Orwell's Oceania and the U.S.A. after September 11: Will Fiction Become Fact?

Diploma Thesis, 2004

148 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)





1 Why Orwell?

2 Preliminary Personal Observations
2.1 Dispelling the Myth

3.1 McCarthyism
3.2.1 The “Church Report”
3.3 FBI Targets Civil Rights Movements
3.4 New McCarthyism
3.5 Why does New McCarthyism exist?

4.1.1 My Personal Concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act
4.1.2 Attorney General John Ashcroft
4.2 The USA PATRIOT Act in more Detail
4.2.1 Diminished Constitutional Control
4.2.2 Guantanamo Bay
4.3 My Work with the ACLU at Columbia University
4.3.1 Campus Rally against the Patriot Act
4.3.2 New York City´s “Defend the Bill of Rights Campaign”
4.3.3 A Questionnaire
4.4 People´s Resistance against Totalitarianism in Fiction and Fact

5 Examples of Orwellian Surveillance
5.1 The TIPS Program
5.2 How Omni-Present Telescreens Almost Became Fact
5.3 MATRIX: Attempts for a Centrally Organized Surveillance System
5.4 Surveillance of Airline Passengers
5.4.1 CAPPS II
5.4.2 US-VISIT: The International Counterpart to CAPPS II
5.5 Military Spying on Civilians
5.5.1 Echelon
5.6 Surveillance Infers Security: A Fallacy
5.7 Truly Orwellian

6.1 The Government´s Aggressive Suppression of Individual Thought
6.1.1 Americans for Victory over Terrorism (AVOT) and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)
6.2 Patriotism: A Matter of Interpretation
6.2.1 Columbia: A(n) (Un)Patriotic University?
6.3 Project for a New American Century
6.4 Doublespeak: Free Speech Zones

7 The Secrecy of the Government and its Control of the News
7.1 Freedom of information: The People´s Right to Know
7.2 Office of Strategic Influence
7.3 All the News that Fit in the Memory Hole
7.4 The Total Information Awareness Program
7.4.1 TIA´s Afterlife
7.5 Ministries of Truth



Deutsche Zusammenfassung



What does it mean when the name “Orwell” is mentioned in the news? Does it mean that fiction has become fact? Is America heading towards a totalitarian society?

These are the questions I asked myself when I began to carve out the framework for the topic of my thesis.

It was in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 that I developed a genuine interest about America and its domestic and political agendas. When the planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I was on my way to go to a class at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. What I remember about my state of mind on that day is that I was rather confused and unexplainably unmoved by what had happened. As it turned out later, my emotional passiveness was a shock reaction. It took me a few weeks to realize the disastrous events of that day.

At the beginning of October 2001 Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, came to speak at the University of Eau Claire. At that time I was a camera man for the campus TV station and I thought it would be a good idea to record Rothschild´s speech and make a little report for our weekly news show.

Rothschild talked very convincingly about the necessity to increase the American people´s awareness of how America´s foreign policy depends on a domestic policy which the Bush government would be aggressively imposing on the U.S.A. His speech had a crucial effect on me. I began to study the American mainstream media culture and was particularly interested in their presentation of America´s role in the world. Simultaneously I observed how almost all the government´s responses were declared to be in the name of patriotism and national security. Whether it was the war in Afghanistan or tighter domestic laws, the government demanded the unequivocal and unquestioning approval of the American people.

I began to realize that the government´s one-sidedness would not conform with the democratic value of free speech. I would begin to learn about totalitarian aspects in society that were indoctrinated by the government.

Later on, in October 2001, I gave a short speech at a panel discussion at the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire about the indispensability for everyone of comparing different news sources to make up one´s mind about the situation during those unprecedented times. I wanted to encourage my audience to use multiple sources to gather information about September 11 and its aftermath and to hear some of the response from other countries.
My intention for this thesis is based on my conviction that the American public ought

to know more about its government. It should encourage people to participate in the discussion about the infringements on civil liberties and thus in the debate about their own future as American citizens. Although I am not an American, I feel a responsibility to write about some developments that I find troublesome, which may stem from my close relationship to American friends who would also like to see a less radical cabinet in power.

I returned to the U.S.A. in September 2003. In New York City I tried to find out if America has already changed into something that is in opposition to its widely praised democratic values. I wanted to see whether and why the fundamentals of a free society are suppressed by the government, while many sources claim that September 11 was the trigger for many changes in the American society. What are the problematic implications of the war on terror and, above all, how much of Orwell has America adopted since the attacks? This thesis should serve as an analysis for everybody who wants to know more about the current government´s tactics to control its people.


With the attacks on September 11, 2001, anger against an unknown enemy began to accumulate in American society. The first thing the American government wanted to achieve was to direct this anger, which led it to name an enemy against whom it could go to war. The government´s first target was Usama bin Laden and his worldwide Al Qaeda terror network. Afghanistan was bombarded, many terror camps were destroyed and the triumph over the Taliban regime was interpreted by the Bush legislation as a preliminary victory against international terror. Today in the spring of 2004, coverage of the still ongoing war in Afghanistan has faded, while Bin Laden is ranked number one on America´s “Most Wanted.”

In the fall of 2002 the public´s attention was shifted to a new hot spot – Iraq. In March 2003 America invaded one of the world´s most oil-rich nations to rid it of Saddam Hussein, after they had accused him of having WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and ties to Usama bin Laden. These were the two main accusations of the government that should have justified U.S. unilateral decision to attack Iraq. Neither of the claims so far has turned out to be true, and America is now involved in a guerrilla war that is killing both Iraqi people and American soldiers.

In times of war, government´s influence on the judicial system becomes crucial. Since all anti-terrorism measures are justified in the name of enhancing national security, the president is allowed to exercise almost unlimited power over the courts. By his verdict, someone can be put into jail indefinitely by declaring him or her an “enemy combatant.” Suspicion has become a legitimate tool to put people in detention without legal charges. Many human rights and civil liberties groups, of which the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is probably the most influential, have accused the government of curtailing principal rights of citizens. Lawyers across the country have stated that the war on terror has become a war on the Bill of Rights and, therefore, a war against the people.

In my thesis – Orwell ´s Oceania and the U.S.A. after September 11, 2001: Will Fiction Become Fact? – I analyse whether America has developed characteristics that resemble a totalitarian society, comparable to the dystopian world in 1984.

This thesis juxtaposes fiction with fact while it is also an eyewitness account of how a society is c/overtly surveyed and ultimately conditioned to accept what I consider totalitarian tools of a government. I see my thesis as an analysis of America´s war on terror, concentrating on those means which I believe could dislocate the foundation of a democratic society.

For this thesis I presuppose that the reader has read 1984, and maybe even studied its exploration of specific features of totalitarianism. To be honest, I had not read the book before I began to take a closer look at some of the government´s controversial anti- terror projects. But when I was reading it I was astounded by some striking parallels that I would immediately draw. I focus on the most obvious parallels between fiction and fact, which are permanent surveillance, thought control and suppression of free speech, government secrecy and government´s control of the news. But before I analyse these Orwellian facets observable in American society, I discuss how the government has granted the ramification of totalitarian features by means of a new anti-terror law called the USA PATRIOT Act.

From my research I have gathered evidence that tools of surveillance do not help the war on terror as much as suggested by the governmental institutions. That is why I tried to find alternative explanations why the government might attempt to control the public by spying on people, as it has done already long before September 11. I argue that people are conditioned to believe that surveillance increases security, while in fact it helps to control conformity to achieve government´s interests, both domestic and abroad. I also demonstrate how the government –with the help of the media – aggressively imposes its understanding of patriotism on the public. Although my main focus is on the methods of surveillance I attempt to line out that such methods are required to ensure patriotism, and thus conformity.

I want to reiterate that my thesis is a comparison between fiction and fact as well as an analysis of the government agenda in its current war on terror. It is a personal account regarding the degree of “Orwellianness” in American society, substantiated by my research at New York City.

In my first chapter I look at Orwell´s works and argue why I believe his ideas would well describe some features of the political landscape of America in the 21st century. I discuss some of Orwell´s essays which inspired my analysis of America´s war on terror.

Since I had stayed in post 9/11 America twice before I started writing this thesis, I attempt to render some qualities of America´s society in “Preliminary Personal Observations.” This should give the reader an idea of how I have perceived America´s war on terror on a very personal level, and also includes initial assumptions to render the viewpoints I represent in my analysis.

The next chapter gives an overview of America´s secret past of surveillance and suppression of free speech. It is inevitable for my thesis to analyse the history of surveillance, because some totalitarian elements of America´s past are coming back into place. My basic reference is the “Church Report,” which was produced by an independent committee to reveal the government´s surveillance tactics in the 1960s and 1970s to undermine whatever it labelled as subversive activities.

Chapter 4 explains how the government could possibly achieve much more control in a legal way. The “Patriot” chapter compares the war on terror with lost freedoms guaranteed in a democratic society. While I was doing my research at Columbia University from September throughout November of 2003, the USA PATRIOT Act[1], which was passed only six weeks after the attacks, became an increasingly hot issue in the news. It decreases constitutional oversight and gives unprecedented rights to the FBI and law enforcement. In addition, I provide an overview of the concerns that are raised by a growing number of privacy advocates. It will also be crucial to my thesis to outline the main implications of the law, and how people, especially critics I talked to, ranging from law experts, journalists, students and others, have reacted to the government´s first response to international terror. My main literary sources for this chapter are Nancy Chang´s Silencing Political Dissent: How post September 11 Anti-Terrorism Measures Threaten our Civil Libertis, the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights report Assessing the New Normal: Liberty and Security for the Post-September 11 United States, and the ACLU´s pamphlet Unpatriotic Acts. These sources are contrasted with information from government homepages that try to justify its rigorous measures. This chapter is also supplemented with various articles from major news sources like The New York Times and the Washington Post. I also cite different articles from lawyers and privacy advocates, which were published on think tank web sites on both ends of the political spectrum. Throughout my thesis I also rely on landmark speeches by President Bush as well as by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The next chapter outlines specific examples of Orwellian surveillance that the government has tried to – or has already successfully implemented so far. On the one hand, it discusses very obvious surveillance programs that involve cameras and government spies. On the other, this chapter provides an overview of new security check technologies at airports which are intriguingly harmful to people´s privacy. Finally, I discuss the vast spying web the American government has tried to put all over the world.

Subsequently, I have tried to interpret how government friendly institutions enforce patriotism on the public. I suggest that the government imposes conformity on its people in ways that are reminiscent of Orwell´s Thought Police. Thought control and suppression of free speech – two very dangerous Orwellian aspects – rank very high on the government´s unofficial agenda.

Chapter 7 discusses the government´s secrecy (even towards Congress) about its new surveillance programs in connection with its aims to control the dissemination of news. I draw some strikingly obvious parallels to the Ministry of Truth in 1984, whose purpose is to generate, change and terminate news, all done to maintain the fallacy of Big Brother´s infallibility.

Several constitutional experts and privacy advocates have published books that deal with the topic of lost liberties in the wake of September 11.[2] My contribution in this field of criticism is unique. In America I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the ongoing discussion, which helped to form my opinion on America´s war on terror. I was able to examine whether I, as a foreigner, could perceive changes in America´s society which were provoked by the rigorous legal steps of the government. I had a multi-dimensional approach to the topic because I could study this topic from home and actively take part in the discussion.

1 Why Orwell?

The great social critic and visionary of the first half of the 20th century, George Orwell in his novel 1984, created a negative utopian world of a totalitarian regime, controlled by an omni-present, god-like entity called Big Brother. As a social democrat, Orwell was opposed to communism as well as capitalism because both exploited the lower classes of society.[3] In 1984 he wrote about the ways the elite had developed to gain absolute power over each individual in and outside the party system. The purpose of total control in the book is to erase free will and independent thinking. The means of the party, which is the omni-potent apparatus that accords to its three main principles “War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance in strength,” is permanent surveillance made possible by the use of ubiquitous cameras and spies that report suspicious behavior to party agents. Orwell was not only writing fiction; he tried to capture some political and societal trends that he had observed in his times and which are well described in some of his essays.

He wrote in a clear, journalistic style. An anarchist in the late 1920s, in the 1930s he began to consider himself a socialist.[4] The Road to Wigan Pier described his experiences among unemployed miners in northern England while sharply criticising socialist movements. In 1937 Orwell arrived in Spain, fighting for the Republicans until he was forced to flee in fear of his life from communists who were suppressing socialist dissenters. The experience must have left him with a lifelong hatred of communism. When war broke out, Orwell worked at the BBC until 1943, when he became literary editor of the Tribune. By now he was a prolific journalist, writing articles, reviews and a number of books about England – notably The Lion and the Unicorn – that combined patriotism with socialism (ibid.). His political essays include manifold commentaries about his time. 1984 is a kind of summary of his political views that is rendered by a “human interest story”, which is Winston Smith´s love relationship to Julia. Evidently, the book addresses a large audience ranging from political analysts, linguists and social critics to people who are simply interested in breathtaking science fiction.

In 1984, surveillance is a type of intrusion by which a totalitarian regime is able to suppress origins of resistance. My thesis is intended to inform about the possibility of the manifestation of a new form of society that is characterised by totalitarian features. My emphasis is on surveillance as a tool of oppression and intimidation, rather than an effective means of confronting terrorism. I support the argument that the government expands its power over society while it stimulating the American people to engage in the war on terror, which is, in my opinion, a war against the civil liberties and thus a war against oneself, as portrayed in Orwell´s 1984.

I believe that George Orwell´s negative utopia 1984 has been read in two predominant ways in the late 1940s´ and the decades to follow. One side read it as a prophecy of a form of state that might become true in the distant future. The other group read it as a satire, an outrageous exaggeration of socio-cultural extremes.

A 79- pages FBI file on Orwell demonstrates that Orwell was closely observed by the U.S. government.[5] His novel Animal Farm, which was released in 1945, had been perceived in the U.S.A. as an allegory on Russian totalitarianism.[6] The book was used as a key instrument to spread anti-Russian sentiments and to contrast totalitarianism with the democratic system at home.

The FBI writes in its short introduction to Orwell´s file on the internet that he was never investigated (ibid.). Logically, the very existence of a file is proof of some kind of close interest in Orwell´s life. On the FBI´s Freedom of Information Act homepage[7] there is a listing of famous people who were, or were not the target of investigations. Like Orwell´s, most of the files were heavily censored by FBI analysts who determined which passages should be made classified. While many miscellaneous pages are blacked out, the only useful part of the FBI´s dossier on Orwell is a letter by Eugene Reynal, vice-president of the Harcourt, Brace and Co., Inc., who pointed out the importance of the soon to appear novel 1984 to John Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI. Reynal wrote in his letter, dating April 22, 1949:

1984 is an important book because it provides a picture of a plausible but frightening extension of present social and political trends. Orwell brings home to the reader in a story of mounting interest the horrors that a totalitarian world can and may bring to us within less than two generations. (3)

And a few lines later: “The book leaves the reader with the shocked feeling that there is not a single horrible feature in the world of 1984 that is not present, in embryo, today” (3).


[1] In this thesis the reader will find various kinds of spelling the so-called USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). Whenever I write “Patriot Act” I refer to the USA PATRIOT Act.

[2] Howard Zinn (2002). Terrorism and War; Nancy Chang (2002). Silencing Political Dissent: How Post- September 11 Measures Threaten Civil Liberties; Richard C. Leone ed. (June 2003). The War on Our Freedoms: CivilLiberties in an Age of Terrorism. David Cole (September 2003). Enemy Aliens.

[3] Cf. Ben Pimlott (1989). Introduction to George Orwell´s 1984 in Orwell, George (1949). 1984. London Penguin Books Ltd.v- xvii.

[4] BBC. “George Orwell.” BBCi. [Online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/orwell_george.shtml [November 28, 2003].

[5] Cf. http://www.foia.fbi.gov/orwell.htm

[6] Cf. David Henke, Evans Rob (June 30 2000). “How Big Brothers Used Orwell to Fight the Cold War.” Guardian Unlimited. [Online] http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/classics/story/0,6000,338261,00.html [April 18, 2004].

[7] Cf. http://www.foia.fbi.gov; The Freedom and Information Act provides limited access to FBI files as well as to files of any other federal department to all people who file a Freedom of Information Act request in a written form.

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Orwell's Oceania and the U.S.A. after September 11: Will Fiction Become Fact?
University of Graz  (American Studies)
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Orwell, Oceania, September, Will, Fiction, Become, Fact
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Magister Oliver Trenk (Author), 2004, Orwell's Oceania and the U.S.A. after September 11: Will Fiction Become Fact?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/29040


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