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From the 1984 Edition the Novel "1984"

Written by Walter Cronkite

American reporters, given a glimpse of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran at the End of 1982, were saying that it was like 1984. It's Orwellian, one added.

Big Brother has became a common term for ubiquitous or overreaching authority, and Newspeak is a word we apply to the dehumanizing babble of bureaucracies and computer programs.

Those coinages have come into the language with lives of their own. They are familiar to millions who have never read 1984, who may not even know it as a novel written thirty-five years ago by English socialist Eric Blair, who became famous under the pen name George Orwell.

Seldom has a book provided a greater wealth of symbols for its age and for the generations to follow, and seldom have literary symbols been invested with such power. How is that? Because they were so useful, and became the features of the world he drew, outlandish as they were, also were familiar.

They are familiar today, they were familiar when the book was first published in 1949. We've met Big Brother in Stalin and Hitler and Khomeini. We hear Newspeak in every use of the language to manipulate, deceive, to cover harsh realities with the soft snow of euphemism. And every time a political leader expects or demands that we believe the absurd, we experience that mental process Orwell called Doublethink. From the show trials of the pre-war Soviet Union to the dungeon courts of post-revolutionary Iran, 1984's vision of justice as foregone conclusion is familiar to us all. As soon as we were introduced to such things, we realized we had always known them.

What Orwell had done was not to foresee the future but to see the implications of the present -- his present and ours -- and he touched a common chord. He had given words and shapes to common but unarticulated fears running deep through all industrial societies.

George Orwell was no prophet, and those who busy themselves keeping score on his predictions and grading his use of the crystal ball miss the point. While here he is a novelist, he is also a sharp political essayist and a satirist with a bite not felt in the English language since Jonathan Swift.

If not  prophecy, what was 1984? It was, as many have noticed, a warning: a warning about the future of human freedom in a world where political organization and technology can manufacture power in dimensions that would stunned the imaginations of earlier ages.

Orwell drew upon the technology (and perhaps some of the science fiction) of the day in drawing his picture of 1984. But it was not a work of science fiction he was writing. It was a novelistic essay on power, how it is acquired and maintained, how those who seek it or seek to keep it tend to sacrifice anything and everything in its name.

1984 is an anguished lament and a warning that vibrates powerfully when we may not be strong enough nor wise enough nor moral enough to cope with the kind of power we have learned to amass. That warning vibrates powerfully when we allow ourselves to sit still and think carefully about orbiting satellites that can read the license plates in a parking lot and computers that can read into thousands of telephone calls and telex transmissions at once and other computers that can do our banking and purchasing, can watch the house and tell a monitoring station what television program we are watching and how many people there are in a room. We think of Orwell when we read of scientist who believe they have located in the human brain the seats of behavioral emotions like aggression, or learn more about the vast potential of genetic engineering.

And we hear echoes of that warning chord in the constant demand for greater security and comfort, for less risk in our societies. We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that "law and order" can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered for whatever good reason are freedoms lost.

Critics and scholars may argue quite legitimately about the particular literary merits of 1984. But none can deny its powerful, its hold on the imagination of a whole generations, nor the power of its admonitions . . . a power that seems to grow rather than lessen with the passage of time. It has been said that 1984 fails as a prophecy because it succeeded as a warning -- Orwell's terrible vision has been averted. Well, that kind of self-congratulation it, to say the least, premature. 1984 may not arrive on time, but there's always 1985.

Still, the warning has been effective; and every time we use one of those catch phrases . . . recognize Big Brother in someone, see a 1984 in our future . . . notice something Orwellian . . . we are listening to that warning again.

Walter Cronkite, 1983
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