Category Archives: George Orwell

War Against a Foreign Country Only Happens When the Moneyed Classes Think They Are Going to Profit From It

George Orwell? Apocryphal?

mon10Dear Quote Investigator: Lately, I have been seeing the following quotation about warfare attributed to the famous political writer George Orwell:

War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

I am skeptical of this attribution. Is this a genuine statement from the Orwell?

Quote Investigator: Yes, George Orwell wrote the words above in a book review published in August 1937 in the London journal “The New Statesman and Nation”. In 1937 Orwell believed that Britain and Germany were moving toward war. At that time, he was unhappy because he was sympathetic to pacifism and strongly opposed to war with Germany. The book he examined was written by a former Brigadier-General in the British army named F. P. Crozier who had embraced an anti-war stance. However, Orwell was unimpressed with the arguments presented, and he offered two alternative planks for anti-war activists. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

The two facts which even now are not very widely grasped, and which should be made the centre of all anti-war agitation, are quite different from these. General Crozier is aware of them, but only intermittently aware. They are:

1. That war against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

2. That every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac (“militarist” Germany in 1914, “Fascist” Germany next year or the year after).

The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it, especially when it is disguised as peace propaganda.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1937 August 28, The New Statesman and Nation, Experientia Docet, (Book Review by George Orwell of “The Men I Killed” by Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier), Start Page 314, Quote Page 314, The Statesman and Nation Publishing Company, London. (ProQuest Periodicals)

In a Time of Universal Deceit — Telling the Truth Is a Revolutionary Act

George Orwell? V. G. Venturini? David Hoffman? Charlotte Despard? Antonio Gramsci? Anonymous? Apocryphal?

orwell01Dear Quote Investigator: In 1949 George Orwell described a nightmarish future in his classic dystopian novel 1984. There is a popular quotation that is supposed to be contained within this work, but it is not there. Here are three versions:

  • In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
  • During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
  • Speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.

Maybe Orwell wrote this expression in an essay or another book, but I have not been able to find it. Could you explore this quote?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to find these words in George Orwell’s oeuvre and have not succeeded. Currently, there is no substantive evidence that he said or wrote this quote. He died in 1950, and the earliest match located by QI appeared in a 1982 book titled “Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel” by Venturino Giorgio Venturini. The statement was presented as an epigraph enclosed within quotation marks and attributed to Orwell; however, a specific originating text was not identified. The word “universal” was omitted: 1

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”   G. Orwell

The next earliest citation ascribing the saying to Orwell was found by the top lexicographical researcher Barry Popik. In the year 1984 the Canadian periodical “Science Dimension” printed a letter from a reader named David Hoffman who was unhappy with an article that discussed the economics of wind energy. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

I think George Orwell said in his book 1984 that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. If Science Dimension is not prepared to explore the future of renewable energy technologies except in inaccurate generalizations, then maybe it should maintain its integrity by avoiding the subject altogether.

Hoffman did not place the saying between quotation marks, and he prefaced his statement with “I think”. Perhaps he was presenting his analysis of the thesis or central point of the novel 1984 instead of an exact quote. Both of the two earliest cites are from individuals connected to environmentalism, but it is not certain whether this cultural subgroup was a transmission vector.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1982, Partners in Ecocide: Australia’s Complicity in the Uranium Cartel by V. G. Venturini (Venturino Giorgio Venturini), (Epigraph facing the title page), Rigmarole Book Publishers, Clifton Hill, Australia. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)
  2. 1984/1 [Number 1 of 6 issues in 1984], Science Dimension, Letters, (Letter from David Hoffman, Renewable Energy News, Ottawa, Ont.), Quote Page 5, Column 1 and 2, Published by National Research Council Canada, Ottawa, Canada. (Found by Barry Popik in the Google Books database; located and verified on paper by QI)

News Is What Somebody Does Not Want You To Print. All the Rest Is Advertising

George Orwell? Alfred Harmsworth? William Randolph Hearst? L. E. Edwardson? Robert W. Sawyer? Mark Rhea Byers? Brian R. Roberts? Malcolm Muggeridge? Katharine Graham? Lord Rothermere? Lord Northcliffe? Anonymous?

hearstmore02Dear Quote Investigator:  I have been trying to trace a popular saying about journalism which can be expressed in several ways. Here are four examples to show the core of the statement:

1) News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.

2) News is something which somebody wants suppressed: all the rest is advertising

3) News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations.

4) Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

These remarks do differ, but I think it makes sense to group them all together. Press baron William Randolph Hearst and renowned author George Orwell have both been credited with originating this saying. Could you explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strongly matching expression found by QI was published in 1918 in a New York periodical called “The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers”. The words were printed on a sign at a journalist’s desk, and no precise attribution was given. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

“Whatever a patron desires to get published is advertising; whatever he wants to keep out of the paper is news,” is the sentiment expressed in a little framed placard on the desk of L. E. Edwardson, day city editor of the Chicago Herald and Examiner.

In the following decades the saying evolved and instances were employed by or attributed to a wide variety of prominent news people including William Randolph Hearst, Alfred Harmsworth, Brian R. Roberts, and Katharine Graham.

This entry was improved with the help of top researcher Barry Popik who adroitly explored this topic and shared the results at his website “The Big Apple”. 2

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1918 November 30, The Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, (Filler item), Quote Page 18, Column 4, Publisher Ernest F, Birmingham, Fourth Estate Publishing Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “If you want something in the paper, that’s advertising; you want something kept out, that’s news”, Date on website: July 11, 2014, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 10, 2015) link

People Sleep Peacefully in Their Beds at Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready to Do Violence on Their Behalf

George Orwell? Richard Grenier? Rudyard Kipling? Winston Churchill? John Le Carré? Apocryphal?


Dear Quote Investigator: The brilliant writer George Orwell authored two of the most powerful and acclaimed political books of the last century: 1984 and Animal Farm. The saying that interests me is usually attributed to him, and there are two popular versions:

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf

I think these words are consistent with the sentiments Orwell expressed in essays, but I have read conflicting comments about whether these words are correctly ascribed to him. Would you trace the source of these statements?

Quote Investigator:There is no substantive evidence that George Orwell who died in 1950 made this remark. The earliest known matching statement appeared in a column in the Washington Times newspaper written by the film critic and essayist Richard Grenier in 1993: 1 2

As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

It is important to note that Grenier did not use quotation marks around the statement of the view that he ascribed to Orwell. QI believes that Grenier was using his own words to present a summary of Orwell’s viewpoint. Later commentators placed the statement between quotation marks and introduced various modifications to the passage.

This is a known mechanism for the generation of misattributions. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Previous researchers located the key 1993 citation and found phrases in the works of Orwell and Kipling that contain parts of the idea expressed in the aphorism under investigation. Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1993 April 6, The Washington Times, Perils of Passive Sex by Richard Grenier, Page F3, Washington, D.C. (NewsBank)
  2. In 2009 the noted science fiction author William Gibson expressed an interest in identifying the origin of this saying. The important 1993 citation was mentioned in a forum post at the website of Gibson by an individual using the handle Caplewood who suggested that “Grenier made it up”; William Gibson Message Board, Message from Caplewood with timestamp: July 17, 2009 10:47 AM. (Accessed on November 5, 2011) link