In George Orwell's novel Animal Farm, what was Orwell satirizing when he described how the animals celebrated their victory in the Battle of the Cowshed?
In George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, the “Battle of the Cowshed” is the first major conflict between a number of humans and the animals – a conflict in which the animals prove victorious. Orwell emphasizes various aspects of the celebration of this victory, including the following:
- The tendency of combatants to exaggerate (or at least call great attention to) their own exploits in battle.
- The tendency of combatants to celebrate their collective victories.
- The tendency to use victories to inspire combatants to prepare for the next battle.
- The tendency to want to acknowledge special bravery by awarding medals.
- The tendency to want to remember the anniversaries of important victories.
Orwell suggests that success in battle is one of the ways by which regimes try to achieve legitimacy. In particular, he seems to suggest that in the communist nation he is satirizing, military victories were used to suggest that the country was constantly at war, that new attacks could come at any time, that strict vigilance was always necessary, and that freedom of thought had to be curtailed in order to make sure that any future battle would also be won.
In short, Orwell satirizes the “militarization” of the Soviet Union – the ways in which its early victories against its opponents became part of the national legend and a constant source of national propaganda. As the narrator notes,
There was much discussion as to what the battle should be called. In the end, it was named the Battle of the Cowshed, since that was where the ambush had been sprung. Mr. Jones's gun had been found lying in the mud, and it was known that there was a supply of cartridges in the farmhouse. It was decided to set the gun up at the foot of the Flagstaff, like a piece of artillery, and to fire it twice a year -- once on October the twelfth, the anniversary of the Battle of the Cowshed, and once on Midsummer Day, the anniversary of the Rebellion.
I think Orwell was satirizing the entire premise of how Communist controlled nations use the cloak of country and military success to stir citizens into a sense of nationalistic fervor. Such zeal conceals the real struggle of these citizens and masks the manipulation of the citizenry by those in the position of power. It is interesting to note that there is little reflection or acknowledgement of the pigs to Boxer's lament voiced at the end of the battle:
I have no wish to take life, not even human life, repeated Boxer, and his eyes were full of tears.
This sentiment is dismissed by the pomp and circumstance of recognizing the sheep who died and the commemoration of the battle with the raising of the flag. Randolph Bourne once wrote, "War is the health of the state." Communist governments and political orders that centralize power away from the people recognize the importance in mobilizing public support for military campaigns as ways to divert attention from fundamental issues that necessitate discourse and reflection. The celebratory manner of the flag rearing ceremony, as well as the designation of awards on Snowball and the dead Sheep help to bring this in full view. It provides a moment where Orwell is able to satirize both the governments to do this in order to prevent their own culpability in the death and silence of their own citizens and also targets the citizens who fail to raise their voice in the name of such fraudulent ceremony.