Thursday, July 20, 2006

In His Grave, Orwell Does Another 180

It's annoying when conservatives try to claim the mantle of George Orwell--that proud, committed socialist--especially since they almost invariably distort his real attitudes and beliefs in the process.

Andrew Sullivan is a chronic offender. Here he quotes his own description (from the pre-Iraq-war debate) of opponents of the war as being "objectively pro-Saddam," then here he defends it on the grounds that he is merely echoing "Orwell's original usage."

It's true that Sullivan has stolen a verbal formula originated by Orwell. But when Orwell wrote in his famous essay on Gandhi that "pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist," it was 1942. The UK had been at war for three years. It stood virtually alone in Europe against the vast armies of three allied totalitarian regimes that had overrun country after country and were clearly bent on world conquest.

In the context of an ongoing global struggle in which both sides had millions of men fighting for sheer national survival, there was justification for Orwell's remark. Once a total war is under way, sides must be chosen. And while I don't share Orwell's judgment that Gandhi's pacifism was irresponsible, I understand and respect his point of view.

Sullivan chose to echo Orwell in the very different context of 2003. Not only was the US not yet at war against Saddam, but Iraq clearly posed no mortal threat to our country--and perhaps no threat at all. The question then was not which side to support in an ongoing struggle to the death; it was whether there was any compelling need to launch a war against a nation that had attacked no one in many years. Under the circumstances, writing that opponents of the war were "objectively pro-Saddam" was merely a version of Bush's "with us or against us" rhetoric given a pseudo-intellectual veneer by the echo of Orwell.

Parroting the language of your betters doesn't elevate you to their level. Andrew, you're no George Orwell.

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