Simply Orwellian: Cutting and running from 'stay the course'

By Leonard Pitts Jr.
Baltimore Sun
Oct. 29, 2006

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: Who controls the present controls the past." - from 1984 by George Orwell I'm here to tell you we're going to stay the course. - George W. Bush, Nov. 28, 2003 We've got to stay the course, and we will stay the course. - George W. Bush, April 5, 2004 The United States of America will stay the course. - George W. Bush, Nov. 21, 2004 We will stay the course; we will complete the job in Iraq. - George W. Bush, Aug. 4, 2005 We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed. - George W. Bush, Aug. 31, 2006 Listen, we've never been 'stay the course.' - George W. Bush, Oct. 22, 2006


"Orwellian" is one of those words you toss out to prove you stayed awake in freshman English. Often, it is used to evoke a world in which all people are always under surveillance, as was the case in the totalitarian state George Orwell depicted in 1984, his 1949 masterpiece.

But as you know if you've read the book, surveillance wasn't the most chilling aspect of the world Orwell foresaw.

No, the thing about that world that made your skin creep on your bones was the shameless intellectual dishonesty of its leaders, the brazen way they savaged objective truth and dared anyone to call them on it. Nobody did. The people simply accepted what they were told.

In the world Orwell invented, words had no objective meaning beyond that assigned them by the Party, whose slogans, not incidentally, were "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength."

In that world, there was no past - or rather, the past was what the leaders said it was, and it was a waste of time to check for yourself, because all books, newspapers and other records were constantly being updated to reflect whatever the new reality was.

Thus, "Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia." Much as we now learn the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq has "never been stay the course."

And never mind that the president and his henchmen have spent three years pounding that phrase like nails into the public consciousness.

"Stay the course" doesn't work anymore, not with most of the nation united against the war, so the White House recently announced that the phrase would no longer be used. That's its prerogative. But it's quite a leap from won't be used to never has been used.

So did we dream these last three years? Is "stay the course" just something we mumbled in our collective sleep as we twisted in our collective sheets? Or do we learn something here about the administration's level of respect for our collective intelligence?

It is not, by now, surprising that the president and his surrogates rewrite the past. We've seen that before, after all.

We've seen it with Sen. John Kerry the war hero "traitor," with Rep. John P. Murtha the Marine "coward."

We've seen it with weapons of mass destruction, which, it turned out, were not the reason we invaded Iraq (where'd we ever get that idea?).

What's painful, though, is that we see it so quietly, see it, as the citizens of 1984 did, with apparent acceptance.

The truth is being stolen right before our eyes. Yet there are no mass demonstrations at the executive mansion. There are not a million headlines saying, "Wait Just A Bleeping Minute!"

"We've never been 'stay the course,'" he says. Oh, we say.

To which I can only add that war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength. And Orwell was only off by 22 years.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is [email protected]

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