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Naked City

More "Statesman' Newspeak

By Lee Nichols, October 5, 2001, News

Novelist and socialist George Orwell would hardly have been surprised to find his own words used in an "Orwellian" fashion. Such was the case on Sept. 24, when Austin American-Statesman columnist David Lowery attacked "pacifists, anti-war activists and self-styled intellectuals" partaking in recent Capitol protests, while completely misrepresenting Orwell's thinking -- including a specific Orwell essay Lowery cites.

Lowery praises Orwell as "one of his generation's clearest thinkers. But he was no pacifist." He notes that Orwell served in the Spanish Civil War, but most of his arguments refer to a 1949 Orwell essay, "Reflections on Gandhi." According to Lowery, Orwell was supposedly "disgusted" by Gandhi's "asceticism and a pacifist doctrine of such purity that Gandhi was willing to have millions die at the hands of the Nazis."

Orwell indeed disdained Gandhi's piety, but "Reflections" mostly praises the Indian leader. Gandhi, according to Orwell, "enriched the world simply by being alive," and his nonviolence was successful in its main objective: the largely peaceful ending of British rule. "It seems doubtful whether civilization can stand another major war," Orwell wrote, "and it is at least thinkable that the way out lies through nonviolence."

As for Lowery's Nazi reference (Gandhi reportedly said the Jews should have committed mass suicide to arouse world passion against Hitler, and that suicide would have made their deaths more significant), Orwell was not disgusted; rather, he lauded Gandhi for taking a stand. "Gandhi was merely being honest," Orwell wrote. "If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way." (Lowery omits the first sentence and fails to note that the second was paraphrasing Gandhi's thinking, not criticizing it.) Orwell's criticism of Western pacifists was that they didn't match Gandhi's forthrightness.

Lowery claims that "Were [Orwell] among us today, his pen would skewer the anti-war rhetoric ... as hopelessly naïve and dangerously misguided." Actually, Orwell's writings argue that if information is controlled by too few hands, reality can be completely distorted; he would "skewer" the dominant media that indignantly beats the drum for war against foreign "terrorists" while ignoring or justifying the brutality of its own government.

Lies = Truth, indeed.

(Orwell's "Reflections on Gandhi" is available at

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