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Running head: 1984 AND AMERICA

1984 and America: Not That Far Apart


Mackenzie Peterson
Professor Druash
POS 2001
May 16, 2014
Tallahassee Community College

1984 AND AMERICA

In the book 1984, the author George Orwell details the life of Winston Smith. Smith is
living in a totalitarian state known as Oceania which is ruled by Big Brother, a looming but everpresent leader. Winston, to the outside world, appears to be a loyal member of the Outer Party.
However, he is secretly keeping a diary and has his doubts about the party, knowing that the
Parties are lying to the people. He also is distrusting of the amount of surveillance in place,
including the telescreens which not only feed propaganda to the citizens of Oceania but also
record the viewers in order to watch for any sign of resistance (1984, 1999, p. 236). This
resistance can be as simple as the wrong facial expression, known as Facecrime (1984, 1999, p.
240). Eventually Winston is captured and later walks to his own death as he has come to "love"
Big Brother. While we have not quite reached the totalitarian levels of control depicted in 1984,
there are still some eerie similarities between the fictitious Oceania and the American
government. Just like in the famous novel, Americans are under surveillance, receiving possibly
altered information, and are subject to questioning at the slightest suspicion that they are "unAmerican". In my opinion, there is no place for government restrictions in a free democratic
society aside from restricting possible criminal activity.
In June of 2013, it was reported that the National Security Agency, or the NSA, was not
only tapping millions of American phone lines but also extracting data from Internet servers
regarding users' Internet activities (NSA, 2013, para. 1). While some were supportive of the
NSA's activities, most Americans were outraged. Those against the surveillance argued that it
was an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional (NSA, 2013, para. 7). This surveillance was
similar to the surveillance shown in Orwell's 1984. In 1984, the government used spies and
telescreens to watch for people who may be against the Party. Much like in the novel, these wire
taps allowed the government to watch for anything that went against the American way. The

1984 AND AMERICA

American government has insisted that it is for the peoples safety; these wire taps are
supposedly simply used as an anti-terrorism weapon. However, what is to stop the government
from digging a little deeper just to find domestic criminals and then eventually from using it
simply to gather intelligence on the everyday law-abiding citizen? No matter the reasoning, the
surveillance of Americans is very similar to the surveillance of the people of Oceania in 1984.
In Orwells novel, Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, the entity responsible for
editing and distributing information. In a way, the Ministry of truth was like a publisher that
released stories as they saw fit: shining a beautiful light onto Big Brother and the ways of
Oceania. It was obvious that the Party was controlling what was released by the Ministry of
Truth, also known as Mini-true. One of the first moments Winston realizes that the Parties are
lying to the people is when he finds evidence that the confessions of three executed
revolutionaries were falsified (1984, 1999, p. 236). In America, the people rely on journalists for
unbiased information regarding what is happening in the world. However, many American
journalists provide a skewed view of what is going on not only in our government but in the
world. In 2010, General Stanley McChrystal made statements to reporter Michael Hastings of
the Rolling Stone regarding President Barack Obama (Journalists, 2011, para. 1). This became
controversial, not because of the comments made but, because of how the reporter handled it.
Some believed that it is an unspoken rule for journalists to protect the public figures they cover.
In reality, Hastings did precisely what journalists are supposed to do: provide the hard truth about
what people of power have to say. The American people rely on these journalists for information
regarding what is happening with the people in power. There is some criticism that the
journalists may be too close to the people they are reporting on, therefore not providing the most
accurate view of these political figures (Journalists, 2011, para. 8). Most journalists say,

1984 AND AMERICA

however, it is necessary to form this relationship with people of power in order to continue
getting not just stories but the trust of the person interviewed, allowing the interviewee to feel
more comfortable and be more honest (Journalists, 2011, para. 7). No matter how it is spun, a
good portion of journalists are skewing information in order to get more stories while also
making the people of power appear better than they may be.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Uniting and Strengthening America
by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, or as it is
more commonly known The Patriot Act, was passed (USA Patriot, 2002, para. 1). The Patriot
Act is supposed to be in place to protect the American home front from future attacks similar to
those of September 11th. This act was heavily supported and passed faster than most laws that go
through the senate, being signed less than two months after the loss of nearly three-thousand
people in New York, northern Virginia and Pennsylvania on that fateful September day (USA
Ptriot, 2002, para. 4). Some of the provisions in the Patriot Act included allowing easier ability
for our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance, allow interagency
communication to catch terrorists, and raise the penalties for terrorists. As much as this act was
supported in the beginning, much criticism has fallen on the US government regarding the act
(USA Patriot, 2002, para. 5). In particular, the ability for government agencies to access
library records regarding books checked out and websites visited as well as the money
laundering and banking sections were targeted by the public (USA Patriot, 2002, para. 8). In
regards to the library records, the people believed it was an invasion of privacy as well as
possible infringement of the rights provided by the First Amendment, allowing free speech, by
possibly preventing people from certain resources because they know that it will show on the
record. The ability for law-enforcement agencies to easily obtain warrants from National

1984 AND AMERICA

Security to possibly use for criminal prosecutions was also questioned as possibly an abuse of
power, allowing agencies to work simply on hunches rather than the hard evidence that a normal
warrant requires (USA Patriot, 2002, para. 9). In 1984, the government was allowed to arrest a
person simply for making the wrong facial expression or even if the person was believed to be
thinking something against Big Brother. What is there to stop the American government from
continuing to take their power to the next level until they too can apprehend people for simply
thinking against the government?
In my opinion, the government has no place in placing restrictions on the American
people. The only exception to that rule would be if there was significant evidence of an
impending terrorist attack. In that case, I believe that it is up to the government to direct the
people in a calm manner in order to get them to safety. Other than that, I believe most things
should be left to the people.
As people have read George Orwells 1984, the similarities between the fictitious
totalitarian anti-utopian state of Oceania and the supposedly free democratic nation of America
can be clearly distinguished. Both nations keep their people under surveillance, alter news
stories to their benefit, and enact questionable laws. The American government has put many
restrictions on the people that are highly questionable and possibly unconstitutional. If the
government continues in this direction, it is possible that eventually, America will become a real
life version of Oceania.

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References

1984. (1999). In D. A. Stanley (Ed.), Novels for Students (Vol. 7, pp. 233-255). Detroit: Gale.
Retrieved from Gale Virtual Reference Library.
Journalists and government. (2011, Aug. 29). Retrieved from Issues & Controversies database.
NSA surveillance programs. (2013, Oct. 14). Retrieved from Issues & Controversies database.
USA Patriot Act. (2002, Dec. 13). Retrieved from Issues & Controversies database.