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I just finished my first read of 1984. It was a fantastic book. While reading, I kept wondering if there was any army fighting the war. I don't recall seeing anything about anyone from the Party or a prole fighting as a soldier. The Ministry of Truth is making up stories and showcasing false war heroes, which seems to point that it's all being made up. War is more about control and resource management in the book, so it would make sense to make it all up.

However, it is my understanding that there is real fighting going on in neutral zones. Now that would mean that there is an army. Who fights in it? I feel it's an important question because if we assume that there is no army, wouldn't that suggest to Party members or proles that the war is fake? Nobody in London enlists, but there would be plenty of soldiers to fight the war for decades? Maybe I'm overestimating the reasoning capacity of Party members and failed to capture all the nuances of doublethink, but to me it doesn't make much sense.

So, is there an actual army in 1984, or is it all made up?

70

There was an actual rather than "fake" war, so the implication of an actual army is a rational conclusion.

Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid, which appeared to take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester. (1.3.12) (Book 1, ch 3 p 12)

Also fighting on land, though if this represents a civil war or not is open to question.

Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. For several months during his childhood there had been confused street fighting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. ((1.3.16)Book 1, ch 3 p 16)

Tanks and planes indicate an army ...

On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns – after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces – (2.9.3)

There was also a scene where Winston saw a number of Eurasian prisoners of war being unloaded from transport by soldiers. Can't find the page reference at the moment. There is another clue (thanks to @Thunderforge for this comment): Winston volunteers at a munitions factory.


Orwell had a purpose in not being explicit. 1984 is a master work, in part due to the writing style used and things left unsaid. It can also be a different read based on what you bring to the table when you read it.

A side note: authors can work long and hard to get the right "voice" for a work, and for sections of a work. It can be a difficult creative process.

I read it about 40 years ago for the first time. I read it 20 years ago for the second time. (After more life experience and after some harsh training about what being a captive of a totalitarian state holds as a challenge). My life experience changed the reading experience.

The other point is context: put yourself in Post War (WW II, 1950ish timeframe) London and also the 1950ish "world" -- that's context. It is my read that he was in part commenting on the Cold War and on the 20th century's rise of "the warfare state." England had in Orwell's lifetime dipped into the warfare state twice for two world wars. So too had other modern nations. As a keen observer of both politics, propaganda, and political rhetoric (I've a collection of his essays that is excellent reading) his expertise informs the style of his book.

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    How can we be sure that the air raids and the atomic bomb are not part of the control efforts of the Party, by putting fear in them and therefore increasing their love for Big Brother? – jgadoury Nov 10 '16 at 15:40
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    I'd be willing to bet that the "confused street fighting in London itself" was part of a civil war, especially if Big Brother erased it from history. – Dr R Dizzle Nov 10 '16 at 15:47
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    @DrRDizzle Theyre earsing everything except the last allegiance, so that gives us nothing. May as well have been staged by BB to flush out traitors or to convince ppl about the war. We'll never know what it was, that's the beauty of it. – user68762 Nov 10 '16 at 16:15
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    I seem to recall that the party would change allegiances just as victory seemed assured, in order to keep the war running. This was supposedly a tactic agreed between the elite of the 3 warring parties, since they all used the same war to justify oppression of their respective people. If there was an imaginary enemy, the rulers would not have needed to do that. Besides, having an imaginary war would require a far greater effort to cover up. I think they effectively had their hands full just rewriting history and controlling the population as it was. – Andrew Thompson Nov 10 '16 at 17:30
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    Both of the examples of combat given are from Winston's childhood. It's possible, even likely, that the party has since taken such complete control that actual armed conflict has come to an end. So constrained is the flow of information that the three super-nations in the book may themselves be fictional, convenient puppets of a single global state. – Doug Warren Nov 10 '16 at 19:00
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Probably yes, but there is no way to know for sure.

This is the answer to many, many questions in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it is one of the major themes of the book. Anything that Winston Smith does not witness with his own eyes is suspect. Is Big Brother a real person? Is there really a war? Does the Brotherhood exist? Does Oceania really exist as a global empire? There is no way to know.

The war (and the army fighting it) seem most likely to be real. It would be a huge amount of work to fake the attacks and all the other trappings of war, but it would not be impossible Goldstein's book explains how the privation of war serves the party's purpose. Yet the book too, although it reveals many truths, is only being used as another tool of the party's rule. So the war is probably real, but that's the most anyone can say.

16

Yes I believe there was an actual war taking place: "In one combination or other, these three superstates are permanently at war, and have been so for the past twenty five years", "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".

There is definitely a political reason for the war "The primary aim of modern warfare is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living", "It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs"

Quotes from The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein. Which was actually authored by O'Brien and other Inner Party members, which sheds doubt on the authenticity somewhat, but I am inclined to believe that what is in Goldstein's book is the actual truth of Ingsoc society.

When Winston and Julia meet in Victory Square there is a convoy of Eurasian prisoners of war "A long line of trucks, with wooden faced guards armed with sub machine guns standing upright in each corner, was passing slowly down the street". So even if most of the Telescreen announcements on major victories are just propaganda there is enough evidence to support the fact that some conflict is actually taking place.

I believe the reference to street fighting taking place in London during Winston's childhood was the actual Revolution when the Party took power.

Although not stated in the book I believe it was Outer Party members who made up the army (the heroic Comrade Ogilvy even though invented by Winston was obviously a Party member)

  • I forgot about that long line of trucks, that seems to be a very good proof! – jgadoury Nov 11 '16 at 14:09
  • This is the answer that came to my mind as well, big brother is making an army because that's how they control the standard of living. However, having an army is different than having a war, big brother could be pushing the tanks into the ocean. – Carl Nov 11 '16 at 21:08
  • After re-reading 1984 I find myself not so sure now. All the answers and comments make valid points regarding a definitive yes or no answer, and some have proposed points I originally hadn't thought of. I think George Orwell would be amused that 1984 is still provoking debate 78 years after it was published. – JamieTheBastard Nov 16 '16 at 13:45
3

Yes, war is an essential component of the social order. The proles are kept in check by limiting their education and consuming their time with pointless heavy labour and shallow entertainment as O'Brien describes:

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.

and

Until they became conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious

and

For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

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    I understand that there is war, the question is if there is an army. If I remember, the Party was apparently building another Floating Fortress, but is it manned? Is it actively fighting? – jgadoury Nov 11 '16 at 14:07
  • Yes and No. "The fighting, where there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at, or round the Floating Fortresses which guard strategic spots on the sea lanes" (from Chapter III of Goldstein's book) but in the same chapter he also says "A Floating Fortress for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete - and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built". Do they scrap it immediately it is built and start again? – JamieTheBastard Nov 16 '16 at 13:18
  • I think there is really no definitive answer to this, Some will say yes, some will say no, as @Carl points out they could just be dumping everything in the ocean. How can we be sure that what is in Goldstein's book is accurate seeing as O'Brien claimed he wrote it in collaboration with others? How much of what O'Brien states is true? It could all just be part of the psychological program to confuse and distort Winston's reasoning process. Is the war real? Is The Brotherhood real? Is Big Brother real? I do believe Orwell intended that the answers to these questions remain ambiguous. – JamieTheBastard Nov 16 '16 at 13:29
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There is no evidence in the book that the army or the war actually exists. As the book says, the inner and outer parties are expected to have "faith" that the war exists, and is winnable, even though the economy depends on endless war.

It is actually possible, even probable, that Oceania rules the world, and the "war" is actually different parts of Oceania attacking each other with bombs.

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I think there was a war, but at the end of the movie when they said Oceania had gained a great victory. I believe they actually suffered a major defeat as the bureau for information would not be telling the populace that they’d suffered a defeat.

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    This doesn’t really address the question of whether there was an actual army but you do point to an answer. Could you edit this to address the actual question? – TheLethalCarrot Feb 25 at 2:26

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