by Gene Lyons

 "I do not believe that Snowball was a traitor at the beginning," [Boxer] said finally.
"What he has done since is different. But I believe that at the Battle of the Cowshed
  he was a good comrade." "Our Leader, Comrade Napoleon," announced Squealer,
  speaking very slowly and firmly, "has stated categorically--categorically, comrade--that
  Snowball was Jones's agent from the very beginning--yes, and from long before the
  Rebellion was ever thought of." "Ah, that is different!" said Boxer.
"If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right."
    --from "Animal Farm," by George Orwell

To those of us who revere the great satirist and political journalist George Orwell, it's hard to see his words used as a club
to pummel dissenters. The same 1941 passage in  which Orwell attacked British pacifists as "objectively...pro-Nazi" has
shown up twice of late in the Democrat-Gazette: first in a rant by syndicated columnist Michael Kelly, who vilified nameless pacifists as "objectively pro-terrorist," and later in an Oct. 14 article scolding the "anti-Americanism" of English intellectuals
by Bryan Appleyard of the London Sunday Times.  "Saints," Orwell wrote "should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent." He was speaking of Gandhi, but he could just as well have talking about himself. Since his death in 1950, Orwell has often been set up as a kind of secular saint by authors who seek to invoke his moral authority without a scrap
of his intellectual integrity. So it is in the present instance.

To readers familiar with his classic satires of political dogmatism later works, such as "1984" and "Politics and the
English Language," it comes as a bit of a shock to learn that Orwell ever used the "objectively" formulation in the first place.
The phrase originated in the poisonous political climate of the 1930s as pure Marxist jargon, meant to lend an air of authority
to the "scientific" pronouncements of orthodox Stalinists. In a world of only two possibilities, see, anybody not 100% on
Stalin's side with regard to every conceivable issue was "objectively" on Hitler's, hence a traitor. It was by such logic that
the 1938 Moscow "show trials" so unforgettably satirized in Orwell's "Animal Farm" proceeded.

Having written that book, which ironically nobody would publish until the war had ended, Orwell set about making amends.
In December 1944, he used his regular "As I Please" column in the Tribune to specifically repudiate the term "objectively,"
and apologized by name to individuals whose views he'd caricatured and whose loyalty to England he'd unfairly questioned. Blaming "the lunatic atmosphere of war," he explained that the habit of accusing political dissenters of "conscious treachery.
...is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes harder  to
forsee their actions."

The example Orwell gave was a pacifist asked to be an enemy spy. An honorable pacifist, he argued, would never betray his country. "The important thing is to discover WHICH individuals are honest and which are not," he wrote "and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of  hatred in which [political] controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel."

The point isn't so much whether or not Kelly or Appleyard knew that Orwell had specifically repudiated the passage
they cited so approvingly. (I'm indebted to Jim Emerson, whose letter to the Media Whores Online website reminded me.) Based on past examples of his work, in Kelly's case, it might not have mattered. The real committment of political
journalists who prefer flogging anonymous straw men to honest debate, who enjoy making caricatures of their named antagonists by quoting them out of context to distort their clear meaning, and similar cheap tricks, isn't to truth, it's to
power. Their aim is to stifle debate, in the present instance to define as all but treasonous any meaningful re-examination
of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, or of the Bush adminstration's tactics in conducting its "war" on terrorism.

A more subtle controversialist than Kelly (although who isn't?), Appleyard even goes so far as to concede that America
and Americans have been known to make mistakes before demanding to know "whose side are you really on?"
Put that way, of course, there's only one conceivable answer: not Osama bin Laden's.

But that's not the end of the discussion. It's the beginning. The real message of Orwell's work, as well as of his heroic personal example, is that intellectual integrity is more far crucial to an embattled democracy than orthodoxy. Without vigorous dissent, there's no creative thinking. Honest people can change their minds;  demagogic bullies, alas, almost never do.

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