In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the reader is introduced to Winston Smith, an outsider in a society under totalitarian rule by Big Brother. Though Smith works for the Party he feels himself outside of it, relishing in small rebellions against the state. Smith, like many dystopian protagonists, begins his downfall by writing in a journal, there by committing the sin of individual thought. The Thought Police, one of the main forms of State Control in the novel, exist to prevent and punish those who are disloyal to the party. Even the children have been implemented as tools of the state, as they are loyal only to the state, even going so far as to send their own parents to prison. This idea is a reflection on the Hitler youth program implemented by the Nazi’s leading up to and during Nazi control in Europe.
In the novel, Smith encounters his neighbor’s children while helping to fix a sink. The boy and girl come into the room and hold toy guns at Winston, calling him a “traitor” and a “thought criminal”. Though they are only children Winston is somewhat fearful of them as they do have the power to report him to the thought police, which they eventually do to their own father. These children are part of the “Spies” program, a youth program instituted in order to garner early loyalty to the totalitarian state. The children, “…adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother-it was all a glorious game to them” (24). All the elements of these children’s lives is a near exact reflection of the lives of the children of the Hitler youth.
By 1938 the Hitler youth comprised 7.7 million members and enrollment was mandatory. Parents who didn’t enroll their children were threatened with having them taken away by the state anyway (Wikipedia). One of the main goals of the program was to build loyalty towards Hitler. Toys and games were filled with Nazi propaganda and textbooks were re-written to teach “love for Hitler and obedience to the state” (ushmm.org). Academics were not nearly as important as reinforcing political ideas into the minds of children so that they would grow up to be loyal party members and soldiers. When Orwell mentions “hiking” and “drilling with dummy rifles” he appears to be referencing the Hitler youth program’s emphasis on the idea that these young men will eventually become soldiers, so physical training was an important part of their education.
The children’s education during Nazi power was divided into various groups. Some children who were particularly devoted attended training academies for future party leaders. Others were trained in specific military corps. Still others were brought up to be future labor leaders, while girls were sent to a sort of finishing school that taught high moral character. (Wikipedia). All of these organizations were arranged to encourage “young men and women to abandon individuality in favor of the goals of the Aryan collective” (uhsmm.org). Children’s loyalty to the state is important in both 1984 and the Hitler youth as it implants the ideas of Big Brother or Hitler as a hero to be followed without question.
When Winston meets the children, before he is accused by them of being a “thought criminal”, he watches as they whine about wanting to go see a hanging. This comfort with violence and death, even going so far as to embrace it as an exciting afternoon activity, is also tied into the militarization of the youth. If they are going to be surrounded by war they might as well be comfortable with its effects. In the Hitler youth, cruelty by older boys towards the younger ones was tolerated and even encouraged, as it provided a means of weeding out the weak or those unfit to serve the party (Wikipedia).
Throughout 1984 Orwell references a number of means of control set forward by the totalitarian governments he is railing against, but the youth program struck me most as the most terrifyingly efficient. If children are brought up in a culture of loyalty to the state over any other outside influence then it will be all they know. Shaping minds at an early age based on the wishes of a dictator prevents any chance of revolution, as loyalty is so ingrained that when the teacher says 2+2=5 or that Hitler is a good guy, it is simply accepted as truth and no further thought is given.
“Hitler Youth”. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitler_Youth. Web. 12 December 2015.
“Shaping the Future: Indoctrinating Youth”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC. 18 August 2015. Web. 12 December 2015.
Orwell, George. 1984. 1949. New York: Signet Classics. Print.