As I Please

in Tribune

2 February 1945

George Orwell

I HAVE just been rereading, with great interest, an old favourite of my boyhood, The Green Curve by ‘Ole Luk-Oie’. ‘Ole Luk-Oie’ was the pseudonym of Major Swinton (afterwards General Swinton), who was, I believe, one of the rather numerous people credited with the invention of the tank. The stories in this book, written about 1908, are the forecasts of an intelligent professional soldier who had learned the lessons of the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War, and it is interesting to compare them with what actually happened a few years later.

One story, written as early as 1907 (at which date no aeroplane had actually risen off the ground for more than a few seconds), describes an air raid. The aeroplanes carry eight-pounder bombs! Another story, written in the same year, deals with a German invasion of England, and I was particularly interested to notice that in this story the Germans are already nicknamed ‘Huns’. I had been inclined to attribute the use of the word ‘Hun’, for Germans, to Kipling, who certainly used it in the poem that he published during the first week of the last war.

In spite of the efforts of several newspapers, ‘Hun’ has never caught on in this war, but we have plenty of other offensive nicknames. Someone could write a valuable monograph on the use of question-begging names and epithets, and their effect in obscuring political controversies. It would bring out the curious fact that if you simply accept and apply to yourself a name intended as an insult, it may end by losing its insulting character. This appears to be happening to ‘Trotskyist’, which is already dangerously close to being a compliment. So also with ‘Conchy’ during the last war. Another example is ‘Britisher’. This word was used for years as a term of opprobrium in the anglophobe American press. Later on, Northcliffe and others, looking round for some substitute for ‘Englishman’ which should have an imperialistic and jingoistic flavour, found ‘Britisher’ ready to hand, and took it over. Since then the word has had an aura of gutter patriotism, and the kind of person who tells you that ‘what these natives need is a firm hand’ also tells you that he is ‘proud to be a Britisher’—which is about equivalent to a Chinese Nationalist describing himself as a ‘Chink’.

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A LEAFLET recently received from the Friends’ Peace Committee states that if the current scheme to remove all Poles from the areas to be taken over by the U.S.S.R., and, in compensation, all Germans from the portions of Germany to be taken over by Poland, is put into operation, ‘this will involve the transfer of not less than seven million people’.

Some estimates, I believe, put it higher than this, but let us assume it to be seven millions. This is equivalent to uprooting and transplanting the entire population of Australia, or the combined populations of Scotland and Ireland. I am no expert on transport or housing, and I would like to hear from somebody better qualified a rough estimate (a) of how many wagons and locomotives, running for how long, would be involved in transporting those seven million people, plus their livestock, farm machinery and household goods; or, alternatively, (b) of how many of them are going to die of starvation and exposure if they are simply shipped off without their livestock, etc.

I fancy the answer to (a) would show that this enormous crime cannot actually be carried through, though it might be started, with confusion, suffering and the sowing of irreconcilable hatreds as the result. Meanwhile, the British people should be made to understand, with as much concrete detail as possible, what kind of policies their statesmen are committing them to.

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A NOT-TOO-DISTANT explosion shakes the house, the windows rattle in their sockets, and in the next room the 1964 class wakes up and lets out a yell or two. Each time this happens I find myself thinking, ‘Is it possible that human beings can continue with this lunacy very much longer?’ You know the answer, of course. Indeed, the difficulty nowadays is to find anyone who thinks that there will not be another war in the fairly near future.

Germany, I suppose, will be defeated this year, and when Germany is out of the way Japan will not be able to stand up to the combined power of Britain and the U.S.A. Then there will be a peace of exhaustion, with only minor and unofficial wars raging all over the place, and perhaps this so-called peace may last for decades. But after that, by the way the world is actually shaping, it may well be that war will become permanent. Already, quite visibly and more or less with the acquiescence of all of us, the world is splitting up into the two or three huge super-states forecast in James Burnham’s Managerial Revolution. One cannot draw their exact boundaries as yet, but one can see more or less what areas they will comprise. And if the world does settle down into this pattern, it is likely that these vast states will be permanently at war with one another, though it will not necessarily be a very intensive or bloody kind of war. Their problems, both economic and psychological, will be a lot simpler if the doodlebugs are more or less constantly whizzing to and fro.

If these two or three super-states do establish themselves, not only will each of them be too big to be conquered, but they will be under no necessity to trade with one another, and in a position to prevent all contact between their nationals. Already, for a dozen years or so, large areas of the earth have been cut off from one another, although technically at peace.

Some months ago, in this column, I pointed out that modern scientific inventions have tended to prevent rather than increase international communication. This brought me several angry letters from readers, but none of them were able to show that what I had said was false. They merely retorted that if we had Socialism, the aeroplane, the radio, etc. would not be perverted to wrong uses. Very true, but then we haven’t Socialism. As it is, the aeroplane is primarily a thing for dropping bombs and the radio primarily a thing for whipping up nationalism. Even before the war there was enormously less contact between the peoples of the earth than there had been thirty years earlier, and education was perverted, history rewritten and freedom of thought suppressed to an extent undreamed of in earlier ages. And there is no sign whatever of these tendencies being reversed.

Maybe I am pessimistic. But, at any rate, those are the thoughts that cross my mind (and a lot of other people’s too, I believe) every time the explosion of a V bomb booms through the mist.

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A LITTLE story I came upon in a book.

Someone receives an invitation to go out lion-hunting. ‘But,’ he exclaims, ‘I haven’t lost any lions!’

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