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Letters from Downunder

Happy Hour

Submitted by Lindsay, Melbourne Australia!

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
Who controls the past controls the future;
who controls the present controls the past
George Orwell, '1984' (1949)

(1/12) Well, this month I would like to draw your attention to October fourth, 1958. Some dates in history prove to be turning points, and this is one of them.

You don't remember? That is not surprising, as it's not a red-letter day. The second world war had been fought and won by the allies, with Russia turning back the Nazi war machine with lots of help from their friends America and Britain; Japan had been forced to surrender; the Berlin air lift had run its course, manufacturing and development was rampant, Dwight Eisenhower was President and Richard Nixon V-P. America was not happy with the rise of communism, as Stalin and co. set out to take over world domination, something Eisenhower and congress were determined not to let happen.

Dawns the 4/10/1958. Appropriately, it was an amateur radio ham who first broke the news to the media. Something called sputnik was up in the sky. One hundred and eighty three pounds of metal had been launched by Russia, broadcasting for all to hear, and panic swept the corridors of power. The problem was that If the world saw Russia as being preeminent in the space race, then it followed the world might see it as preeminent everywhere else. That had to be stopped.

By December six the reply was ready - except it exploded on the take-off pad. January 31 saw Explorer 1 up and away, and the race was really on. So were the red faces, the anger, and the on-the-run decisions from the white house. Soviets and their supporters were thenceforth anathema. They were communists, enemies of all that was good and free, anti-democratic ,and now to be hated, reviled, squashed, and done away with. No more friendship, just the new enemy.

The Red menace was beamed across the media; to be one of them or to sympathise was un-American, unpatriotic, and landed a lot of protesters and civil libertarians before senate un-American committees, in jail, reviled, jobless or deprived of more than liberty. Protest was a naughty word, freedom of speech was fine if you only echoed the right-speak, and the offstage presence of 1984 sent its chill through the land.

From Sputnik to Cuba to Afghanistan, via Korea, Panama, Vietnam, Iraq, and assorted other countries and leaders, people that had been friends became enemies. Hussein, the Mujahedeen, the Khmer Rouge, Noriega and many more started out as allies in the war on communism, but all became enemies when they tried to take over their own countries and reap the benefits America believed to be theirs because they had paid for them. You'd have thought that before this someone in power might have realised the error of using your enemies enemy to do your work. They've had over 50 years to find out it aint necessarily so.

But then came the horror of 9/11.

If sputnik had caused a ruckus, this caused the anthill to explode. It was indeed a most terrible act, on a par with bombing civilians in Baghdad, but the reaction from the hill was outrage and disbelief. 'How dare anyone defy us. How dare anyone attack civilians in this great nation, instil fear and horror among us?' It wasn't the communists this time, it was, we were told, a spectral, devilish Osama Bin Laden, the sputnik of the 21st century. This enormously rich Saudi-born man became leader of the Mujahedeen anti-Russian forces in Afghanistan, and in the area known as the North-West frontier beat them to a pulp. America had embraced him, given him everything he asked for and more, only to discover a little later that he actually despised them, and was intent on ensuring that his version of Islam dominated the world.

But communism had been beaten, hadn't it? No, not really, but Russia had, so this terrorist could also be beaten, couldn’t he? Sure - along came The War on Terror, Guantanamo, Homeland security, the Patriot act and the whole range of counter terrorist agencies that have drained the coffers, raised the anxiety levels, and derailed the fundamentals of the American way of life. The land of the free it no longer is, and has the war been won? Hardly. G. W. Bush said it would not cease until every terrorist group in the world had been stopped. Really? It's a silly statement, and puts America as the sole arbiter of what constitutes terror. Anyway Bin Laden was finally killed and the war on terror should have been over.

Yet the war goes on, restrictions mount, and here's how it's done:

George Orwell, one of my heroes, was right when he predicted in his book '1984' that we would all be in thrall to the thought police by then, and he was also right in saying most of us wouldn't know about it. Because an ill-informed populace is easy prey, and the best way to ensure that they are ill-informed is to feed them a diet so bland, so unreal and so diverting that the hard questions are never even thought of. Democracy it is not, as those in power try to lull us into acceptance of all they say and do.

There is, however, no substitute for informed honest journalism, examination of the real history, and unwavering determination to investigate the actualities behind events and policies, and to then collectively raise a voice of defiant truth. So, my university friends, you who are studying history and journalism, will you begin by raising your voices in disgust over the pseudo-democracy you live in, or will you, like the great majority, be content with a never ending happy hour? (Though it's not too happy at present). Freedom has to be more than the ability to believe and do what you are told. Civil liberty is the opposite of slavery, and every time any of those liberties are eroded slavery is strengthened. Freedom is NOT slavery. Ignorance is NOT strength. War is NOT peace. Yet the opposite is exactly what we are being told.

So here's investigation project number one: Why was the success of The mujahedeen and its successors, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, in defeating the Soviet army in Afghanistan taken as meaning they would help the U.S. A do what Russia couldn't, and what IS the prize there? It certainly isn't democratic or humanitarian, which have never actually been the basis of any foreign relations. And reread 1984.

Happy grim new year from Down under.

Read Past Down Under Columns by Lindsay Coker