by Tom Miller
The only thing the matter with Nineteen Eighty-Four is its title.
Though Orwell was probably intelligently inverting the year of the book’s creation, nineteen forty-eight, the expression Nineteen Eighty-Four lacks the sting of Brave New World.
Airstrip One is a better coinage, because Britain in World War II and the Cold War provided the US with an invaluable base for bombers that either attacked or threatened Germany and the USSR. We are told at page 7 of the text (I am using the second impression of the first edition) that Airstrip One is ‘the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania’, and I infer that the New England and Midwestern provinces, based on New York and Chicago respectively, are the first two.
This article seeks to reconstruct the history of the public events in Winston Smith’s exciting life in Airstrip One.
One difficulty is that (at page 11) Winston is uncertain whether he is really writing in 1984, but he seems to be, understandably, excessively sceptical: he does after all contribute to the Times, and its editions were dated, as we learn on page 79.
Winston was born in 1944 or 1945 (page 1), and in his early life Britain was at peace, but a war brought a nuclear attack on Colchester (page 35). Another atom bomb fell, probably in 1954, on a specific location in the countryside (page 129) where Winston and Julia make love in 1984. The end of the war brought ‘ideological battles’ in the 1950s and 1960s (page 154), but lemons, unavailable in 1984, could be obtained in the 1950s (page 148). Winston thinks (page 38) that the word INGSOC only dated from about 1960. A severe Socialism thus succeeds Capitalism, as a children’s history book records (page 74). The overfulfilment of a part of the ninth three-year plan at the beginning of the book (page 6) implies that the Oceanian structure was in place in 1958.
By 1965, the three-super-state organisation of the world existed. We reach this conclusion because Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford (page 77) are arrested in that year in the course of the great purges that had wiped out all the original revolutionaries except Big Brother (page 76), and they are falsely charged with co-operation with the General Staff of Oceania’s enemy, Eurasia. They are tried, released and rearrested in 1968 (page 79), and then executed, though in 1973 Winston discovers (page 79) that in 1963 they were really in New York when they were supposed to have been at a Eurasian base in Siberia. (By 1973, Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia.)
In 1980, Oceania is at war with Eastasia (page 36), but at the beginning of the novel (page 16) Eurasia is again the enemy, though it is not clear when Oceania changed sides. (We are told on page 16 that Oceania is usually at war with one other super-state, but at peace with the other.)
In the summer of 1984, Oceania changes sides again. Winston (page 181) is in a London square when it is announced that the super-state is now at war with Eastasia, and has indeed always been at war with Eastasia (page 183), and that Eurasia is an ally (page 181). Huge work has to be done in order to amend the records.
It is not clear for how long Winston’s ‘conversion’ at the hands of O’Brien goes on, but two or three years seems a fair estimate. After his release, in perhaps 1987 (page 287), Winston visits the ill-starred Chestnut Tree Cafe to drink gin and to listen to the war news: the news, that is, of the war with Eurasia. He is thrilled (page 297) by a big victory of Oceanian arms in central Africa…
Oceania’s repeated switches in alliance enable Orwell, as I pointed out in the Orwell Society Journal in Summer 2017, to ridicule the changes in policy forced on the ordinary Communist by Stalin; and to dramatise the Inner Party’s control of public opinion.
(1944 or 1945: Winston Smith born.)
1945-1950: Cold War.
1950-c.1963: A series of wars and revolutions dismantle Capitalism and the nation-state. Specifically, atom bombs fall on Britain, including one in 1954. The super-states emerge: though NATO cannot prevent the USSR from overrunning continental Europe, the US compensates itself by taking Canada, Latin America, South Africa and Australasia. All ruling classes are ejected, and INGSOC or a variant emerges.
1958: The new super-state of Oceania formulates its first Three-Year Plan. Others follow.
1960: INGSOC promulgated in Oceania.
c.1963-c.1970: Oceania at war with Eurasia.
(1963: Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford attend a function in New York at a time at which later they are falsely accused of visiting Siberia to give information to the Eurasian General Staff.)
(1965: Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford are arrested.)
c. 1970-c.1980: Oceania at war with Eastasia.
c.1980-1984: Oceania at war with Eurasia.
(Spring 1984: Winston embarks on an affair with Julia.)
Early summer 1984: Oceania changes sides and opposes Eastasia.
(Late summer 1984: Winston and Julia are arrested.)
1985 or 1986: Oceania changes sides again and opposes Eurasia.
1987: Winston hails a big victory by Oceania over Eurasia…
Oceania’s changes of sides make political sense in the light of geography.
Eastasia and Eurasia share a long land border to the north and west of China, so they are likely to quarrel over territory. Both super-states have an incentive to enlist Oceania as an ally, and Oceania will join the highest bidder. Oceania can embarrass Eastasia by advancing north from Australia; or Eurasia by advancing north from South Africa, or by aerial attacks on Eurasian communications in the Mediterranean, as Winston sees on the newsreel at a cinema on April 3, 1984 (page 12). Reciprocally, Eurasia can launch unmanned bombs against Airstrip One (page 85), unless, as Julia suspects (page 155), the bombs are delivered by the Oceanian authorities, as ‘false-flag operations’, in order to excite the civilian population.
The Eurasians can, moreover, operate in the Indian Ocean, or so Winston imagines (page 49), or drive south in Africa to cut South America off from Australasia, and Winston is pleased (page 297) when such an offensive is defeated. Oceania defends her shipping lanes with Floating Fortresses, one of which in 1984 is anchored between Iceland and the Faroes (page 27). Eastasia and Eurasia can however mount aerial attacks from the south on Airstrip One, until they are defeated by Big Brother (page 115), so Eastasia at least must possess one or more aircraft carriers, or maybe a base on an Atlantic island.
Uploaded June 29th 2019