Old George Has a Modest Proposal
Bernard had rallied his spirits as his first - some say primary - loss at the gate, the Infamous Loss at the Gate as he began to think of it. Yet, somehow after chasing some cats around the yard and yapping at the humans who were passing by, Bernard felt a little better. He scampered lively into the center yard where all the animals milled about early in the morning, exchanging gossip, chit-chatting and pecking at the ground for food or chewing on the patches of grass that grew wild there. The gang of animals was weary when he got there. A heavy mood hung in the air as the animals dragged themselves through the morning. Scylla and Chardibis gathered the strength to amble on over to Bernard, who was standing still (not even his tail-wagging) observing all the misery.
"It's horrible, Bernard," Scylla said.
"It's horrible," Chardibis whinnied. "There's no food."
"What?" Bernard said, his old fire returning to his eyes and his words. "Where did it all go?"
"Look right over there," Scylla said woefully and pointed his sharp nose at the pig pen.
Bernard's head snapped around, just to see the pigs surrounded by the boars, all of them nearly blackened by the mud and feces they had been reveling in all morning - each one of them nearly drunk on all the feed and slop they had eaten from the trough. The wiry hairs on their bloated bellies bristled as they rolled about in what seemed to Bernard to be an orgy, a decadence that only the Romans knew. Old George had ordered the horses to put a pole in the middle of the mud. On the end of the pole, waving proudly, though mockingly, in the air was the standard of the Pig-Boar community. It was a white sheet one of the boars had ripped off of Old Man Kennedy's clothesline. On that field of white was the slogan sus scrofa with the likeness of a huge, even obese, pig in a golden circle. Written on the side of the pig's likeness was another slogan: pigs over all!!!
"What on Animal Farm happened?" Bernard yapped as the hair on the back of his neck bristled in anger. He could feel his tail stiffen and point straight up in the air.
"They took all the food," Chardibis said and hung his head low, "and now we're all hungry. They didn't just their food. They took all the food."
Bernard darted over to the fence of the pig pen and stopped just short of crashing into the wire. "George!" he barked, "Old George! Get over here immediately!"
"Who are you talking to like that?" said one of the boars as he licked some scraps of food off his belly. "You've no right to talk to Old George like that. And you'll be sorry when you have him as your leader after the election."
"I'll talk anyway I want, you wild animal," Bernard was furious. "And he hasn't won anything yet. When I win, you'll all be booted out of this farm … and forever. No more pigs, no more pigs' cousins, no more greed, no more sloth - back to Goldyn Farm." Then he turned to the animals in the mud: "How can you sit there taking everything while these people starve?"
"Easy," said another boar while he munched on a cob of corn, "you grab some food and you plop down in the mud," and he flopped on his stomach, making a splash.
"So, if you're such a great leader, Old George, what do you propose to do for all these hungry animals? The chicks are cheeping for food but their mothers haven't even eaten. The calves are starving and their mothers haven't even had a bit of cud all day. If the kids die, then Animal farm dies. Don't you see it? Is that what you want?"
"You have to work for your keep around here, right Bernard? Isn't that what you said, Bernard?" Dick mocked the dog.
"It's the Natural Order," Old George Piped in.
"And that's Science," Murdoch added. "You can look it up."
"There is no Natural Order! Stop saying there's a Natural Order. You just say that so you can take everyone's food. It's not science, it's just a lie so you can stay fat and muddy. Quit your lying," Bernard retorted.
"You don't know your science then, Bernard," quipped Dick.
"I know these animals are starving and I know it's your fault - I know that much," Bernard said. "What do you propose, George?"
Old George had been challenged, and Old George did not like being challenged. He also had been prepared. He and Murdoch had been up all night thinking about how to draw Bernard into this confrontation. The boar and the pigs knew Bernard's Achilles Heel, his greatest weakness, was his emotion. His breed was given to flying off the handle, especially when people they were loyal to were being attacked, so they stole all the food, raised the flag and hoped Bernard would react … and he did. He walked right into their snare. Old George had even prepared his speech.
"You want to know what I propose, Bernie?" Old George addressed his adversary by a hated nickname as he rose from the mud and shook the excess filth from his thick being. "I'll tell you exactly what I propose to do. We pigs are the only ones with any brains on this farm and we're the only ones fit to rule. Everyone else is simply fit to serve us. That's the way it is, that's the way it should and that's the way it will be after I take over."
"Never," Bernard snarled and growled.
Old George waddled toward the fence, mud splashing all around him. "Follow me, boys. We've got a speech to give." The boars, Murdoch, Dick, Donald and Young George pulled themselves out of the mud and followed in a long, ragged troupe. Old George went up the ramp the horses had built the day before in anticipation of the first-ever free election in the annals of Animal Farm. Murdoch stood directly behind him while the boars pushed through the crowd bumping people with their muscular chests and hip-checking smaller animals out of the way, threatening animals with their dirty tusks. They settled into a menacing line at the front of the stage. From behind his row of muddy thugs, Old George began his speech: "Animal Farm, please hear me. Three score and eleven years ago our Great Pig Forefathers set upon this farm land. We are now in a war that will pit us against each other, pig versus horse, and cow versus hen - each part of our precious farm pitted against one another. But in this struggle, we are given a moment to contemplate whether this farm, or any farm conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We now stand on the very land where Boxer fell after a long, prosperous life of service to the Farm, the land that was stained by the blood shed during the Battle of the Cowshed and all those heroes who fell. It is also tarnished by the stain of treachery brought about by the likes the un-pig-like Pig, Snowball, who was chased out of Animal Farm. We have to dedicate a piece of this land to those heroes, their heroic deeds and the salvation that was brought to it …."
"Enough of your propaganda nonsense," Bernard interrupted. "Tell these people how they're going to eat!"
The boars began to growl and grunt and slowly stalk towards the yapping dog. Bernard began to retreat into the crowd until Old George called off his minions: "Halt! Stop right there! This is not a place for violence. There is certainly a time and a place for all that, but this is not it. This is a time for Logic and Science. And we have just that, being Pigs and all. We have been up all night trying to get to the root of the problem. And we found a solution, even if it is a very modest one, a proposal if you will."
"Well," Bernard taunted, "let's hear it!"
The Boars groaned low again.
"That great Pig philosopher and statesman, Malthus, stated the problem almost 200 hundred years ago. Malthus had great vision - he could see far into the future, so far, in fact, that he predicted this situation we are facing right here on Animal Farm. See, Malthus said that there was only a certain amount of food for the animals, but animals were always having more babies. Poverty, starvation and all the problems we're having right now is because of this Natural Law."
Bernard was furious. The only thing containing him was the barrier of boars. "There is no such Natural Law. It's because you fat pigs took all the food for yourselves."
"It's Science," Murdoch stated flatly. "You can look it up."
"So what are you going to do about it, great leader of the people?" Bernard challenged.
"We have a plan, but it will take a great sacrifice on the part of you animals here on Animal Farm if you want to fix this dire situation," Old George, shifting his tone from anger to insincere pity.
"And I suppose The Pigs sacrifice nothing?" Bernard questioned.
"How much have we already sacrificed? That's the question you need to ask yourselves, animals. Do not dare to ask such a greedy question as what The Pigs can do for you, but you need to ask what you can do for Animal Farm. One Pig, all the Pigs on the farm, even the mighty and noble Napoleon, could not possibly fix this situation without the animals that stand before me, without your sacrifice."
"This should be good," Bernard said mockingly. "Let's hear it."
"First," Old George started his speech with a reverent tone, "let me say that I know that the citizens of Animal Farm are a strong, resourceful group who are willing to face any obstacle, defeat any enemy and take up any challenge in spite of the odds. Going back to the Battle of the Cowshed, this proud groups of animals has always known that they have the power within their hooves, paws and talons - whatever the case may be - to fight hunger, disease and injustice. The power to change does not come from any government or leader. It comes from you.
"That being said, we have a difficult row to hoe ahead of us. And though there is a solution, it is harsh and may offend some of you."
The crowd was growing restless and impatient. They wanted an answer, not more words they did not understand. Sensing this, Old George got to the point: "There is an ideal number of each type of animal for the size of this farm. We have entirely too many cows, a few too many dogs, just enough horses and the chicken population is entirely unproductive and nothing more than a burden. Therefore, we will have to trim our numbers down to an acceptable size for each animal group. Cows need to go. The horses stay. We'll keep a few of the dogs to keep the gates secure and scare away those pesky humans. And the chickens - they all go!"
The crowd erupted. A gaggle of voices joined together in a horrific symphony asking questions like "was he serious?" "Kill all the chickens?" "Get rid of cows?" "He can't do that. Only humans can do that. He's not human!"
Old George tried to calm the crowd: "Please, please, please, animals one and all, please let me explain." The crowd settled down enough for him to explain. "It's imperative that we do this. We have unproductive populations leeching off of the productive parts of society so we must turn them into something useful. The meat of the chickens will be turned into - as well as the other animals - food for the pigs, the dogs, the stray cats and anyone who sees the value in a good piece of meat. The carcasses will be buried in the fields where they will rot and nourish the earth. From the replenished soil will come the richest grass for the cows and the horses, the backbone of the workers here on Animal Farm. The fruits will be fatter, the grain will be grainier and the trees will be taller, all thanks to the sacrifice of the heroic chickens. So you see it's a beautiful, self-sustaining system that relies on the Laws of Nature and its cycles."
A stunned silence fell over the crowd. The animals hung their heads and looked around at each other. A horse asked Bernard, "Is this true? Can the Pigs do this?"
"No," Bernard assured the horse, "they can't do this. That's against the rules."
"Are you sure?" Scylla asked.
Bernard was adamant: "They can only do it if you let them. If you don't let them, they have no power."
"That's right," Young George said meekly.
"This isn't the time or the place, George," Old George told his son.
"Sorry," the son said respectfully to his father, "but I feel as if this is the right time and place, with all due respect."
"Respect your father," Murdoch said sternly.
"I normally do and always have as far as I can remember," Young George said, "but on this matter I cannot remain silent. I apologize."
"I don't think I've ever heard him speak before," Scylla remarked.
"Definitely not in front of his father like that," Chardibis said. "Maybe he's changed? Could it be?"
Bernard was suspicious. "I smell a rat," he said.
On the stage, Young George began explaining himself: "You see, father, there is plenty for all here on Animal Farm. The grass is still green and grows every year. It grows long and thick until it turns to hay for the horses, and the cow's udders fill with creamy milk and the hens drop eggs like rain. It's just that, with all due respect father, some are taking too much and leaving too little for the others. We don't need fewer animals. We just need a better distribution of it."
"Absurd!" Dick shouted out.
"Preposterous!" Donald cried.
Old George stood aback in apparent awe, apparently shocked that his son would question him publicly. "That's not natural," the father said. "It's never been that way. A system like that just can't work. People have tried it all throughout history and it's never worked. Some people always just get more."
"That's History," Murdoch interjected. "You can look it up."
"I agree with Young George!" Scylla barked.
"Me too," Chardibis agreed. Suddenly the chickens were clucking their consent, the cats were mewing their agreement, the cows mooed in contentment and the horses whinnied with the rest of them. The birds all tweeted and zipped through the air from branch to branch and roof to roof. Even the Wise Old Owl hoo-hooed his support. The only silent one, standing there with a curious look on his face, was Bernard. He still didn't believe a Pig could actually think of someone else, or that a Pig could actually agree with him. Could it actually be? Could the apple fall that far from the tree? Bernard doubted it seriously.
"You're lying!" Bernard screamed.
Young George answered kindly, "No, Bernard. I'm not like my father and his generation." Turning back to his father, he said, "No offense, father. You've always protected me and given me my fair share out of the trough, and I always knew there would be plenty of mud and a nice spot in the barn. But, I've seen these animals starving all day and it's just something more like what a human would do than what decent-hearted, well-intentioned pig would do. So, I had a change of heart. Everyone should eat. Everyone should work for each other. Everyone should be safe. Take what you need, not what you want. Be who you are, and not who you want to be. Isn't that how it goes, Bernard?"
Bernard was shocked into silence, a rare thing for that dog. He looked around and saw how the crowd was enthralled by this young Pig who was talking about feeding everyone, protecting everyone and having a community where all animals worked for each other, and he himself was enthralled for just a moment. He shook his head to try to shake the thought out of his head, but it didn't work. He believed Young George, the innocent son who had had such a change of heart. Bernard wanted to think it was true, he really did.
"Do you actually mean that Young George? Or are you just another lying pig?" Bernard challenged.
"If you give me this chance to lead this farm, I will show you how things can be, how things should be and hopefully how ideal things can be. I see the wisdom in what you were trying to do, Bernard. And, in spite of all his wisdom and greatness, I see the many faults in the old system, and I see the need for change. If you - and your animal friends give me your support - we can make Animal Farm great again."
Bernard was stunned. He felt disarmed without his words and for once he was muted. He looked around and saw the other animals looking at him for guidance. The cows with their big, teary eyes, the horses with their neighing and whinnying, the hens constantly clucking about and the birds sitting so ever still on the branches - all of them waiting for Bernard to make a move.
Finally, Bernard made up his mind. "Okay, Young George, if you mean what you say, I'm with you," Bernard proclaimed.
"Pig's honor," Young George said as he raised his trotter.
All the animals cheered at the election of a new, enlightened ruler who would lead them into a new world of order, prosperity and justice.
Bernard couldn't help but to wonder, though, how quickly it had happened. He hadn't even gotten his chance to speak, and he had been pulled right in. It's as if they had stolen the bloody election right form underneath him. But, he told himself as he followed along with the parade, there's no sense in being picky now. He agreed with Young George and so did the other animals, but the thoughts kept creeping in: he hadn't gotten to speak. In the end, though, he just followed along and hoped for the best.