Saturday, December 24, 2005
IT took 21 years longer than expected, but the future has finally arrived.
And we don't like it. Not one bit.
We are fighting a war with no end to create a peace with no defined victory.
We occupy a foreign land that doesn't want us, while at home our civil liberties are discounted.
We are told that it's better not to know what our government is doing in our name, for security purposes. Meanwhile, our government is becoming omnipresent, spying on us whenever it deems it necessary.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
George Orwell was right after all.
In 1949, Orwell penned "1984," a dark, futuristic satire in which the totalitarian government used indoctrination, propaganda and fear to enforce order and conformity. His "Big Brother" — the face of this all-knowing regime — was never wrong, and to make sure of it, history was constantly being rewritten.
Orwell wrote his book as a cautionary tale to underscore the insidious danger of slowly eroded individual liberties. His Thought Police may not yet be on the march, but it's not hyperbole to point out the eerie parallels with today's America.
In America today, Big Brother is watching.
He's watching because President Bush told him to. Shortly after 9/11, Bush secretly authorized warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens making or receiving international calls and e-mails.
When it comes to fighting terror, Bush is totalitarian — remember, you're either with us or against us. Trust me to get it right, he says. Debate on the law is not only not needed, it's evil.
"An open debate about the law would say to the enemy, 'Here's what we're going to do.'" Bush said recently. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
Then there's the Patriot Act, also created in the days immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate and House of Representatives voted Thursday to extend the law by a month. President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insist it's an indispensable tool in the war on terror and want it extended permanently.
"I'm as concerned about the privacy of American citizens as anyone, but we cannot allow libraries and use of libraries to become safe havens for terrorists," Gonzales said in July, defending one of the act's most controversial provisions.
Remember, too, that we invaded Iraq primarily because we were told Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat with his weapons of mass destruction. Now the Bush administration acknowledges that wasn't so, but insists there were (are?) other reasons to invade. History is malleable.
Orwell wrote of war without end; we're told the war on terror will last decades at least. Orwell wrote of a dumbed-down "Newspeak," and who could argue that our national discourse hasn't slumped? Orwell's "Ministry of Love" tortured dissidents real or imagined; our government decries Iraq's secret torture prisons while arguing over whether to ban torture. Meanwhile, we maintain our own secret CIA prisons.
Bush is unapologetic. The president believes he has the legal authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant, and he plans to continue to reauthorize the program "for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens." But when the enemy is poorly defined, who determines when the threat is over? In this case, the same government that secretly taps our phones.
Turns out the truth is no stranger than fiction.
We think it's time for Congress to heed the warning of George Orwell.
To that end, we're asking for your help: Mail us or drop off your tattered copies of "1984." When we get 537 of them, we'll send them to every member of the House of Representatives and Senate and to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Feel free to inscribe the book with a note, reminding these fine people that we Americans take the threat to our liberties seriously. Remind Congress that it makes no sense to fight a war for democracy in a foreign land while allowing our democratic principles to erode at home.
Remind President Bush that ours is a country of checks and balances, not unbridled power.
Perhaps our nation's leaders can find some truth in this fiction and more carefully ponder the road we're traveling.
Bring or mail your books to the Oakland Tribune, 401 13th St., Oakland CA 94612. Doors are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.