These slogans were created by an entity known only as “The Party,” which consist of those in charge. The words are written in enormous letters on the white pyramid of the Ministry of Truth, which, considering that they are obvious contradictions, seems to be an odd place to put them.
The fact that this motto is written on a government building for a department called the Ministry of Truth suggests that those in charge are trying to convey that these statements are somehow true for the society they have constructed. These are just the first in a series of contradictions published, and they serve to represent the nature of the society and how it is held together through the way in which these opposites function.
Orwell opened his book in this way on purpose in order to introduce the reader to the concept of Doublethink, which is what allows the people of Oceania to live with constant contradictions in their lives. Doublethink is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind simultaneously.
The Party develops this ability in its citizens by undermining their individuality, independence and autonomy and by creating an environment of constant fear through propaganda. In this way, the Party breaks down their ability to think rationally and makes citizens accept and believe anything they tell them, even if it is entirely illogical.
The book is filled with similar contradictions like the ones seen in the opening quote. For example:
- The Ministry of Peace oversees war
- The Ministry of Love carries out the torture of political prisoners and serve as the police of Oceania
- The Ministry of Truth is in charge of changing the content in history books and in the news to agree with the Party’s beliefs
These contradictions keep the citizens constantly off balance, so they are never sure of themselves or each other and must rely on the party for guidance as to how to live their lives.
The fact that the national motto of Oceania is just as contradictory as these other examples emphasizes the success of the Party’s campaign of psychological mind control. The government has become able to maintain the apparent veracity of these opposing statements because of the functions they serve, which make them a reality in the society of Oceania.
What Is the Meaning of "War Is Peace"?
The first slogan is probably the most contradictory of the three. The people of Oceania believe that the saying War is Peace means that in order to have peace, one must tolerate the horrors of war. It does not equate the two, as the statement might otherwise suggest. The people fully believe that war is bad and peace is good.
Yet, as in real life, the people have come to the understanding that sometimes one must make terrible sacrifices in order to have a peaceful nation. The war does not take place on the soil of Oceania but instead, somewhere far from it, so they don’t see the horrors of the battle, the destruction, the wounded and dead in front of them. They only hear about it through the daily announcements made by the Party.
While this contradiction may seem like a logical reality at first, it becomes less so when the reader realizes that there is actually no war occurring at all. It is a made up fiction created by the Party just to keep the people in line. It is intended to keep their attention focused elsewhere, so that they do not realize how the Party is controlling their every thought and action.
The motto "War is Peace" indicates how having a shared enemy unites the people and helps them remain on a common course. It gives them something to worry about external to the way the country is being run, that is happening somewhere else. It helps to prevent them from becoming consciously aware of the obvious problems in their own society. This mentality, put in place for the benefit of the Party, gives the people someone other than the government to blame for their problems, making them easier to rule.