History Matters

Nonfiction by | March 19, 2017

In August 2016, I finally submitted the approved manuscript of my PhD thesis. In the weeks after my final defense, I took a deep breath of relief, knowing that at last I can finally return to a normal life. Now I am able to sleep at normal hours, watch my favorite HGTV or do whatever fancies me without the guilty feeling of an impending deadline dominating my every waking moment.

To take advantage of this new status, I decided to resume reading fiction and picked up George Orwell’s 1984. Some people, who have been in similar circumstances, would understand the need for some time away from any scholarly undertaking.

I have been acquainted with Orwell’s writing, but it was a mistake on my part to plunge into his landmark novel at this time. Just a few pages into it, any conception of light reading flew out of the window. This book was dark, to say the least. It is a tragic illustration of what can transpire if we do not guard our democratic freedom to speak and think.

The novel is set in 1984, in the state of Oceania, one of the three super-states fighting for global dominance while engaged in harsh, domestic suppression. Where individual thought is forbidden and only Big Brother, the totalitarian leader, is allowed to reason and make decisions. The story revolves around Winston Smith, an employee of the Ministry of Truth, which operates in keeping with its motto that “Ignorance is Strength.” His job is to search old newspapers and other records for facts, then delete or “unfact” those that are politically inconvenient in the eyes of Big Brother. Winston is well-skilled at “doublethink,” which he defines as being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies…consciously to induce unconsciousness.” Completing the political realities of this society are the Thought Police – secret police that monitor and punish any “thoughtcrime” rejected by the Party. The citizens of Oceania know they are being watched, but no longer know how to care. Except for Winston, who starts to question these actions and writes down unauthorized information in a diary.

Thinking about the recent celebration of EDSA, it was not much of a leap to imagine a similar situation of “doublethink” working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through the fake news that circulate through social media in our time.

I was only five years old when EDSA occurred and although televised images were accessible, I was too young to grasp the magnitude of this moment. Yet a part of me sensed that it was important. What I do clearly remember from that time, was learning my initial ABCs from the ALSA MASA vandals that were prominent on the walls of buildings near our home in Davao City. My parents were voracious news readers, but they were not activists. Albeit passive observers, they both were sensitive to the fragile security surrounding us. Nevertheless, my parents made sure my sisters and I grew up safe in the neighborhood we chose to call home.

Throughout my studies, in films and from the experiences of mentors, I learned about Philippine history and the values that our Constitution stands for. I learned about the men and women who fought in the resistance against colonizers, sacrificing their lives for our freedom. I learned about what transpired during the time of Martial Law and the events that led to 1986. These stories are well written and published for everyone to read. They are documented for us to absorb and value, appreciating just how vital that history is. In essence, I learned not to take the liberties I enjoy for granted.

As a security researcher with a background in development work, I decided to pursue a PhD focused on these two areas. Others may find this strange, but the reality is that security and development go hand in hand. Regardless of the position one takes – that development must precede security or that security must be established before development can occur, the core of the argument stays the same. One cannot exist without the other. Evidence of this was clearly apparent when I travelled around the Philippines to conduct fieldwork. Both are on display across all levels of socio-economic and political organizations in partnership among stakeholders – government agencies, the military, the private sector, non-government organizations, and the public. The Negros First-Army Wellness Farm, established in 2012 and situated in the army camp of the 303rd Infantry Brigade in Murcia, Negros Occidental, is an example of this collaborative effort.

In conducting my literature review and analysis, it was important to return to history in order to understand why the present is the way it is. What policies worked and which did not? Why did these policies work or why did others fall short?  This involves a lot of critical thinking and engagement; matters where a simple statement of “it’s time to move on” cannot suffice. In a large part, history is our teacher, we can’t change nor rewrite nor manipulate it (any attempt must be condemned), but certainly we can learn from it.

Today, nearly seven decades since the 1984 was published in 1949, we ask ourselves how much of Orwell’s imagined world has become reality and what the likelihoods are for a more sensible world.

 


Ava Patricia C. Avila is an OFW and spent the last ten years in Singapore. She holds a PhD in defense and security from Cranfield University, UK. She is broadly interested in the interactions of security, international relations, development studies, gender and political violence. She is born and raised in Davao City.