|When they introduced John Bolton on The Independents, they didn't put Bolton's name on the screen. Instead, they gave his title—"Iraq Disaster"—one Bolton shares with other Neocon war criminals.|
At one point in last week’s full-frontal counterattack by the Neocons, in defense of their indefensible Iraq War disaster, the Orwell card or meme got played. Orwell is kind of like the alternative-Hitler power card in witless pseudo-intellectual debates.
The Hitler card gets played, usually outrageously and impertinently, by people claiming their opponent’s position—or their opponent—is like Hitler or Nazis. Long ago, the tendency for online debates to devolve to the playing of the Hitler card, led to Michael Godwin noting this in a Usenet discussion, and so “Godwin’s Law” was born, although it is seldom understood or expressed as Godwin intended it.*
*—In the halfwitted neo-internet, Godwin’s Law often means the first person to mention the word “Hitler” (no matter the context) in a debate loses—which is so painfully stupid that it is kind of fitting Godwin’s off-the-cuff attempt to sum up his personal irritation is enshrined so irritatingly.
The Orwell card often gets played in a similar fashion by people wanting to imply or straight out accuse their opponent of being a fascist, and so if someone quotes Orwell saying pretty much anything, as a weapon against pretty much anything, the audience is supposed to conclude that the target of the Orwell quotation must be fascist, and so a person or argument attacked in this manner is assumed to be discredited on that basis alone.
Any thinking person, of which there are very few in the USA, would understand immediately that a careful consideration would have to be applied to any argument claiming an opponent is like Hitler or Nazis, or like something Orwell said—assuming that you are counting Orwell’s words as Gospel and unquestionably and unerringly true and relevant.
And so it was that during one of the appearances this week of the amazingly brazen and evil Neocons, one of their more bombastic villains, John Bolton, former Bush regime war-policy propagandist and US Ambassador to the United Nations (a Bush joke), countered criticism he was getting on the Fox Business show, The Independents, by accusing one of the participants of being correctly assessed as pro-Saddam and so pro-fascist by an Orwell quotation.
Here is a transcript of this exchange between Bolton and show hosts Kennedy and Matt Welch:
Kennedy: And you think that President Bush, the younger, had no part in destabilizing Iraq, and getting it to the point it is now?
John Bolton: I think President Bush did exactly the right thing in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, and it’s kind of stunning to me to see you libertarians defending that dictatorship.
[Logic alert: If A opposes B, and wants to start a war with him, does this mean if C does not want to start a war with B, C necessarily is on B’s side? Of course not. That is illogical. And it fails to allow for a difference of opinion in determining the correct method for dealing with a problem.]
Matt Welch: No, nobody’s defending the [Saddam] dictatorship at all…
John Bolton: Sure you are.
Matt Welch: No, absolutely not.
John Bolton: As George Orwell once said of the appeasers…
Matt Welch: George Orwell repudiated that line…he repudiated that line.
John Bolton: …in WWII, he said they were objectively pro-fascist.
Matt Welch: Yeah, you should read Orwell beyond the diaries he wrote in WWII and read how he read that line afterwards.
John Bolton: Yeah, Heaven forbid—his diaries don’t reflect what he really believed, do they?
Matt Welch: He rejected that line. If you’re going to use that Orwell, know your Orwell. He repudiated that line precisely because he knew that it didn’t allow for a proper understanding of the people he was talking to.
John Bolton: You give me the citation. You give me the citation where he repudiated the quote I just gave. I want to see the citation.OK, so first off Matt Welch later provided the citation and explanation online. I have not seen Bolton's response to this—if there is one. And also as you may grasp from reading more below, the reason Welch was so ready to respond to Bolton—who had not even given the Orwell quotation before Welch was rejecting it, is because this matter has been much dealt with in the past.
For example, back in 2010, Andrew Sullivan talked about this particular Orwell "formulation", noting during what amounted to a confession of personal guilt in promoting the 2003 invasion, that he himself had resorted to using the quotation to attack Iraq War critics. As Sullivan said, "Neocons have it in their portable tool kit of agit-prop." Then Sullivan acknowledged that, in addition to having changed his mind about the merits of the Iraq War itself, he had learned that Orwell had corrected his "objective fascists" claim.
So, let's look at this in a little more detail.
What exactly did Orwell say, back in 1942, to create such a useful tool for pro-war neocon tools to attack the patriotism of the anti-Iraq-war critics?
"Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’."Sound familiar? If you have even the slimmest glimmer of a memory of the dreadful history of Bush's Terror Wars, you will likely recall this foolish formulation:
"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."And what, later on, actually two years later on, did Orwell say to recant his above "elementary common sense" statement?
"We are told that it is only people’s objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are ‘objectively’ aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once...This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people’s motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions. For there are occasions when even the most misguided person can see the results of what he is doing."By this, Orwell meant that the subjective aspect of a person's motives, whether for example he is really pro-fascist in his political views, has to be considered. Thus, Orwell concluded, some pacifists might be pro-Nazi, but most would not be, and in a situation where a pacifist is encouraged to act for Nazis, by selling out Britain, for example, Orwell notes that only someone ideologically predisposed to support fascism would do such a thing. In other words, Orwell realizes that in his earlier (1942) statement, he had been caught up in the fervor of his anti-Nazism, and chose to make an invalid, and quite divisive, blanket accusation against the pacifists.
No such change of mind after a period of serious reflection has conquered the resolve of most of the Neocons. They readily understand what backing down on these essential arguments, over the rightness of the Iraq War, means to their legacy, or even to their current reputations and gigs. To admit error is to show weakness, and to show weakness on this issue is doubly disastrous for Republicans, who need to shed the Dubya curse once and for all, and so need to blame Barack Obama (and so also Hillary Clinton) for losing the Iraq War.
One last thing about what Orwell had to say in his recantation, or his reassessment—the context of the statement is very important. Orwell was noting that the tenor of the public debate in his time had grown very harsh, to the point that it was essentially disabling the very point of political debate—trying to carve out political solutions in some kind of consensus or compromise.
Orwell noted that, on December 8, 1944, all that had been tossed aside in favor of opponents just trying to score points in political contests:
"The thing that strikes me more and more—and it strikes a lot of other people, too—is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time. I don’t mean merely that controversies are acrimonious. They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects. I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point...Nobody is searching for the truth, everybody is putting forward a ‘case’ with complete disregard for fairness or accuracy, and the most plainly obvious facts can be ignored by those who don’t want to see them. The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere."Four years later, Orwell would publish a novel about a world where the same propaganda tricks and the same repressive political regimes, were to be found everywhere.
Naturally, what Orwell is writing about, seventy years ago, could be said today just as well—indeed with much more force. Now, it is not even that nobody is searching for the truth. Few people believe such a thing exists, and even if they did, the public debate is merely a vehicle to score points and practice power, and of course to peddle products.
But, back to the beginning of this. Does John Bolton care that he is a poor Orwell scholar? Or, is that even the case, at least to the extent we are expected to believe Bolton did not know about the recantation. Perhaps that is so. But much more likely is that Bolton is very used to having his little Orwell memes or spells work. This time it blew up in his face, kind of like an IED—improvised educational device.