1984 and the Human Cost of Empire

By Gideon Polya
June 28, 2006

George Orwell’s “1984” chills because of its truth about lies. Yet one of the biggest lies of all is the response in the Western democracies to 1984. Thus when it was first published in 1949 people regarded this novel as an incisive commentary on totalitarian systems such as Fascism, Nazism and Stalinist Communism and a warning that this might be realized again 4 decades into the future. When the year 1984 arrived many were relieved that 1984 had not actually been realized, although the more astute observers questioned the growing power of the State in ostensibly democratic countries. Now, 6 decades after the first publication of 1984, even the complacent Mainstream is aware of the now commonplace abuses of official ignoring, spin and lying and increasing Western violations of human rights, civil rights and international agreements in the so-called War on Terror. But in reality, 1984 had well and truly arrived, well before it was written, in European empires.

The core of official untruth in 1984 is summarized in Big Brother’s quartet of key assertions, specifically that “War is Peace”, “Ignorance is Strength”, “Slavery is Freedom” and “2 plus 2 does not equal 4”. The European expansion overseas dates from the 15th century with the beginnings of slavery in West Africa, Vasco da Gama going East, Columbus going West and the Papal division of the New World between Spain and Portugal by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Britain’s overseas expansion began in the 16th century and it then went on to create the “Empire on which the sun never sets”. However, as recognized by many empires, a good “story” is worth many military divisions and the British Empire “story” slowly evolved into the “Pax Britannica” lying of commission (war is peace, slavery is freedom) and the holocaust-denying lying of omission (ignorance is strength, 2 plus 2 does not equal 4) involved in obfuscating, ignoring and deleting the horrendous human cost of empire.

British-ruled India provides the most appalling example of imperial lies in a quantitative sense. For two and a half centuries every British schoolchild has been told the dreadful but substantially fictional “story” of the Black Hole of Calcutta – how in 1756 the ruler of Bengal incarcerated 146 British prisoners (including a woman) in a small cell overnight and in the morning only 23 (including the woman) had survived. This story demonized the Indians, victims for two centuries of genocidal British rule in South Asia (1757-1947) – whilst the appalling rapacious taxation, famine and commerce-spread disease in British India has been substantially deleted from British history.

The horrendous “forgotten history” of British-ruled India commenced with the Great Bengal Famine in rapaciously over-taxed Bengal in 1769/1770 (10 million victims or one third of the population dying) and almost concluded with the World War 2 man-made Bengal Famine (which peaked in 1943/1944, took 4 million victims, was accompanied by horrendous sexual abuse of huge numbers of starving women and was very likely due to a deliberate “scorched earth” British war-time strategy to prevent Japanese invasion of India). [1] In between these 2 disasters a succession of appalling famines killed scores of millions; mercantile spread of epidemic diseases such as plague and cholera killed millions; and grinding poverty from British taxation was such that the annual death rate before 1920 was about 4.8%, falling to a still genocidal value of 3.5 % in 1947. The current annual death rate in India nearly 60 years after independence is about 0.9% – a huge improvement but still about 3 times greater than what it should be.

The British were really good at keeping records and from available mortality and population statistics it is possible to make an estimate of “avoidable mortality” (technically, excess mortality) during and after British rule in India. Avoidable mortality (excess mortality) is the difference between the actual deaths in a country and the deaths expected in a peaceful, decently-run country with the same demographics. The avoidable mortality totalled about 0.6 billion (1757-1837 i.e. from the British conquest of Bengal to the accession of Queen Victoria), 0.5 billion (1837-1901 i.e. during the reign of Queen Victoria) and 0.4 billion (1901-1947 i.e. from the death of Queen Victoria until independence). By way of comparison, the Indian post-independence avoidable mortality has totalled about 0.4 billion (but one must realize that the Indian population grew enormously post-independence from about 0.35 billion to the present 1.1 billion). The 1.5 billion Indian Holocaust under the British is the greatest catastrophe and greatest crime in human history – and has of course been largely deleted from British historiography. [2]

The United Nations Population Division provide detailed demographic statistics dating back to 1950 and using this information it has been possible to calculate avoidable mortality for every country in the world over the last 55 years. The results are horrendous. The post-1950 avoidable mortality totals 1.3 billion for the world, 1.2 billion for the non-European world and 0.6 billion for the Muslim world – a Muslim Holocaust 100 times greater than the World War 2 Jewish Holocaust (6 million victims) or the “forgotten” World War 2 man-made Bengal Famine (4 million victims and a 1941-1951 demographic deficit of over 10 million). These figures are so horrendous that corroboration has been sought through quite independent calculations of “post-1950 under-5 infant mortality” – this totalling 0.88 billion for the world, 0.85 billion for the non-European world and about 0.4 billion for the Muslim world. These figures are, of course, simply not reported by mainstream media (ignorance is strength, 2 plus 2 does not equal 4). [3]

The post-war era was associated with the independence of nearly all European colonies but the genocidal abuses of European “colonialism” (whether “passive” through racist deprivation or “active” through racist violence) gave way to the destructive “neo-colonialism” of European global economic hegemony and malignant interference in the affairs of nominally independent countries (most notably by the US, the UK and France). The human cost of this recent human experience of empire can be assessed by estimating the “total post-1950 avoidable mortality” for the sets of countries occupied (partly or completely and for some or all of the post-war period) by the following major “colonial” occupiers: Belgium (36 million), France (142 million), Israel (24 million), Portugal (23 million), Russia (37 million), Spain, (9 million), the UK (727 million) and the US (82 million). The human cost in the non-European world of First World global hegemony is currently (2003 figures) an annual avoidable mortality of 14.8 million (40,000 daily) and an annual under-5 infant mortality of 10.4 million (28,000 daily, with 90% of this being avoidable).

The US Empire is the dominant force in the world today and is clearly complicit with other First World countries in the horrendous post-1950 avoidable mortality outlined above. If we simply consider the human cost of US Asian wars in the post-1950 era then the avoidable mortality in the victim countries totals about 18 million. However the human cost of continuing US “democratic imperialism” (democratic tyranny, democratic Nazism) in Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan is extremely pertinent given daily threats that this violence will be further extended by the US and its allies from the Mediterranean to South Asia and include Syria (partly occupied by Israel since 1967 and subject to acute threat from the US) and Iran (subject to massive US threat and US-backed violence since the US-engineered coup in 1953).

According to the LATEST, Web-accessible UN Population Division data [4] and UNICEF data, [5] the “under-5 infant deaths per 1,000 births” in oil-rich Iraq versus its impoverished neighbour Syria were 200 vs 170 (1953), 50 vs 44 (1990) and 125 vs 16 (sixteen) (2004) i.e. infant mortality decreased enormously under the brutal dictator Saddam Hussein but increased hugely after 1990 due to Western intervention.

The post-1990 under-5 infant mortality in Iraq under war-criminal UK-US sanctions, bombs and occupation now totals 1.6 million and the post-1990 excess deaths (i.e. avoidable deaths) now total 2.2 million. The 1990-2003 under-5 infant mortality and excess mortality in Iraq under sanctions and bombing totalled 1.2 million and 1.7 million, respectively; the 2003-2006 figures for post-invasion Occupied Iraq are 0.4 million and 0.5 million, respectively. In comparison, the post-invasion under-5 infant mortality and excess deaths in Occupied Afghanistan now total 1.4 million and 1.8 million, respectively. [6]

The horrendous under-5 infant mortality in Occupied Iraq and Afghanistan (1,300 infants dying every day, 0.5 million infants dying each year and with 90% of these deaths avoidable) is occurring because of the non-provision by the Occupying UK-US-led Coalition of the life-preserving requisites demanded unequivocally of Occupiers by the Geneva Conventions. [7] Indeed these horrendous crimes constitute “passive genocide” and are the subject of formal complaints to the International Criminal Court. [8]

Of course, as in “1984”, old enemies are now friends, old friends are now enemies. While Muslim-origin terrorists have killed some 5,000 Western civilians in the last 2 decades, the post-9/11 US War on Terror has so far made the US and its Coalition allies responsible for 2.7 million post-invasion avoidable deaths – 0.5 million in Occupied Iraq, 1.8 million in Occupied Afghanistan and 0.4 million post-2001 opioid-related deaths due to US restoration of the Taliban-destroyed Afghan opium industry. While mainstream media are full of racist, Islamophobic terror hysteria, they utterly ignore the horrendous human cost of Anglo-American democratic imperialism in a process of lying by omission and holocaust denial.

The “under-5 infant mortality” in “bad outcome” Third World countries is roughly about 0.7 times the avoidable mortality (this information allowing laypersons to readily estimate avoidable mortality from readily Web-accessible UNICEF under-5 infant mortality data. [9] Mainstream media ignoring of the horrendous Coalition-complicit infant mortality in the Occupied Iraqi and Afghan Territories amounts to racist disavowal of the fundamental human imperative of respect for mothers and children – the War on Terror is in actuality a War on Mothers and Infants.

The neo-con justifications offered for the Bush Wars correspond precisely to the Orwellian perversions of “War is Peace” and “Slavery is Freedom”. The mainstream media holocaust denial is proclaiming that “Ignorance is Strength” and that “2 plus 2 does not equal 4”. “1984” is firmly entrenched in the Western democracies linked to US Empire. Peace is the only way but silence kills and silence is complicity. Decent people around the world are obliged to inform others and to act ethically in all their personal and business dealings with Coalition countries involved in gross continuing abuses of humanity.


1. See: http://globalavoidablemortality.blogspot.com/

2. See: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/5668/26/

3. See: http://globalavoidablemortality.blogspot.com/

4. See: http://esa.un.org/unpp/

5. See: http://www.unicef.org/index.html

6. See MWC News: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/5948/26/

7. See: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/92.htm

8. See Countercurrents: http://www.countercurrents.org/us-polya211205.htm

9. See: http://www.unicef.org/index.html ;
and see MWC News: http://mwcnews.net/content/view/5872/26/

Dr Gideon Polya currently teaches science students at a major Australian university. He has published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds. He has also recently published Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950.