Bush administration Orwellian logic

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's focus on the fallout of nuclear "spin."

The Bush administration's Orwellian logic, particularly since the events of September 11, 2001, is clearly exemplified by the endlessly growing list of Congressional acts, programs, and initiatives--and language--which are described or employed in such a way as to convey the opposite of what they actually do or intend.

In his June 25, 2003, New York Times' article "Still plenty of newspeak, but it's less Orwellian," Geoffrey Nunberg writes: [1]

"On George Orwell's centenary (he was born June 25, 1903) the most telling sign of his influence is the words he left us with: not just 'thought police,' 'doublethink' and 'unperson,' but also 'Orwellian' itself, the most widely used adjective derived from the name of a modern writer. In the press and on the Internet, it's more common than 'Kafkaesque,' 'Hemingwayesque' and 'Dickensian' put together. It even noses out the rival political reproach 'Machiavellian,' which had a 500-year head start."
"But Orwell is the writer most responsible for diffusing the modern view of political language as an active accomplice of tyranny. As he wrote in 'Politics and the English Language,' 'Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.'
"That was an appealing notion to an age that had learned to be suspicious of ideologies, and critics on all sides have found it useful to cite 'Politics and the English Language' in condemning the equivocations of their opponents.
"Critics on the left hear Orwellian resonances in phrase like 'weapons of mass protection,' for nonlethal arms, or in names like the Patriot Act or the Homeland Security Department's Operation Liberty Shield, which authorizes indefinite detention of asylum-seekers from certain nations. Critics on the right hear them in phrases like 'reproductive health services,' 'Office of Equality Assurance' and 'English Plus,' for bilingual education.
"And just about everyone discerned an Orwellian note in the name of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project, which was aimed at mining a vast centralized database of personal information for patterns that might reveal terrorist activities. (The name was changed last month to the Terrorist Information Awareness program, in an effort to reassure Americans who have nothing to hide.)"
"Calling an expression Orwellian means not that it's deceptive but that it's crudely deceptive. Today, the real damage isn't done by the euphemisms and circumlocutions that we're likely to describe as Orwellian. 'Ethnic cleansing,' 'revenue enhancement,' 'voluntary regulation,' 'tree-density reduction,' 'faith-based initiatives,' 'extra affirmative action,' 'single-payer plans' - these terms may be oblique, but at least they wear their obliquity on their sleeves.
"Rather, the words that do the most political work are simple ones - 'jobs and growth,' 'family values' and 'color-blind' not to mention 'life' and 'choice.' But concrete words like these are the hardest ones to see through. They're opaque when you hold them up to the light.
"Orwell knew that, of course. 'To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle' - not what you'd call an Orwellian sentiment, but very like the man."

In his May 6, 2004, "This is the new gulag. Bush has created a global network of extra-legal and secret US prisons with thousands of inmates" about the alleged brutality and deaths at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca caused by U.S., British, and "outsourced" prison contractors, Sidney Blumenthal cites Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's "contribution to the history of Orwellian statements by high officials":

"My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture ... I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word." [emphasis added]

In Michael Moore's "Personal Voices: Setting the Record Straight" on AlterNet, April 15, 2004, he writes:

"I have never seen a head so far up a Presidential ass (pardon my Fallujah) than the one I saw at the 'news conference' given by George W. Bush. He's still talking about finding 'weapons of mass destruction' - this time on Saddam's 'turkey farm.' Turkey indeed. Clearly the White House believes there are enough idiots in the country who will buy this."
"First, can we stop the Orwellian language and start using the proper names for things? Those are not contractors in Iraq. They are not there to fix a roof or to pour concrete in a driveway. They are MERCENARIES and SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE. They are there for the money, and the money is very good if you live long enough to spend it.
"Halliburton is not a company doing business in Iraq. It is a WAR PROFITEER, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested - or worse.
"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not insurgents or terrorists or The Enemy. They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow - and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush? You closed down a friggin' weekly newspaper, you great giver of freedom and democracy! Then all hell broke loose. The paper only had 10,000 readers! Why are you smirking?
"One year after we wiped the face of the Saddam statue with our American flag before yanking him down, it is now too dangerous for a single media person to go to that square in Baghdad and file a report on the wonderful one-year anniversary celebration. Of course, there is no celebration, and those brave blow-dried embeds can't even leave the safety of the fort in downtown Baghdad. They never actually SEE what is taking place across Iraq (most of the pictures we see on TV are shot by Arab media and some Europeans). When you watch a report 'from Iraq' what you are getting is the press release handed out by the U.S. occupation force and repeated to you as 'news.'
"I currently have two cameramen/reporters doing work for me in Iraq for my movie (unbeknownst to the Army). They are talking to soldiers and gathering the true sentiment about what is really going on. They Fed Ex the footage back to me each week. That's right, Fed Ex. Who said we haven't brought freedom to Iraq! The funniest story my guys tell me is how when they fly into Baghdad, they don't have to show a passport or go through immigration. Why not? Because they have not traveled from a foreign country - they're coming from America TO America, a place that is ours, a new American territory called Iraq.
"There is a lot of talk amongst Bush's opponents that we should turn this war over to the United Nations. Why should the other countries of this world, countries who tried to talk us out of this folly, now have to clean up our mess? I oppose the U.N. or anyone else risking the lives of their citizens to extract us from our debacle. I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe - just maybe - God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.
"Until then, enjoy the pacification of Falluja, the containment of Sadr City, and the next Tet Offensive - oops, I mean, terrorist attack by a small group of Baathist loyalists (Hahaha! I love writing those words, Baathist loyalists, it makes me sound so Peter Jennings!) - followed by a news conference where we will be told that we must stay the course because we are winning the hearts and minds of the people."

See Shiite Muslim uprising in Iraq, global insurgency for change, war profiteering, and private military corporation for background material on this article.


Patriot Act I

The USA Patriot Act (USAPA) PUBLIC LAW 107-56 (H.R. 3162) passed by Congress on October 25, 2001, was the Uniting and Strengthening [of] America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

"Clearly the name of the bill was concocted to fit the acronym. The purpose of this acronym is two-fold. One, it makes it politically dangerous for politicians to vote against it ('He voted against the Patriot Act? Who can we nominate to run opposite this traitor in the next election?'). Two, it stifles opposition among the American people. 'You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.' ... Since we are all in favor of stopping acts of terrorism, we should all be in favor of this legislation, right? But this legislation - which was not available for members of Congress to read before they had to vote on it - will do nothing to prevent future terrorism and much to increase the power of government over its subjects." (cache file).
"Just as the Patriot Act doesn't have anything to do with real patriotism, a new bill in congress, the VICTORY Act, has nothing to do with victory." [2]

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