Tuesday, June 5, 2007

An Orwellian Direction

I’ve been reading a book called, Mao, The Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. If half of what this book says is true, then Mao was a power-hungry psychopath, surpassing Hitler and Stalin as the worst mass murderer in history. We on the left laugh about the ideological blindness of the right, but in the sixties and seventies many of us were equally blinded by the wall of propaganda emanating from China. Mao got a better press than Hitler and Stalin because he had much tighter control over Chinese society. Western visitors to China like Pierre Trudeau and Edgar Snow were bamboozled by the Chinese, partly because it is difficult for westerners to conceive of the vastness of the scale of deception.
During the “Great Leap Forward” Mao pursued a policy of crash industrialization, not in order to raise the Chinese standard of living but so that China could have modern weaponry, such as nuclear weapons. He paid for the weapons factories and foreign expertise by exporting food to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe knowing full well that China had no excess capacity. Every kilogram of grain he sent abroad deprived the Chinese peasants of food necessary for their survival. According to Chang and Halliday, thirty-eight million Chinese starved to death during the period between 1958 and 1961, the largest famine in history.

About ten years earlier a British journalist by the name of George Orwell wrote a prophetic book called nineteen eighty- four. It was a “dystopia” – a story about the world of the future gone horribly wrong. In it he predicted that communism and capitalism would become indistinguishable. The manipulation of people’s thoughts by propaganda would be perfected into a science. History would be continuously rewritten and revised to fit the latest propaganda campaigns. And all the countries in the world would be in a permanent state of war with each other.

Forty years ago I was depressed for weeks after reading Orwell’s book. At the time I consoled myself by the thought that it was unlikely to happen. When the year 1984 came and went and six years later the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin wall came down, it seemed a good reason to be optimistic.

More than twenty years after 1984, George W. Bush instituted a “War on Terror” – a war which fuels Islamic terrorism rather than quenching it. A war which, Bush himself admits has no end in sight. And the Bush White House has dragged the United States into a futile war in Iraq with the help of lies, misinformation, and a systematic bullying of dissent.

This is not the crude propaganda of the Soviet era. This is far more sophisticated . Misinformation is fed to the press anonymously – rumours that undermine opponents of the regime and false information that bolsters the administration’s case for war. People are prevented from informing the public about facts that conflict with the administration's version because the administration regularly classifies this information as secret.

Intelligent reports are watered down or exaggerated in order to support the government’s current policies. Not only has this led to bad decision making it has seriously undermined the democratic process. How can the U. S. function as a democracy when its citizens are prevented from knowing the truth? Supporters of the Iraq war like to say: “freedom isn’t free”. But if Americans are systematically lied to and kept from the truth they’ve already lost their freedom.

One could argue that Bush and Cheney are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the creation of millions of Iraqi refugees. Of course it doesn’t compare to the crimes of Mao.

I get a sense of deja-vu from Bush and Cheney. We’re not there yet. But doesn't it seem as if we are going in an Orwellian direction? And the farther we go in that direction the more possible it becomes for someone like Mao Tse- Tung to rise to power again.

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