As someone who has re-read George Orwell’s “1984” within the past couple of years, it is rare for me to go many days without being reminded of how well Orwell’s work predicted certain aspects of modern American life. With the NYTs as my only source of news media, Saturday’s paper offered up a bonanza of those Owellian deja vu moments.
Ghosts of Orwell danced to the forefront of my consciousness on page one today in the form of the cheery economic news. “Employers in U.S. Add 207,000 Jobs to July Payrolls – Fastest Pace Since April – Unemployment is Steady – Rise in Interest Rate Remains Likely,” the headline touts the goodness of the American economy. Reading on under the banner you’ll find a torrent of wondrous news brought by the global economy. The employment report was fresh evidence that “workers are beginning to benefit from an economy that is growing at a steady, robust pace.” In the next breath, the loss of manufacturing jobs is dismissed thus, “With the exception of manufacturing, the labor market was strong across the board, offering further confirmation of the economic expansion evident in recent data on consumer spending, industrial production and home sales.” The economy is moving along strongly says one economist. And the expansion is in defiance of those factors which are apparent to all of you in your daily lives: rising interest rates and surging oil (and therefore gasoline) prices. Perhaps I am living in some surreal world. Maybe I am tucked away in the corner of an asylum, securely wrapped in a straight jacket. But, it seems to me, that from the viewpoint of the common person, this economy is a disaster. And these endless reports of how well we are all doing – production is up, production is up – sounds as if it was created only hours ago in the bowels of the Ministry of Information, and rushed to the Proles to assure their belief in nothingness.
Next to the report from the Ministry of Information on the rise in production was the charming coverage of the War with Eurasia, er, I mean Iraq. It is a photograph that combines all the important news from Iraq, both military and culinary. Imagine a second world kitchen. Old stone walls, rudimentary cooking implements, and propane tanks – all suggesting a home that has not been equipped with the latest wonders from General Electric or Maytag, and is not likely to be so in the near future. On the right side of the photo is a Eurasian, er, Iraqi woman and her son. She stands looking pensive, a hand drawn to her face. Her son sits on the floor beside her, his face neutral and passive, perhaps a look of indifference learned as a survival skill. The kitchen is theirs, it would seem, and they are staring at our heroic forces. Three soldiers – the finest Big Brother could send. Two of the soldiers are eating off a metal tray that has been laid on the floor. Though it is a still photograph, you can almost see the speed and with which soldiers in the field eat. A third soldier is standing in the doorway, perhaps advising his comrades in arms. The caption rather blandly explains that the eating soldiers are Marines from Ohio, and that they are eating a breakfast “provided” by a family. Without the caption, and its gentle suggestion that this scene is akin to the morning meal at a bed and breakfast, the photograph might be sinister. It might be a modernized photograph of British colonial soldiers forcibly dining off the bounty of an 18th century rural farmer in America, or perhaps of German soldiers having breakfast “provided” at a peasant home in pastoral France following the blitzkrieg. But the caption makes it all better. And it is the only front page coverage of the war in Iraq on this fine day. Compliments of the Ministry of Defense, no doubt.
The real war coverage falls to page five. Again, we are introduced to the images of war with a photograph. This time it is a soldier kneeling outside a stony structure, rifle resting across his knee at the ready. A brother in war is marching out of the darkened doorway of the structure. The caption tells us that these brave men are “guarding” a house. Our brave soldiers are apparently protecting the local populations of Eastasians, er, Iraqis from themselves. It is not only necessary work we do, comrades. It is noble. Underneath, an article explains that our brave soldiers have begun an offensive where more than a dozen of their brave ranks have died recently. They will pacify the terrorists who were responsible. Mostly with massive bombs, I am sure.
On the same page we can begin to understand the reason our brave troops are still dying, despite their incredible superiority to the primitive mongrels that oppose them. You see, it is not the bravery of the Eastasian, er, Iraqi “insurgents” that allows them any success in killing our liberating soldiers. It is a nefarious plot. The evil Fareast, er, Iranians have been constructing bombs. Most effective bombs. And smuggling them to Eastasia, er, Iraq, where they are used to kill our brave men. Fear not, for when we have finished our job in Eastasia, er, Iraq, I am quite sure that Big Brother will turn his most righteous wrath on the Fareast, er, Iran. The war is truly noble. As noble as it is perpetual.
I would prefer to end this diary entry here, but to be fair, I have learned what it takes for the NYTs to consider the War in Iraq front page news, and I should pass along that information. Apparently, the standard for breaking into front page headlines is born of a secret formula. I do not know the exact formula, but two of its variables have been revealed to me in my third week of reading only the news that is fit to print. I am now certain that the variables of the formula include 1) body count, and more importantly 2) the uniform that is being worn by those tallied in the body count. My evidence for this is Friday’s front page headline – in 24 point type (I think, maybe even 36): “14 Marines Killed By Roadside Bomb In West Iraq City – Blast Flips 25-Ton Troop Carrier – Two-Day Toll Rises to 21.”
If the generals could only think of a way to include car chases in this messy business of war, I am quite certain that there would be a major motion picture deal in the offing.