Opinion: George Orwell and the beginnings of industrial propaganda

Everyone needs to read “1984.”

  • By Jerry Smetzer
  • Friday, January 7, 2022 12:57pm
  • Opinion

Jan. 6, 2022 was the first anniversary of the insurrectionist attempt to take over the Capitol buildings and governing processes of the United States of America in Washington,, D.C. I think it is time for a review of some relevant literature.

A recent post on Facebook suggests that everyone needs to read George Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984.” The author of that FB post tends to lean hard right politically. I, on the other hand, tend to lean hard left. However, I absolutely agree that everyone needs to read “1984.” “1984” is a fictional work about, in part, a future political leader of a nation who maintains his power and authority over government by controlling media sources and by dominating media access and content. The foundation of his power is in three fundamental rules of media: 1.) WAR IS PEACE; 2.) FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; 3.) IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. These rules are enforced by 4 top level “Ministries” through their uniformed and armed enforcers known as the “Thought Police.” The four “Ministries” for enforcement are: PEACE, PLENTY, TRUTH and LOVE.

The most important person in the “1984” “nation” known as OCEANA, is the leader, BIG BROTHER. He is the only face of OCEANA’s government in a media environment dominated by him and devoted to speaking and static images of him in all of OCEANA’s media outlets.

The author’s given reason for his recent FB post is that these things might have already happened. My response would be that “these things” already happened in Germany in the 1920s. In that time a young itinerant Austrian painter and wounded veteran of World War I, Adolph Hitler, published a book in German with the title: “Mein Kampf.” The title translates to “My Struggle” in English. Though so poorly written as to be almost unreadable, most scholars of the history of the period – no matter their politics – call the book the bible of a then new political party in Germany and Austria formed around grievances against the government that lost WW1. The organizers called themselves the National Socialist Party. This party became more well known to the world in the 1930s and ‘40s as the Nazi Party.

The author of “Mein Kampf” went on to become Fuhrer (“Leader” in English) of the German government. Though Hitler never won a national election, he did win the approval for his new Fuhrer role by the aging German President Hindenburg through a legal technicality in 1932. Fifteen years later, in the spring of 1945, the German nation lay in ruins.

The German “Fuhrer,”his propaganda minister and several others committed suicide in order to escape the invading Russian armies from the east closing in on their underground bunkers located deep beneath a residential neighborhood in Berlin. In the west Allied armies led by 5 star U.S. Army General Dwight David Eisenhower, as commander of the Allies and all United States military forces, were also approaching and were then within a few miles of the German Capital.

“1984” was assigned reading in my college in the late 1960s. I have always valued the novel for Orwell’s clear and logical demonstration of how the elements in the technology and artistry of modern print and electronic media can be linked, organized and – assuming abundant industrial financing – made into a national system of propaganda; … a propaganda that can be made to quickly corrode democracy for the sole purpose of enabling ultimate and eventual control of a nation’s politics and government by the image of a single strong man.

Jerry Smetzer is a longtime resident of Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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