On Tuesday, as I logged into facebook and twitter, it seemed everywhere I gazed people were posting videos and hash tags telling me that it was 2012, Kony 2012 in fact, but it didn’t feel like it, it felt much closer to 1984. In his compelling novel George Orwell depicts a dystopia where thought control is used to ensure that population will willing support war. For me Kony 2012 resonated with a number of elements which are so horrifying depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
‘War is peace and peace is war’. In Nineteen Eighty-Four war is institutionalised as an necessary condition for peace and peace is therefore paradoxically contingent on being at war, similarly Kony 2012 explains to us that it is necessary for the Ugandan army, supported by US troops, to go to war with Kony in order for peace to be achieved in North Uganda. Certainly, the impression that the video gives is that the ends (arresting the homicidal Kony) would justify the means of doing so (military intervention). Such justification is far from uncommon (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc.), Orwell himself reminds us that “every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.” War with these ‘mad dogs’, such as Kony, is inevitable and peace is through negotiation is impossible.
In the novel the belief that peace is contingent on war is created by the entire population being impelled to spend two minutes each day spewing hate towards their enemy in a jingoistic fever induced by a collectively watched short video. On Tuesday it seemed that social pressure lead users of Facebook and Twitter to do something similar – but for thirty minutes! The eliciting of extreme emotional responses is achieved by simplifying the causes for military conflict to the enemy being evil and that one man is the very embodiment of that evil. Therefore if that one man did not exist neither would the evil. That man is possibly less depicted as a man than as the Devil himself.
This blaming of one evil man is coordinated with repeated emotive scenes of war atrocities or personal accounts of the victims. The resulting feeling is one of identification with the victim and hatred towards those who have been identified as having perpetuated so much evil. A feeling of compulsion to make these acts stop by “whatever it takes” – even if it means more violence is the result.
What is so amazing is that the Kony 2012 video makes it clear to the audience that they are considered to have the mental facilities of a five year old child and therefore require no more explanation than the film makers five year old son. One of the most concerning issues which the Kony 2012 video raises is that so many adults are willing to accept consignment to infantile status, needing no more information or having no more ability rationalise than an infant – thus the audience is in need of being told in the most simplistic way what to think. Moreover, rather than being angry at being treated as dumb a large segment of the audience was enthralled by the simplicity. The black and whiteness of the issue is celebrated, rather than questioned.
Obviously, airbrushing out shades of grey is a principal way creating powerful propaganda. Shades of grey such as the fact that we are being asked to provide support for a brutal dictator Yoweri Museveni, whose election EU observers believe was rigged and who has violently suppressed all opposition to him. Or that the Ugandan Army is widely seen as being corrupt and brutal, would leave us questioning whether providing military support for a brutal dictatorship and military is something we support. How many people will die as result of escalating violence? What are the consequences of supporting US intervention in an oil rich developing country? How do you disarm 200 child soldiers without killing them and is this why many north Ugandans want peace through an amnesty rather than escalation the fighting? Is an escalation of fighting with an organisation which the UN describes as a dying out even necessary? Could the millions of pounds that it would cost be better spent on humanitarian causes?
To stop such questioning Orwell explains how the use of language is controlled in such a way as to limit alternatives, what Orwell calls ‘newspeak’. For example, using terms such as ‘disarm’ rather than ‘kill’, ‘exterminate’, ‘bomb’ or ‘shoot’. Dehumanising the enemy by referring to them as ‘the LRA’ instead of ‘child soldiers’. Or ‘military support’ and ‘arrest’ rather than ‘war’ and ‘attack’. The result is that we are asked to ‘support for efforts to arrest Kony and disarm the LRA’ rather than to support ‘escalating military violence in an attempt to kill Kony and his 200 child soldiers‘. I wonder how many people would still support Kony 2012 if it stated clearly that the aim of the campaign was support for a war against child soldiers, and that this support would likely result in hundreds of children being killed by a brutal military while strengthening a violent dictatorship? I hope not many