Walter Cronkite
Walter Leland Cronkite

Should this man be our next President?

Pass the word: He would do it if we ask.
(Or if the Electors ask. Just a few Electors
changing their vote
could put
a third name
into the hat, and send the election to the House.)

George Orwell's 1984
Preface by Walter Cronkite

American reporters, given a glimpse of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran at the end of 1982, were saying it was like 1984. It's Orwellian, one added.

"Big Brother" has become a common term for ubiquitous or overreaching authority, and "Newspeak" is a word we apply to the dehumanizing babble of bureaucracies and computer programs.

Those coinages have passed into the language with lives of their own. They are familiar to millions who have never read 1984, who may not even know it as a novel written thirty-five years ago by English socialist Eric Blair, who became famous under the pen name George Orwell.

Seldom has a book provided a greater wealth of symbols for its age and for the generations to follow, and seldom have literary symbols been invested with such power. How is that? Because they were so useful, and because the features of the world he drew, outlandish as they were, also were familiar.

They are familiar today, they were familiar when the book was first published in 1949. We've met Big Brother in Stalin and Hitler and Khomeini. We hear Newspeak in every use of language to manipulate, deceive, to cover harsh realities with the soft snow of euphemism. And every time a political leader expects or demands that we believe the absurd, we experience that mental process Orwell called doublethink. From the show trials of the pre-war Soviet Union to the dungeon courts of post-revolutionary Iran, 1984's vision of justice as foregone conclusion is familiar to us all. As soon as we were introduced to such things, we realized we had always known them.

What Orwell had done was not to foresee the future but to see the implications of the present--his present and ours--and he touched a common chord. He had given words and shapes to common but unarticulated fears running deep through all industrial societies.

George Orwell was no prophet, and those who busy themselves keeping score on his predictions and grading his use of the crystal ball miss the point. While here he is a novelist, be is also a sharp political essayist and a satirist with a bite not felt in the English language since the work of Jonathan Swift.

If not prophecy, what was 1984? It was, as many have noticed, a warning: a warning about the future of human freedom in a world where political organization and technology can manufacture power in dimensions that would have stunned the imaginations of earlier ages.

Orwell drew upon the technology (and perhaps some of the science fiction) of the day in drawing his picture of 1984. But it was not a work of science fiction he was writing. It was a novelistic essay on power, how it is acquired and maintained, how those who seek it or seek to keep it tend to sacrifice anything and everything in its name.

1984 is an anguished lament and a warning that we may not be strong enough nor wise enough nor moral enough to cope with the kind of power we have learned to amass. That warning vibrates powerfully when we allow ourselves to sit still and think carefully about orbiting satellites that can read the license plates in a parking lot and computers that can tap into thousands of telephone calls and telex transmissions at once and other computers that can do our banking and purchasing, can watch the house and tell a monitoring station what television program we are watching and how many people there are in the room. We think of Orwell when we read of scientists who believe they have located in the human brain the seats of behavioral emotions like aggression, or learn more about the vast potential of genetic engineering.

And we hear echoes of that warning chord in the constant demand for greater security and comfort, for less risk in our societies. We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered for whatever good reason are freedom lost.

Critics and scholars may argue quite legitimately about the particular literary merits of 1984. But none can deny its power, its hold on the imaginations of whole generations, nor the power of its admonitions ... a power that seems to grow rather than lessen with the passage of time. It has been said that 1984 fails as a prophecy because it succeeded as a warning--Orwell's terrible vision has been averted. Well, that kind of self-congratulation is, to say the least, premature. 1984 may not arrive on time, but there's always 1985.

Still, the warning has been effective; and every time we use one of those catch phrases ... recognize Big Brother in someone, see a 1984 in our future ... notice something Orwellian ... we are listening to that warning again.

Epilogue by Walter Cronkite at the end of

"The Drug Dilemma, War or Peace?"

an episode of The Cronkite Report, first aired on the Discovery Channel, Tuesday, June 20, 1995.


Every American was shocked when Robert McNamara, one of the master architects of the Vietnam war, acknowledged that not only did he believe the war was, "wrong, terribly wrong," but that he thought so at the very time he was helping to wage it. That's a mistake we must not make in this 10th year of America's all-out War on Drugs.

It's surely time for this nation to stop flying blind, stop accepting the assurances of politicians and other officials, that if we only keep doing what we are doing, add a little more cash, break down a few more doors, lock up a few more Jan Warrens and Nicole Richardsons, then we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Victory will be ours.

Tonight we have seen a war that in its broad outline is not working. And we've seen some less war-like ideas that appear to hold promise. We've raised more questions than we've answered, because that's where the Drug War stands today. We're a confused people, desperately in need of answers and leadership. Legalization seems to many like too dangerous an experiment; to others, the War on Drugs, as it is now conducted, seems inhumane and too costly. Is there a middle ground?

Well, it seems to this reporter that the time has come for President Clinton to do what President Hoover did when prohibition was tearing the nation apart: appoint a bi-partisan commission of distinguished citizens, perhaps including some of the people we heard tonight, a blue-ribbon panel to re-appraise our drug policy right down to its very core, a commission with full investigative authority and the prestige and power to override bureaucratic concerns and political considerations.

Such a commission could help us focus our thinking, escape the cliches of the Drug War in favor of scientific fact, and more rationally analyze the real scope of the problem, answer the questions that bedevil us, and present a comprehensive drug policy for the future.

We cannot go into tomorrow with the same formulas that are failing today. We must not blindly add to the body count and the terrible cost of the War on Drugs, only to learn from another Robert McNamara 30 years from now that what we've been doing is, "wrong, terribly wrong."


("The Drug Dilemma: War or Peace," can be ordered from Cronkite, Ward and Co., 39 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019; (212) 765-1200.)


From The Activist Guide, Issue #7, October '95, DRCNet Publications section, A Guided Tour of the War on Drugs home page.

Cronkite is a catalyst for Mid-East peace:

Walter Cronkite, in 1977, interviewed Anwar Sadat, President of Egypt, and asked him what would it take for Sadat to talk with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin:
Sadat listed all the things Israel would have to do. Cronkite had expected this reply. But he wanted to make sure that he had the story straight. He asked the question once more.

"So those are your terms before you'll even speak with Mr. Begin?" Cronkite asked.

"No! No! No!" Sadat answered. "Those are my terms for peace."

"You mean you'd visit Israel without those terms?"

"Of course."

Cronkite knew he had a big story. "When?" he asked.

"Whenever Mr. Begin invites me," Sadat replied.

"This week?" Cronkite asked.

"Yes, if he'll have me." ...

From "Walter Cronkite: The Most Trusted Man in America", by Paul Westman; Dillon Press

Cronkite on the Twentieth Century and beyond

from: "Cronkite Remembers" CBS - Spring, 1996

Well, it was quite a century, the best of times, the worst of times; and as we run down now toward the end of it, we can all recite our litany of despair: overpopulation; pollution; a faltering educational system; the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer; racial tension; drugs; too many guns. But you know, if there's anything I've learned, it is that we Americans do have a way of rising to the challenges that confront us. Just when it seems we're most divided, we suddenly show a remarkable solidarity. The 20th century may be leaving us with a host of problems, but I've also noted that it does seem darkest before the dawn. There's reason to hope for the 21st century. And that's the way it will be.

to order a transcript of this broadcast, send $7.00 to:

Burrells Transcripts
Box 7
Livingston, NJ 07039

| Cronkite says why a journalist ought not run for President, but his survey suggests he might welcome a draft. Let's look for who we want to vote for!

What is the role of the Electors in a time of widespread disaffection with our Presidential selection process?

Who would you ask to be President?

Some Letters to Cronkite:

Cronkite on Nuclear War

"We establish numerous blue-ribbon commissions to study the problems of our society. We receive their recommendations for how we might solve the problems we face, applaud their efforts, then put the reports on the shelf and do nothing."
-- Walter Cronkite

Draft Walter Cronkite links at this site

Some Cronkite links at other sites, and other links:

Gaia Brain: If we could all say what human impacts on earth we would allow, then charge fees to those whose actions would take us further from the world we want, (because they pollute or pave the earth, or take limited resources), and if we could put the fee proceeds towards what we want to promote, we will have created a sensory nervous system for the earth.

1996, 2000, 2004

Back to the center of the Gaia Brain spiderweb page.

How to win an argument with a meat-eater

Cronkite asks, "Besides those who are running, who do you think might make a good President?"

Cronkite explains why a journalist should not seek office

My own unscientific survey: "Between Walter Cronkite, George Bush, and John Kerry, who do you think would make a better president?"

More people said, "Cronkite" than "Bush" and "Kerry" combined:

What does this say about our presidential selection process, if anything? Is it reflecting the will of the people?

to Walter Cronkite newspaper columnstell Electors to vote Walter Cronkite and Franklin Thomas
Walter Cronkite for President! | Franklin Thomas for vice President!
They would do it if we ask. Or if the Electors ask. Pass it on...
The Electors decide

What if just a few Electors change their vote and no one gets a majority?

Newspaper columns by Walter Cronkite

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