The Orwellian Paradigm: Killing You, For Your Own Safety
2013-04-16 0:00

By Faisal Moghul | AntiWar

Almost thirty years ago, cultural critic Neil Postman argued in Amusing Ourselves to Death that television’s gradual replacement of the printing press has created a dumbed-down culture driven by mindless entertainment. In this context, Postman claimed that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World correctly foresaw our dystopian future, as opposed to George Orwell’s 1984.

Contrary to Postman’s critique, however, the principles of Newspeak and doublethink dominate modern political discourse. Their widespread use is a testament to Orwell’s profound insight into how language can be manipulated to restrict human thought.


Formulating the Language of Perpetual WarFrom AUMF to “Associates of Associates.”

The semantic deception began shortly after September 11, 2001. “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” Bush said in his State of the Union address, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated (emphasis added).”

The defining feature of this rhetoric is that it declares war on a particular method of violence used by disaffected states or groups. In fact, the phrase “war on terror” functions as what semiotics calls a floating signifier, a term devoid of any real meaning and thus open to any interpretation.

Terrorism has no shape, mass, or boundary; it is an abstraction, a tactic of asymmetrical warfare used to achieve political goals. Imagine if Franklin D. Roosevelt had declared “war on surprise attacks” in the wake Pearl Harbor, or if Lyndon Johnson had vowed to defeat guerilla warfare in Vietnam. This linguistic construct, therefore, ensures an open-ended conflict with no conceivable end.

Unperturbed by this paradox, British Prime Minister Tony Blair dutifully reiterated that, “the fact is we are at war with terrorism.” But the bombing sorties over Afghanistan had barely begun when the label morphed into “The Long War,” and then the “decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation.” And now, the targeted killings program has been “extended to militant groups” with no connection to September 11, 2001 – that is, “associates of associates.” Removing the requirement for any linkage to al-Qaeda gives the government unfettered discretion to assassinate anyone without due process of law.

This phraseology makes it impossible to distinguish the dialectical concepts of war and peace. It makes peace synonymous with a state of warfare. Peace is defined in terms of a generational commitment to war and, in turn, war is framed as a necessity to keep the peace. In other words, War is Peace.

This is the lexicon of perpetual war, the vocabulary of a conflict that is never meant to end. “You can’t end the war,” as one official admits to the Washington Post, “if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy.”

Aggression is Self-Defense –Waging Full Scale War to Prevent War.

Operation Iraqi Freedom represented phase two in a linguistic framework meant to fuse two diametrically opposite concepts in the public mind: preemption and prevention.

The purpose of preemptive war is to thwart or neutralize an imminent attack – one that is “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation” – without absorbing the first blow. Conversely, preventive war is pure aggression – it is not tied to any notion of imminence and is primarily directed at securing some strategic advantage. Thus, the dimension of time is the primary difference between the former and the latter.

The Bush Doctrine blurred the lines between preventive and preemptive wars. It represented a seismic shift in national security strategy from one dominated by the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment, to one that now enshrined preventive war as a permanent feature of US policy. During his 2002 commencement speech at West Point, Bush stated:

“If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long…Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge…” (emphasis added).”

Furthermore, the 2006 US National Security Strategy Paper states that “If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack (emphasis added). In true Newspeak fashion, such a conception of “preemptive action” inverts the traditional model of self-defense under customary international law by rendering imminence completely irrelevant. In doing so, it strips self-defense of any practical meaning. It conflates preventive war with preemptive war; it packages aggression as self-defense.

But as Cheney’s one-percent doctrine later revealed, the threat need not even be likely, let alone imminent, for self-defense (read aggression) to apply. According to this logic, even a one percent chance of an event occurring is sufficient to treat it as a certainty. “It’s not about our analysis,” Cheney reportedly said, “…It’s about our response (emphasis added).” Put simply, the likelihood of an event occurring is not a necessary prerequisite to wage war. This embeds the supreme international crime of aggressive war in the fabric of national security policy. Aggression is self-defense, Winston.


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