Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Eastasia and Eurasia have both, at times, been at war with both other nations. Oceania, however is always at war with only one. Why is this so?

share|improve this question
Because it's always been at war with only one other nation. – user8719 May 11 '14 at 19:02

As the meme says, "that's the joke".

  • The war is perpetual (more akin to a 'cold war')
  • The war has no definable goals or aims
  • The three combatants are not trying to defeat each other but merely to use up excess resources
  • The combatants periodically switch allegiances, presumably in agreement with each other
  • The combatants are in a gentleman's agreement to restrict fighting (over labour and resources) to within a defined area comprising Northern Africa, the Middle-East and Southern Asia rather than attacking each other directly.
  • When each side changes their allegiances, they each pretend that they were always on the side of their current ally

To quote directly from the book,

The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word "war," therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that is exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and has been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three superstates, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed forever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This--although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense--is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: WAR IS PEACE.

In the writings of Emmanuel Goldstein, we find some additional relevant information;

In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty-five years. War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference.

Between the frontiers of the super-states, and not permanently in the possession of any of them, there lies a rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong, containing within it about a fifth of the population of the earth. It is for the possession of these thickly-populated regions, and of the northern ice-cap, that the three powers are constantly struggling. In practice no one power ever controls the whole of the disputed area. Portions of it are constantly changing hands, and it is the chance of seizing this or that fragment by a sudden stroke of treachery that dictates the endless changes of alignment.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
its a long time since i've read the book, but possibilities are that war does not even exist. missiles are used to kill proles just to keep population low – lesto May 11 '14 at 23:02
@lesto - True, but you can multiply entities endlessly. At some point you have to use Occams Razor to decide what's likely (e.g. that Oceania is involved in some kind of ongoing conflict) versus what's unlikely (e.g. that the War is a complete illusion). – Valorum May 11 '14 at 23:04
correct. It's quite possible there is no actual conflict, that it's all propaganda on all sides, no fighting going on anywhere. The tight control of travel, news, and other communications would make such possible (and you can even tell people in different parts of the country that you're at war with someone else, say people along the Eurasia/Eastasia border regions are told you're at war with Oceania, people in the Oceania/Eurasia border that you're at war with Eastasia). – jwenting May 12 '14 at 7:13
To me, the war seemed like a mutually beneficial pretext to continue the economic growth achieved by the military industrial complex: hence the constant production of floating fortresses. David Harvey, an economist, writes extensively about economies trying to absorb their 'surplus', and its cited that War is one way of achieving this. The war is happening, but it's being organised toward a perpetual stalemate to keep all parties happy... – John Smith Optional May 12 '14 at 12:26
@JohnSmithOptional, It's more to consume excess resources, and keep economic growth stagnant, as the question you commented on cites. In other words, exactly the opposite of your comment. Then again, the book is very nihilistic and it's hard to tell exactly what's true, besides presumably what Winston experiences for himself. Also, it is a perpetual stalemate, so you're right about that. – trysis May 13 '14 at 0:44

We don't really know if it has ever been at war with either if them. We don't even know if Eurasia and East Asia are two countries - or indeed if Oceania includes any more than just Britain. The point of the book is that the Party's power is absolute, and we simply don't know anything other than what they tell us.

share|improve this answer
Actually we do, the appendix at the rear of the book specifically mentions Oceania as comprising Britain and the United States; and the appendix is written from an historical perspective after the collapse of the Big Brother Party system – Valorum May 11 '14 at 19:32
@Richard Where does it say anything about collapse? The only mention of 2050 I see is "It was chiefly in order to allow time [...] that the final adoption of Newspeak had been fixed for so late a date as 2050." Nowhere does it say that this date arrived and Newspeak wasn't adopted. While the writer of the appendix knows too much for his own good, it can be another Goldstein (i.e. another Inner Party official writing the truth and simultaneously believing in the Party, in an act of doublethink). – Andres F. May 11 '14 at 19:53
That's the whole point. He couldn't possibly have written it from an in-universe perspective post-Big-Brother unless he was living in a post-Big-Brother world. The fact that it's in the past tense is a defining factor. – Valorum May 11 '14 at 19:56
@Richard I get that, but where does the writer claim he is living in a post-Big-Brother society? I don't see the perspective. Is it because he is using the past tense? That could mean he is explaining how things worked in Winston's time, not that they stopped. I doubt Big Brother no longer exists because Oceania's regime is shown to be fool-proof. There is no hope in the proles (who simply don't care), and every other person is watched to the point even their thoughts are known and broken. Even Inner Party members who know too much get recycled. How would it end? – Andres F. May 11 '14 at 22:57
(For the record, @Richard managed to convince me that the writer is indeed living in a post-Big Brother society) – Andres F. May 12 '14 at 3:59

It is probably just a coincidence.

According to Emmanuel Goldstein's book, there are only 3 political entities on Earth in the year 1984 in the book 1984. I will call them "countries" here, but they are more like empires or conglomerates. I'm not sure if we are ever told the explicit term for them, even in Newspeak.

These 3 countries are always at war with each other. The 2 times we are told which side is which, Oceania, Winston's home, is allied with Eurasia against Eastasia at first, then it switches sides to be allied with Eastasia against Eurasia (maybe those 2 are switched, I haven't read the book in awhile).

We don't know whether Oceania ever aligns itself against both countries at once, but it could have. The war has been going on for 25 years, according to Emmanuel, and it will probably go on forever, or at least a very, very long time, and with the Party constantly rewriting history, not many people would remember years later even if it did happen, and would have almost no way of knowing when alliances changed before they were born.

My point is, we only ever see 2 examples of the alliances in this war, and the book only lasts probably a couple months in what has, according to the most reliable source we have outside of Winston (which isn't saying much), already been a 25-year-long war and which may never end. Winston never says for sure any other times when the alliances shifted, probably because he doesn't remember and can't look the information up - even if he could, he knows it wouldn't be accurate. You seem to be trying to extrapolate from 2 examples to an entire endless war.

If you want to see the relevant quotes, @Richard's answer has some.

share|improve this answer
Makes sense. I could imagine that the party sometimes decides that they <del>are now</del> were always fighting both superpowers at once to add some extra pressure and existence fear when necessary. – Philipp May 12 '14 at 13:41

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.