Jan. 20 (Monday)

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 Eric Arthur Blair
Orwell’s press card portrait, taken in 1933
Full Name: Eric Arthur Blair
Born: Nov. 30, 1902 in Motihari, Bengal, India
Died: Jan. 21, 1950 in London, England

George Orwell may be the best political writer of all time. His very name is commemorated in a term that seems eerily prophetic — Orwellian.

Yet Orwell never even existed; George Orwell was merely a pen name for Eric Arthur Blair, an English novelist and journalist.

Born in British India, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, fought in the Spanish Civil War and lived through World War II, when his home was destroyed by a V-1 flying bomb. His experiences tramping around, along with a number of illnesses and injuries and a period of homelessness, made Orwell conscious of the plight of the poor. He developed a keen awareness of social injustice and a hatred of totalitarianism, which he opposed through his commitment to democratic socialism.

“Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.” -- George Orwell

Orwell’s best known novels are Animal Farm (1945) — often thought to reflect degeneration in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism — and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), a frightening account of life under totalitarian rule. Ironically, both books increasingly describe the United States with uncanny accuracy.

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” -- George Orwell

Popular neologisms attributed to Orwell include Cold War, Big Brother, memory hole, thought police, doublethink, newspeak and thoughtcrime. And who could forget such timeless quotes as “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”?

Ironically, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century seems to have vanished almost without a trace, aside from his books. In his will, Orwell requested that no one write his biography, and no known audio recordings of his voice exist.

The other irony is that George Orwell knew far more about the United States political system than most U.S. citizens living today do. Sadly, that will probably still be true one hundred years from now.