That was a line from the end of the story that was recited by Thaddeus Araman
That was a line from the end of the story that was recited by Thaddeus Araman, one of the leaders in government bureaucracy. “The Dead Past” written by Isaac Asimov depicts a society in a dystopian setting where the state control of scientific research is overseen by an expansive bureaucracy, and scholars are forbidden from working outside their given field of specialization. It was published in 1956 when he was 46 years of age, meaning that Asimov himself lived and experienced the events of WW2, along with all the hysteria that came along with it. This was somewhat of a realistic dystopian setting, which many people were forced to experience. Knowing this, Asimov’s work “The Dead Past” parallels American life during the early and mid-1900s, the time when WW2 was occurring. This can be seen through the characters, the dystopian setting of the story, and the usage of power throughout it.
Every person has different ideas about what is right or wrong, and what needs to be done to keep people safe. In the case of the short story, the government bureaucracy took complete control of scientific actions. As explained by Araman, this was mainly to prevent the recreation of a chronoscope, a machine that can look into the past, and to protect society from itself. As a rebellion to the restrictions, Arnold Potterley, the main character in the story, along with his wife, Jonas Foster, a physicist and Fosters uncle, Ralph Nimmo, construct a way to create their own chronoscope that is more compact and energy efficient. This resembles American life during WW2 because the government hid the actual events occurring in Vietnam. The government thought that what they were doing in Vietnam was the right course of action to follow, and to prevent public hysteria or a lowering in nationalism, the government did not relay the truth about the war to American citizens for our own “protection”. While the public thought that everything was alright, we were losing the war. This is comparable to the way the government uses the chronoscope to look into the past and solve crimes but prevents anyone from knowing a lot of information about it, like how to recreate it or its limits for their “protection”. In addition, once the truth about the Vietnam war got to the American public, protests started to occur. Where people refused to be enlisted and go to war. This is similar to Arnold’s rebellion, as once he created a way to make his own chronoscope, he found out the truth that the government was hiding.
A dystopia is a place where everything is unpleasant. This could be through a physically degraded environment, or in the case of the story, totalitarianism. In this fictional domain, the government has complete control over the usage and creation of technology and suppresses outside research. Along with that, it keeps many secrets from its public and puts lies in their place. An example of this is the chronoscope. The government had been putting out information about the ancient past for many years, but during Pottlerys rebellion, he realized that the government’s chronoscope has a limit of 120 years and the information that was being given was fake. This is similar to the American government in WW2, as many government secrets were kept from the public. Examples of these were the Manhattan project and Operation Paperclip. The Manhattan Project was a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II. The only information that the government gave to the public was that the project was going to “End the War”. Once this information was released to the public, even though 85% were in agreement of its usage and ignored the fact they received little information, 15% were concerned with the ethical decisions and little information given about it. (Manhattan) Operation Paperclip was a U.S. intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America under secret contracts. Its purpose was to obtain Nazi weapons of destruction, but when information slipped into the public, citizens were told that they were being interrogated for German secrets. While the information was never publicly released, the truth did prevail, but many people still did not know about it. (Jacobson) This is similar to the little information the public initially had on the chronoscope, and the release of the truth by Arnold Pottery, along with the schematics to create a chronoscope.
Governments have lots of power, and they use it as they well, please. In the short story, the government uses its chronoscope to spy on people, and solve crimes by going into the past and viewing the events. During WW2 communist hysteria had hit America hard. Known as the Red Scare, it got to the point where the government bugged houses and tapped phone lines of suspicious people in the public. There was constant surveillance with cameras and government operatives to find potential spies. This is equal to the fact that the government in the story could see the past of anyone they chose and confirm the actions that they did if they were suspected of a crime. In both cases, it was an unethical invasion of public privacy.
Sometimes when someone prevents you from doing something, it’s actually for your own good. This subject is portrayed in many literary works like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the topic of this essay Isaac Asimov’s The Dead Past. In the story when Arnold Pottery released the chronoscope design to the public, Araman said this “I congratulate you. Happy goldfish bowl to you, to me, to everyone, and may each of you fry in hell forever”. Since everyone now has access to a chronoscope, no one’s privacy is safe. Now put that in the perspective of our own government, imagine all the things that would change. Knowing this, Asimov’s work “The Dead Past” parallels American life during the early and mid-1900s, the time when WW2 was occurring. This can be seen through the characters, the dystopian setting of the story, and the usage of power. The characters actions in the story parallel the government’s actions concerning Vietnam and the public’s protests. The setting of the story where the government has complete control and withholds the truth from the public can be related to the American government during WW2 and how it lied to the public about its secret operations. The usage of the chronoscope in the story to look into people’s past intrudes privacy just like how the government closely watched people during the red scare.