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The War of Big Brother

May 28, 2008

What causes war? This is the elemental question that this blog would like to answer by trying to understand one commanding theory in International Relations vis-à-vis the prevailing politics in the international community of our modern time. War is the most common word in the global community; it is, in fact, the curse that had bound or broken nations and territories apart for centuries.

From the centuries-old rule of the Egyptian pharaohs to the barbaric rule of the Roman Caesars to the medieval-age domination of European kingdoms, war ruined established nations and brought weak states to the fold of conquering empires. During those times there was no clear concept of international community, as international relations were based mainly on tradition and customs.

It is, however, important to stress the role of war in the gradual formation of international relations, thus the birth of a more defined international community. Apart from traditions and customs, there are legal and natural factors that triggered the existence of more definite relations of nations, such as treaties, general principles of law and other secondary sources. Among the treaties that helped in the configuration of global order are the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the Congress of Vienna of 1815, the Declaration of Paris of 1856, the Geneva Red Cross Convention of 1864, and the United Nations charter of 1945.

The Theory of Realism

The statute of International Court of Justice (art. 38) states that “general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” and other secondary sources like “judicial decisions and teachings of most highly qualified publicists of various nations” shall also form part of international law governing relations between and among nations.

But despite the fact that there are numerous laws, treaties, and principles governing international relations, nation-states are still attached to or ruled by no world power. This means that nations are inherently sovereign and that they have their own personality in the international community and governed by their own rational policies.

This is the concept popularized by Political Realism, which states that “the most basic motive driving states is survival” and “the international system is anarchic.” These foregoing quotations are just among the International Relations myths that this paper seeks to tackle.

Why is it that in spite of the large volumes of treaties and international laws in the annals of the world’s history, all nations still exists in an anarchic global system and wars still prevail? Political realists suggest that nations only identify with and recognize those that favor their self-interest and never the interest and dominance of other countries (Morgenthau 4-15)). This makes the world trapped in the world of anarchic system, as nations only aspire for their own survival and never the survival of other countries.

Political realism has six basic principles, which are the following: 1.) it is governed by objective laws that have their roots in human nature; 2.) it only recognizes self-interest; 3.) that such self-interest is universally valid; 4.) it refuses to accept the policies of other nations; 5.) it is conscious of the moral implication of a political action; 6.) it differs from other schools of thought (Morgenthau 4-15).

Neorealism

There’s one thing that sets realists and neorealists apart, and this is the concept of human nature. The realists posit that the imperfection of man could be the root of all evil in a society and because human nature has not changed since the ancient history of civilization. Neorealism, on the other hand, abandons this concept of human nature and focuses on the conditions of the system as a whole. It says that human nature does not have any impact on conflicts and wars (Weber 5).

This is in conflict with Morgenthau’s assertion that political realism is hinged upon “a pluralistic conception of human nature.” It also asserts that man by nature is evil. One neorealist thought asserts that society both acts as the degrading force and moralizing agency in men’s lives (Waltz 5).

Notwithstanding this variation, both political realism and neorealism agree on the idea that nations seek to increase power because world government can never be achieved and that all nations live in an anarchic world system. Both agree that survival is the only option of nation-states because of the anarchic nature of the relations of nations. This raises the idea that “international anarchy is the permissive cause of war” (Weber 15) due to the three assumptions— 1.) international politics is comprised of sovereign nations; 2.) there is no world government; and 3.) the absence of world government results in anarchic international system.

Nineteen Eighty-Four Film

The film Nineteen Eighty-Four (also titled 1984) is based on the novel of George Orwell (the pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair) of the same title, which was published in 1949 an d has been translated to 62 languages. It was originally titled “The Last Man in Europe” but the publisher suggested replacing it with a marketable title. The movie was released on October 10 1984 while its DVD release was in 2002.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in year 1984, in a fictitious totalitarian superstate of Oceania, which is under English Socialism Movement ruled by Big Brother. Oceania has three social classes, namely, the inner party, the outer party and the proles. People in Oceania are constantly monitored by state agents and through video cameras, and there are posters everywhere with the phrase: Big Brother is Watching You, perhaps the party’s tactic to instill obedience and fear in the people. Also part of the citizens’ everyday lives is the famous quotation: “War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.”

The main character in the story is Winston Smith who works at the Ministry of Truth. In Minitrue (newspeak of Minister of Truth) he met Julia, the woman whom he fell in love with, and their works include distorting information, destroying evidence, revising historical accounts, amending newspaper reports in favor of Big Brother, among others. In his journal, Smith wrote the following lines: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime is death.”

The movie is about conflicts and alliances. War is permanent but alliances are just fleeting, and this explains the temporary alliance between Oceania and another superpower state Eurasia to fight Eastasian forces. Daily meals, foods, and supplies in Oceania are rationed, and all things, even the movements of each citizen, are monitored by Big Brother through surveillance cameras.

George Orwell explains that war cannot be won, as the goal of those in power is just to maintain the structure of society intact. The law in Oceania strictly warns that those who commit thoughtcrime will be vaporized (executed) and declared unperson (dead). Winston and Julia maintain an illicit relationship. Soon they are discovered and arrested by the police authorities. At the end of the movie, Winston is tortured and then professes his gratitude and love for Big Brother. However, before his execution, he is deprived of his free will and of his freedom to think and feel.

How Nineteen Eighty-Four makes sense of the world is by showing what happens to people when they are deprived of their individual rights and freewill by the central government ruled by Big Brother. The world in the movie is composed by three superstates that are constantly at war with each other because of the prevailing anarchic system in the global community. This system somehow allows them to wage war on each other because state policies are centered on self-preservation and survival.

Conclusion

Fear and blind obedience is what characterize the relationship of the people in Oceania towards Big Brother, a powerful governing unit in the said superstate. Their actions are controlled through surveillance video cameras, which make it easier for the central government to find out who among its subjects are planning to bring down the government.

There is an apparent insecurity on the part of the members of the Inner party. Indeed, there’s an existing hierarchy in Oceania through the heavy surveillance apparatus and constant indoctrination by the central government of its own people. The Ministry of Truth where Winston works tries to ensure that all information must be in accord with the will of Big Brother.

This situation confirms that IR myth, which states that “the most basic motive driving states is survival.” If the structure of society is intact, the survival of not only the state but also the ruling power is assured. Ethics, as proponents believe, has no place in the realm of political realism.

The relationship of Oceania towards other states, on the other hand, is centered on national interest and survival. Indeed, it seems that the political powers in those superstates believe that “international anarchy is the permissive cause of war.” Alliance is only temporary while war is constantly sustained. This is well illustrated by the temporary alliance between Oceania and Eurasia to try to weaken the Eastasian forces.

This is the miserable scene in the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four where war is already part of the lives of people in the three superpower states. This movie also tells the taut hierarchy in the superstate of Oceania and the prevailing anarchy in the global community which comprised of three superstates. This anarchic system tolerates the perpetuation of wars by these superstates— and confirms that popular myth in political realism that “international anarchy is the permissive cause of war.”

The movie also shows the element of fear which is being used by Big Brother to ensure public obedience, public order, and compliance. Big brother utilizes technology to monitor its subjects 24 hours a day, as every household is equipped with surveillance camera as well as every street and public building. In this case there is Hawthorne effect, so to speak, because people under constant observation will behave well. State agents are also deployed everywhere to ensure that those who commit thouthcrimes will be immediately punished. In Oceania, the law is Big Brother, and anyone who will disobey Big Brother will be dealt with severely.

This element of fear keeps the people obedient and tranquil at all times, while indoctrination is constantly sustained through public speaker system and huge television screens to make certain that the people are given their daily dose of brainwashing. They also conduct the “Two Minutes Hate” to demonize identified state enemies and rivals. It is also a way to sustain people’s revulsion at the mortal foes of Oceania like Emmanuel Goldstein (who might not exist). This kind of fear is that fear of one self, that is, fear to use one’s free will, to feel, and to think. That is why thoughtcrime is considered a capital offense. Big Brother doesn’t want its people to think because if they do they will be able to assert their individual rights and work to bring down their corrupt and abusive government. This is the reason why Waltz suggests that the only antidote to war is an enlightened people.

Fear must be sustained and war must be perpetuated in order to keep the people committed to their ‘patriotic duty’ to the country, because no one has the right to complain, to feel, and to think when the country is at war. If you value your life there’s only one option— cancel your feeling and mind. The consequence of this system is unrelenting conflicts among nation-states whose political affairs are run by people consumed by selfishness and their desire to maintain and increase power. This kind of system also breeds unproductive and terrified people. Unproductive because they have no right to apply their individual talents, since it is also regulated by the state, and terrified because their duty is only to follow and not to think and feel.

In his book Man, the State, War, Waltz is actually explaining the relations among these three entities with each other. He suggested that war is caused by the evil tendencies of men like selfishness, stupidity, and aggressive impulses. In the movie, posters with the words Big Brother is Watching You are everywhere to instill fear in the public not to do things that are considered punishable crimes by the Ingsoc party. Big Brother has to infuse fear in the minds of the people of Oceania in order to keep the prevailing political hierarchy, which is totalitarianism, intact, and the role of war is to give the regime vast or even exceeding authority or mandate over its subjects. Since there is no existing world government that is committed in punishing rogue and abusive states, anarchy prevails and the consequence is the perpetuation of war.

Waltz may be right in drawing the attention of IR intellectuals on the conditions of the state as a whole and not on the human-level factors. In this dystopian film, all policies, actions, and aggressions of Oceania are determined and made by Big Brother, and there is no need to consult the people because they only belong to the outer party, which means they are not authorized to interfere in what is called political affairs. Asked Waltz (10): “Aggressive tendencies may be inherent, but is their direction inevitable?” He (Waltz 10) answered by saying, “War begins in the minds and emotions of men, as all acts do…”

Whether Oceania wages war on Eurasia or Eastasia, its goal will remain the same— for survival and national interest, because the relations among states is not definite and characterized by anarchic system. Since there is no existing world government that would set orders and punish those nations whose actions are not in accord with international law, Oceania and other superstates can always declare war against each other. This is so because the people forming the inner party, including Big Brother, only seek to preserve and expand power. Further their aim is to keep the structures of Oceania society tightly intact.

Certainly, the movie Nineteen Eighty-Four proves the three principal images suggested by Waltz— war as a result of behavior of man, as an outcome of men’s internal organization of states, and as a product of international anarchy. Both Waltz and George Orwell believe that in wars victory is not guaranteed. Waltz (1) wrote: “That is wars there is no victory but only varying degrees of defeat is a proposition that has gained increasing acceptance in the twentieth century.”

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is happening these days. The face of international law was severely altered after the United States of America waged war on Iraq. The U.S. government had to convince the Americans and the world that it had to invade Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction, which was later proven to be untrue. Perhaps, USA did that because of its internal policies of survival and hegemony and the kind of people who form part of its government— plus the fact that there is indeed prevailing anarchy in the international community.

References:

Weber, Cynthia. International Relations: A Critical Introduction. 2nd Edn., London: Routledge 2001: 5.

Morgenthau, Hans J. “Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace. Fifth edition. Revised. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1978): 4-15.

International Court of Justice. Statute, Article 38.

Waltz, Kenneth N. Man, the State, and War. New York: Columbia University (1965): 1-10

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