John Pilger fulminates in The New Statesman against the political apathy of modern writers, excepting someone he calls 'the courageous dissident Harold Pinter' (link requires subscription, so - as this is a course I wouldn't recommend - I won't trouble giving one). He assures us:
There is an urgency now. A Downing Street document, circulated among 'progressive' European governments, wants a world order in which western powers have the authority to attack any other sovereign country. In six years, Blair has sent British troops to take part in five conflicts, and he wants yet more bloodletting. The document echoes his views on 'rights and responsibilities' - to kill and devastate people in faraway places, thereby endangering and diminishing all of us.
Pilger doesn't say what document this is, but I suspect it's an anodyne communique written in committee-speak after a gathering of European social democrat leaders earlier this year, when Tony Blair rightly introduced the notion that in the case of some failed or dictatorial states progressive and humanitarian principles demand external intervention in order to preserve lives. To Blair's enormous credit he has acted on that principle - not only in facing down such monsters as Milosevic and Saddam, but also in protecting the people of Sierra Leone from thugs who merely lop off their victims' limbs if they're feeling especially non-murderous that day. Predictably, other European leaders were unwilling to accept a statement of common sense from a man who assisted in the liberation of Iraq, so they demanded - and got - a watered-down version.
But even if I shared Pilger's prejudices against Blair, I'd still be apprehensive that when writers take a stand on international politics the intensity of their indignation is almost always inversely related to the intelligence with which they express it. There is an inglorious tradition of literary advocacy for disreputable causes - H.G. Wells' admiration for Stalin, Ezra Pound's support for Mussolini, Mary McCarthy's genuflections to revolutionary Vietnam, Simone de Beauvoir's squeals of delight in Red China - that dwarfs the voices of political insight and moral seriousness: Malraux, Orwell, Gide and not many others.
Astonishingly, Pilger concludes his jeremiad with the rhetorical question, 'What would George Orwell make of this?'
We plainly don't know what Orwell would make of Pilger's characterisation of the Bush administration as the new Third Reich, but we do know what he said at the time about egregious misrepresentations perpetrated by peace campaigners. In his essay Notes on Nationalism (May 1945) he noted:
[T]here is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries.
As the inevitability of the post-war division of Europe became clear in 1947-8, Orwell wrote, in response to a covert Communist MP running under Labour colours, Konni Zilliacus (in the ironically-entitled 'In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus', not online but contained in Volume 4 of Orwell's Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, page 453):
Surely, if one is going to write about foreign policy at all, there is one question that should be answered plainly. It is: 'If you had to choose between Russia and America, which would you choose?' It will not do to give the usual quibbling answer, 'I refuse to choose.' In the end the choice may be forced upon us. We are no longer strong enought to stand alone, and if we fail to bring a western European union into being, we shall be obliged, in the long run, to subordinate our policy to that of one Great Power or the other. And in spite of all the fashionable chatter of the moment, everyone knows in his heart that we should choose America. The great mass of people in this country would, I believe, make this choice almost instinctively.
We've heard a lot of fashionable chatter recently, in Orwell's centenary year, from those unable to grasp the moral and strategic urgency of taking the fight to our own totalitarian enemies. But not much of it can match in poor judgement and bad taste John Pilger's criteria of literary value.