George Orwell and Ray Bradbury in Farenheit 9/11

’In accordance with the principles of double-think it does not matter
if the war is not real. For when it is, victory is not possible. The
war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous.’ (George Orwell, 1984; quoted at the end of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11)

I'm getting over mild food poisoning from a Portuguese restaurant in Boston, so I don't really have the energy to substantiate the title of this post. [Update: I did it here and here] But it seems to me that it might be worth someone's time to look at the relationship between Orwell's writings in particular and Moore's influence on American popular culture. Both figures are flawed, and were/are widely attacked for questioning the 'party line'. Both change their minds about things often, and are full of intellectual and philosophical inconsistencies. That said, both Orwell and Moore also reset the profile for politically-engaged intellectual activity in their respective times and places.

I know less about Bradbury and I have to admit (Morris Zapp moment here) that I've never read Farenheit 451. So I obviously can't say much about it. However, it's worth noting that the only writer Moore quotes in F911 is Orwell.

At the end of his ugly 'review' of Moore, Christopher Hitchens (clearly eager to renew his credibility with the right after his trashing of Reagan) has this passage on Moore's use of Orwell:

Perhaps vaguely aware that his movie so completely lacks gravitas, Moore concludes with a sonorous reading of some words from George Orwell. The words are taken from 1984 and consist of a third-person analysis of a hypothetical, endless, and contrived war between three superpowers. The clear intention, as clumsily excerpted like this (...) is to suggest that there is no moral distinction between the United States, the Taliban, and the Baath Party and that the war against jihad is about nothing. If Moore had studied a bit more, or at all, he could have read Orwell really saying, and in his own voice, the following:

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration for totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writing of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States

And that's just from Orwell's Notes on Nationalism in May 1945. A short word of advice: In general, it's highly unwise to quote Orwell if you are already way out of your depth on the question of moral equivalence.

To me, this is the only thing worth taking seriously in Hitchens' essay.

Still, I don't think he's right. I tend to agree with the passage quoted from Orwell's Notes that pacifism cannot be a universal principle. But it's unclear that Moore's is a pacifist film, or that Moore himself is a pacifist. And it's also urgent to remember that most people who opposed the war in Iraq did so not out of 'intellectual pacifism' but out of a strong suspicion that the WMD was spin, and that unilateral invasions pose a threat to international order. Finally, the lines quoted by Moore in the film are from 1984, and the analogy works quite well within the logic of the film.

Really the best way to develop this would be to take a look at Orwell's journalistic work near the start of World War II, when it wasn't at all clear where things were going. Hitchens doesn't do this.