Saturday, November 01, 2008

George Orwell on the Case of General Draza Mihailovich

By Carl Savich
October 2008

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

George Orwell, "1984" (1949)

When George Orwell published his political satire "Animal Farm" in 1945, he wrote a preface to the book that was deleted and censored from the rest of the text. In the preface, Orwell criticized the censorship and suppression that were endemic in Western countries.

The censored, deleted, and suppressed preface to Animal farm was first published in The Times Literary Supplement on September 15, 1972 as an essay entitled “The Freedom of the Press”. In the preface, Orwell analyzed and deconstructed government and media censorship in Britain during World War II. In particular, Orwell discussed and criticized the British government’s censorship of his book Animal Farm. Orwell analyzed self-imposed media self-censorship and how events and facts were censored and distorted in British society where the government and media suppressed uncomfortable or unpopular truths. In the dystopian satire 1984 (1949), Orwell would term this “duckspeak”, which in Newspeak meant literally to quack like a duck or to speak without thinking.

In 1984, duckspeak is defined:

’There is a word in Newspeak,’ said Syme, ‘I don't know whether you know it: duckspeak, to talk like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse, applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.’

Unquestionably Syme will be vaporized, Winston thought again. ...

Provided that the opinions which were quacked out were orthodox ones, it implied nothing but praise, and when The Times referred to one of the orators of the Party as a doubleplusgood duckspeaker it was paying a warm and valued compliment.”

George Orwell, whose birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, was a socialist himself throughout his life and career. This is a fact usually censored and detailed in any biographical profile of Orwell. Orwell criticized Soviet Communistic socialism because he was a socialist himself. It took one to know one. The fact that Orwell was a socialist was de-emphasized because the British government and the U.S. government sought o use his writings against the Soviet Union and against communism and socialism during the Cold War.

Orwell became a primary source in the ideological conflict between the Western countries such as Britain and the U.S. and the Eastern countries represented by the Soviet Union and China. So his writings were invariably exploited and prostituted as propaganda in the ideological conflict of the Cold War. Propaganda and ideology are black and white. There is no room for any shades of gray. This is why his criticisms and examination of Western media censorship and suppression were themselves suppressed and omitted. The preface to Animal farm itself was suppressed and censored and deleted from the book. Orwell warned that media suppression in the West represented a “slide towards Fascist ways of thought”.

In the deleted proposed preface to Animal Farm, re-titled “The Freedom of the Press”, George Orwell analyzed the role of censorship in Britain. Animal Farm was written in the form of an allegory or as “a fairy story”. But there was no doubt at all that is was based on and directed against the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin. In the deleted preface, Orwell analyzed British self-censorship. In particular, Orwell examined the case of Draza Mihailovich:

In the internal struggles in the various occupied countries, the British press has in almost all cases sided with the faction favoured by the Russians and libelled the opposing faction, sometimes suppressing material evidence in order to do so. A particularly glaring case was that of Colonel Mihailovich, the Jugoslav Chetnik leader. The Russians, who had their own Jugoslav protege in Marshal Tito, accused Mihailovich of collaborating with the Germans. This accusation was promptly taken up by the British press: Mihailovich’s supporters were given no chance of answering it, and facts contradicting it were simply kept out of print. In July of 1943 the Germans offered a reward of 100,000 gold crowns for the capture of Tito, and a similar reward for the capture of Mihailovich. The British press ‘splashed’ the reward for Tito, but only one paper mentioned (in small print) the reward for Mihailovich: and the charges of collaborating with the Germans continued.”

Orwell also noted instances of censorship during the civil war in Spain from 1936 to 1939:

Very similar things happened during the Spanish civil war. Then, too, the factions on the Republican side which the Russians were determined to crush were recklessly libeled in the English leftwing press, and any statement in their defense even in letter form, was refused publication. At present, not only is serious criticism of the USSR considered reprehensible, but even the fact of the existence of such criticism is kept secret in some cases. For example, shortly before his death Trotsky had written a biography of Stalin. One may assume that it was not an altogether unbiased book, but obviously it was saleable. An American publisher had arranged to issue it and the book was in print — 1 believe the review copies had been sent out — when the USSR entered the war. The book was immediately withdrawn. Not a word about this has ever appeared in the British press, though clearly the existence of such a book, and its suppression, was a news item worth a few paragraphs.”

Orwell analyzed how censorship in the Western countries differed from that in the totalitarian states. In the totalitarian states, censorship was outright and open. In the Western countries, however, censorship was more subtle and covert in nature. Censorship existed in both states, but in the Western state censorship was perceived as benign and innocuous and self-imposed. In Western countries, censorship thus becomes self-censorship.

Orwell analyzed British self-censorship:

We have not been subjected to the kind of totalitarian 'co-ordination' that it might have been reasonable to expect. The press has some justified grievances, but on the whole the Government has behaved well and has been surprisingly tolerant of minority opinions. The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news - things which on their own merits would get the big headlines - being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

At this moment what is demanded by the prevailing orthodoxy is an uncritical admiration of Soviet Russia.

Obviously it is not desirable that a government department should have any power of censorship (except security censorship, which no one objects to in war time) over books which are not officially sponsored. But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the MOI or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion.

It is important to distinguish between the kind of censorship that the English literary intelligentsia voluntarily impose upon themselves, and the censorship that can sometimes be enforced by pressure groups. Notoriously, certain topics cannot be discussed because of 'vested interests'.

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular - however foolish, even - entitled to a hearing?

Voltaire: 'I detest what you say; I will defend to the death your right to say it'.

If the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of western civilization means anything at all, it means that everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way.

If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

In the January 12, 1945 "As I Please" series in the Tribune, George Orwell discussed censorship and media manipulation and deception in the case of Draza Mihailovich:

I invite attention to an article entitled ‘The Truth about Mihailovich?’ (the author of it also writes for Tribune, by the way) in the current World Review. It deals with the campaign in the British press and the B.B.C. to brand Mihailovich as a German agent. Jugoslav politics are very complicated and I make no pretence of being an expert on them. For all I know it was entirely right on the part of Britain as well as the U.S.S.R. to drop Mihailovich and support Tito. But what interests me is the readiness, once this decision had been taken, of reputable British newspapers to connive at what amounted to forgery in order to discredit the man whom they had been backing a few months earlier. There is no doubt that this happened. The author of the article gives details of one out of a number of instances in which material facts were suppressed in the most impudent way. Presented with very strong evidence to show that Mihailovich was not a German agent, the majority of our newspapers simply refused to print it, while repeating the charges of treachery just as before.”

Self-censorship and media suppression and manipulation are endemic threats in a democratic society. The censorship and suppression of the facts in the Draza Mihailovich case allowed a Communist dictatorship to be established in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell showed that for democracy to be viable and legitimate, self-censorship and media suppression must be understood and examined.

1 comment:

  1. Orwell was English,
    why are his quotes in American with the inncorrect z's instead of s's