In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the world is divvied up amongst three superstates -- Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia -- who spend all their time fighting over the "disputed territory", predominantly Africa and the Middle East. At any given moment, Oceania is allied with one of the two superpowers against the other, but this alliance changes frequently. Not unlike the current USA, Oceania is in a perpetual state of war.
Or are they?
Since the Inner Party controls all information, there is no way independently to judge if Eurasia or Eastasia actually exists! From time to time, supposed prisoners of the then-opposed superpower are paraded through the streets, but these could be nothing more than faceless Proles from within Oceania's own borders. There are frequent missile attacks on the city, but it is unclear to the reader if the attacks originate from an outside power OR they are simply staged by the Inner Party to keep the population terrified. This intentional ambiguity leaves readers unsure of what to think.
A recent article at ProPublica, Who Are We at War With? That's Classified, shows that citizens in the US today live under a similar type of ambiguity.
In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”
So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.
At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.
The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”
A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”
“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”
In other words, we Americans know little about these purported enemies. I'm not suggesting that none of them exist, though it IS possible. All we think we know about them is based on the purposely nebulous descriptions from political leaders.
Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law who served as a legal counsel during the Bush administration and has written on this question at length, told ProPublica that the Pentagon’s reasoning for keeping the affiliates secret seems weak. “If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force, why cannot they be mentioned publicly?” Goldsmith said. He added that there is “a countervailing very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name."
Like the citizens of Oceania, these individuals, groups and "forces" regularly are brought to our attention by our leaders in order to heighten our sense of fear and uncertainty. It is these faceless and often unknown enemies that are used as a justification for the evisceration of our rights, liberties and freedoms.
We genuinely don't know if these enemies constitute a bona fide threat to our nation. Heck, we genuinely don't know if some or all of these enemies are real or not!