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In 1945 George Orwell coined the term “Cold War” and predicted decades of nuclear anxiety

Domagoj Valjak

George Orwell was an English writer who is best known for his socially engaged literature that satirized totalitarianism and criticized social injustice.

His novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the primary works of dystopian literature, and “Animal Farm” is among the best allegorical critiques of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and social system of Stalinist Russia.

Orwell’s passport photo during his Burma years.

Orwell’s passport photo during his Burma years.

Orwell coined many neologisms that were to become a vital part of cultural theory and the English language itself. He invented the term “Big Brother” to describe an all-seeing government able to control every move of its citizens and was the first social critic to introduce the notion of the “thought police”, an institution that enforces the prohibition of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

The term “Cold War” is used to describe the period of political tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union which lasted for several decades. The term is fitting because there was no major direct military conflict between the two nations, but the threat of a nuclear war was constant. The two sides battled through political conundrums, espionage and regional conflicts known as “proxy wars”.

However, many people are unaware that the term “Cold War” was coined by none other than George Orwell himself. In 1945 Orwell published an essay entitled “You and the Atomic Bomb”, in which he expressed concern over living in a world which is aware of the existence of nuclear weapons capable of immense destruction. Orwell predicted that the second half of the 20th would be known as the age of nuclear anxiety.

US President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna summit, June 4, 1961.

US President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna summit, June 4, 1961.

The first person to use the term in connection with the political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union was the famous English journalist Herbert Bayard Swope, who was a three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize.

During the Cold War, the US conducted around 1,054 nuclear tests by official count, between 1945 and 1992.

During the Cold War, the US conducted around 1,054 nuclear tests by official count, between 1945 and 1992.

In a speech written for Bernard Baruch, a prominent political advisor to the American Democratic Party, Swope wrote: “Let us not be deceived: we are today in the midst of a cold war.”

George Orwell’s concerns and predictions expressed in his novels and essays were stunningly accurate. He predicted the age of global nuclear paranoia of the Cold War, the age of police brutality and the mass surveillance of citizens, and the uncontained spread of unregulated neoliberal capitalism.

Journalist Herbert Bayard Swope in 1917.

Journalist Herbert Bayard Swope in 1917.

Sadly, Orwell died in 1950 at the age of 46 and never saw the end of the Cold War.

Here is another story from us: Room 101, the torture chamber in George Orwell’s 1984, was named after a conference room at the BBC where Orwell would have to sit through tortuously boring meetings

He also never witnessed the emergence of the digital age, a development that saw many of his predictions became a reality.