Rena Cohen
An Israel-born, US-raised, Israel returnee

The Doublethink Newspeak Game

For those who may not have read George Orwell’s absolutely excellent and highly recommended book, 1984, doublethink is a key tool to retaining the totalitarian rule of the Party, personified by Big Brother, in Orwell’s fictional country, Oceania.  The Party serves up completely exclusive/contradictory concepts simultaneously, such as its key slogans, “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength” and shoves these constructs down its subject population’s mental throat.  As Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s CliffsNotes deftly sums it up, “Doublethink requires using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction.” As always, it takes two to tango.  The Party has to have an aggressive agenda and a pointed disinterest in a thinking population that would challenge its iron rule; and the population, on the other hand, whether out of fear, laziness, malaise, depression or a combination of all of these, has to have a rather pointed interest in failing (or refusing) to think. The vast majority of people surrounding 1984’s hapless and ill-fated hero, Winston Smith, just open up and swallow the Party’s concoctions.  No muss, no fuss. Significantly, the official language of Oceania is Newspeak.

It might be an interesting exercise to have a few examples of recent Newspeak in action, and maybe cause a little questioning of the rather obvious (to me) doublethink that these involve by simply substituting a word or location or two, and see if that doesn’t just change everything, and maybe, just maybe, make it less simple for the reading population of said doublethink to just open up and swallow, as it were.

Before we begin this little exercise, however, I believe it is important for me to note that as of the day I am writing this blog, November 13th, 2019, Israel has been hit with over 250 rockets fired aimed at civilian centers from Gaza.   I say “for those who don’t know” because it was obvious to me when said rocket barrage began in the early hours of yesterday morning, the the majority of key news media in the English-speaking world (and I do mean the U.S. news sites among others), could have cared less.  Israelis being bombed — not news, not interesting.

What happened, more or less, was that a leading terrorist in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Abu al-Ata, was taken out by Israel specifically because he had been making life hell by shelling Israeli farms and towns in the southern region of the country for quite some time and was busy with plans for more attacks against civilians inside the country.  For having had the audacity to finally send this murderer permanently away, Israel began to be hit by many, many rockets that friends and benefactors of Islamic Jihad, such as the Iranian mullahs, have handily provided them and which they store in (and launch from) population centers in Gaza (just can’t beat the convenience and utility of those human shields, I tell you).

Now you might think that all of this would interest the U.S. and other English-speaking media, much as the did recent (very much deserved) death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, founder of ISIS, trapped by US Special Forces (and I most sincerely thank them for their service!).  Not so much.  When I checked yesterday morning, most news sites seemed to be completely wrapped around other issues, such as the continuing Trump saga.  Therefore, I have to conclude that many people may not even be aware that this drama is busy playing out.

So, fast forward — here we are.  Day two, rocket fire from Gaza continues.  Poor and hungry people in Iran may well ask where their money is going.  Answer: it is buying missiles that are being blown to bits by Iron Dome installations deployed to protect people trying to just live their lives in Israeli towns and cities such as Sderot, Ashkelon, Modi’in and Tel Aviv.  I leave it to the people of Iran to figure out when they will have had enough of being pawns exploited for the money to maim and kill civilians and destabilize countries like Lebanon — but I digress.

With all that now established — let’s get back to our game about Newspeak and doublethink.  For those U.S. media outlets that did bother to cover what has been going on during the past couple of days, the take on the situation was often quite interesting.

Here’s one, for example, from the New York Times (link: point in getting into too much depth.  Let’s just play our game with the headline and subhead:

Original version:  “Israel Kills Senior Islamic Jihad Commander in Gaza — The Israel strike prompted a wave of rocket attacks by Gaza militants after a period of relative calm.”  I won’t belabor my point by going into the fact that things were only calm if you don’t care about farm fields being burned up and people being threatened with death from missile attacks and so on.  Let’s move on.

My game version:  “US Kills ISIS Founder — The US strike prompted a wave of rocket attacks by ISIS militants from Mexico after a period of relative calm.”  Hmmm……

…or how about CNN’s coverage (which you really have to peel back some pages to look for — the first page is all about the Trump impeachment, as usual — link:  CNN takes a slightly different approach.  Original headline:  “Israel Air Strike Kills Islamic Jihad Leader” — two paragraphs down, “The developments serve to escalate significantly tensions between Israel and Gaza militants” — no mention of rockets being actively fired into Israel until twelve paragraphs into the article.  Neat trick, folks! 

My game version:  “US Special Forces Kill ISIS Leader.” [Follow with brief description of the operation — with as little mention of the reason for it as possible — and a pitiful picture or two of the slain leader’s family, CNN style.] Then continue with, “The developments serve to escalate significantly tensions between the U.S. and ISIS militants…” [and follow on with angry pronouncements and from other ISIS leaders and ISIS sympathizers and supporters, then around paragraph 12, get into…} “The Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency said that as of Tuesday morning more than 100 rockets had been fired into the US from Mexico….”

I don’t want to get repetitive, but I hope what I’m trying to say is getting across to those who may care to hear.  It seems that I live in the only country in the world where smashing at the population with rocket fire is simultaneously reported as both a non-event and a deserved punishment.  This is doublethink presented in Newspeak at its finest. Stop swallowing.  Time to wake up. 

About the Author
Born in Kibbutz Nachshon Israel, raised in the U.S. and lived there on both coasts with lots of visits (even a few residential stays) in Israel, and intending to return yet again. Entrepreneurial generalist -- worked for others, built my own medical reporting business (with NO seed money), and since have had an extended career in the U.S. biotech industry in early startups through late clinical stage firms, holding positions in everything from investor relations and corporate communications to business development to Director, Facilities (my current post). Longtime editor, particularly on foreign policy topics. Co-founder, with my sister, Jade Bar-Shalom, Z"L, of the Books for Israel Project during the Second Intifada, which connected synagogues, churches and community centers in the U.S. with low-income Israeli Jewish, Arab, and Druze schools to help them build much-needed English language libraries for the kids. Author of the book, LambBunny and His Friends (on Amazon). On and off painter. Writer of op-eds. Blogger for The Times of Israel.