted if you would send me examples of Orwellian language you encounter in the media. Perhaps we can put together a war-on-terrorism Newspeak dictionary.


TRUE DEMOCRACY Summer 2002 Copyright © 2002 by News Source, Inc.