It is highly significant therefore that,
Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid which appeared to take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester. He did not remember the raid itself, but he did remember his father's hand clutching his own as they hurried down, down, down into some place deep in the earth, round and round a spiral staircase which rang under his feet and which finally so wearied his legs that he began whimpering and they had to stop and rest. His mother, in her slow, dreamy way, was following a long way behind them. She was carrying his baby sister -- or perhaps it was only a bundle of blankets that she was carrying: he was not certain whether his sister had been born then."
So completely natural has war become in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that Winston cannot even definitely remember if there ever was a time of peace. He only theorizes that such a time must have existed based upon a vague childhood memory of a surprise nuclear attack. Presumably, in time of war, the State's early warning systems would have been fully functioning. More frightening still, is the haziness of his memory regarding his sister. The State and its concerns - war and obedience - take precedence over even the natural affections of family life. Unable to remember whether his sister had yet been born, he merely surmises that she might have because his mother was carrying something that looked like it could have been a baby.
Obedience was the next pillar of the authoritarian state. In the situation of 1949, George Orwell could already see it casting its suffocating pall over both the "free" and unfree worlds. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had both been built upon this principle, and at Nuremberg in 1946, the Allied judges had declared that "I was just following orders" was no excuse for the commission of the most heinous of crimes. The court put forth the idea of a universal morality to which all human beings were subject, and which no government might overrule. Of course, Stalin's Russia paid no heed to such ideas. There the State was and always had been supreme ever since the Revolution. But in the West, righteousness had triumphed...at least as long as one did not look too closely. No doubt, Orwell remarked upon the blind obedience demanded of citizens of the defunct Third Reich, and applauded the court's decision. Surely, he wished that Stalin and his henchmen might also be tried and punished for the terrible purges, and the gulags, and all the other horrors of Soviet repression. But it is certain too, that Orwell noted in the court's decision a dangerous precedent. For one court comprised wholly of a group of nations allied culturally and politically to declare that there was a universal code of morality, one that applied throughout the world, was to assume god-like powers of control. Orwell recognized the decay of traditional ethical structures in both the communist East and democratic West. While certainly, one could hardly argue that Hitler's killers had been acting ethically, communist witch hunts and blacklists were no more moral when they occurred in New York or Hollywood. Though Orwell died just before the days of McCarthyism, he had lived through the first American Red Scare in the 1920s, and Hollywood had already been quite active in blacklisting supposed communist writers and authors. Such persons too, had been driven to the fringes of the literary world in New York, and it could not be forgotten, or forgiven that a blind hatred of communism had been one of the key sources of Nazi success. Oddly enough, it is often in the rigidly controlled communist world that public morality comes closest to traditional religiously inspired standards. No kissing in the park. Conservative clothes. The paternal nuclear family. But, the very collapse of traditional morality that is observable in the West, is also a sign of things to come. The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four functions by making its citizens blandly happy. They remember nothing and they desire nothing.
Since World War I, Western society has been gravely weakened by the attrition of traditional authority. Beginning with attrition of the individual conscience, the process has spread to the attrition of the authority of the family, the law, religion, public morality, and government. Increasingly, authority is denied in principle and vilified in practice at home, while being -- paradoxically enough -- admired and respected abroad, in the communist world. Along with this abrogation of the individual and collective superego, there has developed, as if by way of compensation, a narcissistic cult of the ego aided and abetted by the Third Force psychology of Maslow and Rogers, a cult which appears to have acquired the status once held by religion. This narcissism finds social expression in an epicurean consumerism, which has elevated self-indulgent materialism to a virtue, a moral relativism which can justify or excuse any action, however base or vicious, and a resuscitated Pelagianism."
This sort of moral relativism was the ethical foundation of any totalitarian state, and it was present in varying quantities in the free, as well as the unfree world. Orwell could well foresee its application in the future, as the war on communism intensified. Looking at the freakish pace of events of the past generation, he would have predicted another world war in the not to distant future, a nuclear war such as occurred prior to Oceania's foundation. The exigencies of the state, the preservation of the English or American "way of life," would be called upon as justifications for using technology to root out society's undesirable, be they at home or abroad. We see this same idea operating today in "post 9/11 world." Our leaders tell us that since that day every thing is changed. We can no longer take our freedoms for granted. This does not mean, as of old, that we must take up arms to preserve them, but rather that we must give up some to insure others. But, once one begins to give up freedoms what is left? George Orwell had never heard of the Internet, and the technology of his Nineteen Eighty-Four is crude by the standards of today (and of the real 1984), but it is already being proposed as an appropriate area for government intervention.
Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend -- all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as "a virtual, centralized grand database."
Nineteen Eighty-Four has arrived. It's just eighteen years late. As George Orwell predicted, modern technology has reached the point that allows the State to invade nearly every facet of our lives. Moreover, technological progress has been so great that much has been developed which Orwell never would have imagined. Television, or "telescreens," indeed became the opiate of the masses. They do not yet peep into people's lives, but with a few minor adjustments it is certainly possible. Like the denizens of Oceania, contemporary Americans love to look into their neighbors' homes. Witness the popularity of shows about the Osbornes, and Nicole Smith. They even give a sterling example of moral decline into the bargain. Technology not only provides the state with the wherewithal to track the actions and expressed thoughts of every man, woman, and child, but as in the above examples, it also dulls the senses and supplies the masses with a theatrical or even wholly doctored version of reality. Even Nineteen Eighty-Four itself has been used in ways completely unintended by its author, "A book like 1984 may be used without much regard for the author's intention. Some of its features may be torn out of their context, while others which do not suit the political purpose which the book is made to serve, are ignored or virtually suppressed." This is what the authoritarian state is all about - thought control. It is a much-lamented fact that students in present day America have such scant knowledge of history and geography. Their world begins with their first childhood memory and extends only so far as the furthest mall in which they usually shop or as far away as the stilted images of foreign places that the see on television and in the movies. In the name of protecting its people from terrorism, government erodes our…