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Although it is a fictional story written over half a century ago, many of the ideas and aspects of George Orwell’s 1984 exist in real life today, including in the War on Terrorism. 1984 is a novel about a world in which a totalitarian government controls the thoughts and actions of citizens and uses brainwashing techniques to keep them in check. In the real-world War on Terrorism, the United States projects its power and uses media to fight anti-Americanism in the Middle East to fight terrorist propaganda in the region (Ivo). Although propaganda is a powerful weapon for both peacetime and wartime, it is not the only method used to sway people in a favorable direction. Through the use of direct and implied threats, the positive portrayal of leaders and military personnel, and the control of media, propaganda is used to create a willingness for war, both in the real world in the War on Terrorism and in 1984.

Very early on in 1984, there is an example of how the Oceanic government, the oligarchy of a fictional state that rules most of the southeastern hemisphere, uses direct and implied threats to prevent unwanted thoughts and actions. When the main character, Winston Smith, is returning home at the beginning of the novel, he passes many posters with the leader’s face on them and text reading: “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”. This is an example of an implied threat since the underlying message is that Big Brother sees everything, including all of your secret thoughts and activities. There is another very early example of a direct threat on page 9 when Winston opens his diary. “This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp” (Orwell 9). For the citizens of Oceania, it is common knowledge that doing something as little as opening a diary could result in a punishment this severe, which is an example of a direct threat from the government. In the real-world War on Terrorism, the United States has also made many direct and implied threats toward its enemies, including during George W. Bush’s address on 9/11.

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In his address to the American people on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush made the following demands on the Taliban: 1) deliver to U.S. authorities all the leaders of al-Qa’ida hiding in Afghanistan; 2) immediately and permanently close every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities; and 3) give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so the United States can make sure they are no longer operating. The president said that these demands were not open to negotiation or discussion, and if the Taliban did not hand over the terrorists, they would share in their fate. (Levitt)

This direct threat from President George W. Bush is directed toward both the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, which says that if the leaders of the terrorist groups are not handed over, they will be taken or eliminated through force.

In both real life, in the War on Terrorism, and 1984, leaders and military personnel are shown in a positive light. In 1984, “Two Minutes Hate” is a period in which the people are expected to express their dislike for enemies of the state as they appear on a screen (Orwell 15). In the end, “drawing a deep sigh of relief from everybody, [the image on-screen] melted into the face of Big Brother,” which shows how heavily just an image of him can calm down a huge group of people brainwashed to view him as a godlike figure (Orwell 20). Even Winston himself, who secretly dislikes the Party and Big Brother, thinks that “Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of [enemies]” (Orwell 19). This shows how effective the brainwashing is, since even people like Winston, who dislike the Party and anything to do with it, can’t help but see the leader as a shining beacon of hope among nothing but hate and danger in the outside world. In the War on Terrorism, propaganda is used to create an idea of heroism in the people by portraying military personnel as heroes, which allows the United States to project its will into an environment where it may not be respected. The target audience of this propaganda may not accept the image of heroism, but they will accept the portrayal of power, which can lead them to lose morale and even question their own beliefs. An exact example of this is the propaganda used by the United States in the Middle East to “discredit Anti-Americanism” by positively portraying themselves and their military throughout the region as heroes (Ivo).

Propaganda is the process of using media to influence a specific group of people to accept the ideas of the person in control. There are many examples of this in 1984 and the War on Terrorism. In 1984, the government used media to broadcast the “Two Minutes Hate” daily, and they also broadcast successful military campaign progress and boast about the number of enemy casualties. On page 33, Winston sees one of these news flashes at his house. “Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory,” the announcer said. It was “a gory description of the annihilation of a [enemy] army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners” (Orwell 33). This creates a willingness for war, since the media shows only the successes of the military, keeping morale and war support very high in the people. In the War on Terrorism, stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorists have begun appearing more and more in crime shows on American television. “Terrorists are being bunched together on the small screen as the enemy against whom Americans can unite most passionately,” and “some television programming strongly implies that those who threaten our security deserve no rights or liberties and need only be stopped in their tracks, violently, by all-American heroes” (“War on Terrorism hits crime shows”). This shows how all aspects of media, not just the news or magazines, can be used to unite people together against a group and create willingness for war.

Propaganda is one of the most effective methods for controlling our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and one of the most important tactics in war. It is used not only to convince people that something is true, but also to instill hate, fear, or guilt. In George Orwell’s 1984, propaganda is used to brainwash the people of Oceania to ensure support for the totalitarian government. In the real-world War on Terrorism, it is used to alienate and dehumanize terrorists and other enemies of the state. Through the use of direct and implied threats, the positive portrayal of leaders and military personnel, and the control of media, propaganda is used to create a willingness for war, both in the real world in the War on Terrorism and in 1984.

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