George Orwell, Edward Bernays & Perpetual War

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Zero Hedge reader “Ferrari”,

Another horrific act of terror, another shrill chorus calls the faithful to war. It’s a recurring phenomenon in this early Twenty-first Century. The horrible news crashes from the heavens like a meteor, violently jolting us from the Saint Vitus Dance of our produce-consume existence. Our screens with all the answers flash between splattered blood on the pavement and the victims’ smiling faces as they were in life. From the Middle East we hear little and see less of the shattered lives on the receiving end of our vengeance. Like giving a fifth of bourbon to a drunk prostrate on the pavement, our leaders advocate more slaughter as the solution to the world’s problems. Mass civilian casualties is the global order of the day, the constant in our lives.

Orwell’s essay on Perpetual War in “1984” is currently enjoying a revival in certain circles. Through the novel’s mysterious bogey man, Emmanuel Goldstein, Orwell avers that technological innovations have brought industry to such a level of efficiency that material abundance and leisure should be attainable to all. Widespread material comfort and spare time would allow the populace to develop intellectually and spiritually, and thus to achieve a kind of universal enlightenment. Orwell argues that with such leisure-based understanding, humanity would question the necessity for hierarchy and begin to threaten the arrangement that so benefits those at society’s pinnacle.

During the first half of the Twentieth Century those atop “1984”’s pyramid perceived this eventuality and identified a leisured, enlightened public as a threat to social stability and their dominant position. The ruling caste devised Perpetual War as a way of keeping industrial production humming. Orwell plainly states, “The primary aim of modern warfare… is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.”           Rather than distribute the fruits of modern industry to the masses, produced goods are blown up and sent to the bottom of the ocean, thus artificially maintaining scarcity. According to Orwell, both the terror and material scarcity attendant to such engineered, continuous conflict deprives humanity of the security and leisure necessary for the political awareness necessary to question society’s hierarchical arrangement. Perpetual War keeps the population struggling to eke out its meager existence and thus remain both ignorant and docile.

The hypothesis of Perpetual War has been blowing around the sentient class for decades. Author Chalmers Johnson, said it was the failed promise of the promised peace dividend at the end of the Cold War that lead him to question motives behind the American Empire. Going back further, Col. Fletcher Prouty argued that the Vietnam War was engineered as early as 1945 to be a profit-making, interminable war. Vietnam, Korea, The Cold War, The War on Drugs, and now The Global War on Terror were all virtually unending with exorbitant price tags, driving nations–particularly our own–deeply into debt. Our leaders constantly cry public poverty when it comes to rebuilding our infrastructure or keeping the lights on in our cities, yet there’s always funds for new carpet bombing, furtive drone campaigns, or boots on the ground abroad.

Orwell’s hypothesis of Perpetual War as a bulwark to maintain the status quo works quite well, up to a point.What he did not seem to recognize was the far more effective silencing mechanism, not of material scarcity, but of consumer abundance. Long before Orwell envisioned his “1984” nightmare, a small group of virtually anonymous men devised and implemented consumerism in a mere decade, the 1920’s.

With industrial Europe transformed into a battlefield during World War I, America became the manufacturing base for the Western Powers. After the war, U.S. industrialists and Wall Street bankers feared the loss of demand for elevated wartime capacity would plunge the national economy into ruin. At that time the American public purchased items based on need. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers decided to change that, and with Edward Bernays’ adroit effort in public relations, they conceived and gave birth to the American Consumer by creating, molding, and then catering to the individual’s desires.

The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays was fascinated with his uncle’s work on the human subconscious and its applicability to commerce. For example, when tobacco industry executives came to him with the problem that half the population wouldn’t buy cigarettes, Bernays devised a scheme making it acceptable for women to smoke. Basing his research on psychoanalysis, he identified cigarettes as a phallic symbol. Bernays arranged for a group of young socialites to interrupt the New York Easter Day Parade by lighting up, declaring them “Torches of Freedom” for the whirring cameras and reporters. By portraying smoking as an act of women’s liberation, Bernays turned the tide, and Big Tobacco soon captured the other half of American market. Bernays and his cohorts continually repeated such manipulative feats for the next fifty years, and in the process supplanted the American citizen with the American consumer.

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