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کتاب: جنگ سرد - تاریخی نو / درس 2

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PROLOGUE - THE VIEW FORWARD

IN 1946 a forty-three-year-old Englishman named Eric Blair rented a house at the edge of the world—a house in which he expected to die. It was on the northern tip of the Scottish island of Jura, at the end of a dirt track, inaccessible by automobile, with no telephone or electricity. The nearest shop, the only one on the island, was some twenty-five miles to the south. Blair had reasons to want remoteness. Dejected by the recent death of his wife, he was suffering from tuberculosis and would soon begin coughing up blood. His country was reeling from the costs of a military victory that had brought neither security, nor prosperity, nor even the assurance that freedom would survive. Europe was dividing into two hostile camps, and the world seemed set to follow. With atomic bombs likely to be used, any new war would be apocalyptic. And he needed to finish a novel.

Its title was 1984, an inversion of the year in which he completed it, and it appeared in Great Britain and the United States in 1949 under Blair’s pen name, George Orwell. The reviews, the New York Times noted, were “overwhelmingly admiring,” but “with cries of terror rising above the applause.”1 This was hardly surprising because 1984 evoked an age, only three and a half decades distant, in which totalitarianism has triumphed everywhere. Individuality is smothered, along with law, ethics, creativity, linguistic clarity, honesty about history, and even love—apart, of course, from the love everyone is forced to feel for the Stalin-like dictator “Big Brother” and his counterparts, who run a world permanently at war. “If you want a picture of the future,” Orwell’s hero Winston Smith is told, as he undergoes yet another session of relentless torture, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”2 Orwell did die early in 1950—in a London hospital, not on his island—knowing only that his book had impressed and frightened its first readers. Subsequent readers responded similarly: 1984 became the single most compelling vision in the post–World War II era of what might follow it. As the real year 1984 approached, therefore, comparisons with Orwell’s imaginary year became inescapable. The world was not yet totalitarian, but dictators dominated large parts of it. The danger of war between the United States and the Soviet Union—two superpowers instead of the three Orwell had anticipated—seemed greater than it had for many years. And the apparently permanent conflict known as the “Cold War,” which began while Orwell was still alive, showed not the slightest signs of ending.

But then, on the evening of January 16, 1984, an actor Orwell would have recognized from his years as a film reviewer appeared on television in his more recent role as president of the United States. Ronald Reagan’s reputation until this moment had been that of an ardent Cold Warrior. Now, though, he envisaged a different future:

Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, say, in a waiting room, or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally, and that there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted. Would they then deliberate the differences between their respective governments? Or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children and what each other did for a living? . . . They might even have decided that they were all going to get together for dinner some evening soon. Above all, they would have proven that people don’t make wars.3 It was an unexpectedly gentle invitation for human faces to prevail over boots, dictators, and the mechanisms of war. It set in motion, in Orwell’s year 1984, the sequence of events by which they would do so. Just over a year after Reagan’s speech, an ardent enemy of totalitarianism took power in the Soviet Union. Within six years, that country’s control over half of Europe had collapsed. Within eight, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—the country that had provoked Orwell’s great gloomy prophecy in the first place—had itself ceased to exist.

These things did not happen simply because Reagan gave a speech or because Orwell wrote a book: the remainder of this book complicates the causation. It is worth starting with visions, though, because they establish hopes and fears. History then determines which prevail.

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