America, Orwellian War?

“Just to say evil Islamics did it, that’s so lame, and we know it. We see those official close-ups on the screen. The shifty liar’s look, the twelve-stepper’s gleam in the eye. One look at these faces and we know they’re guilty of the worst crimes we can imagine. But who’s in any hurry to imagine? To make the awful connection? Any more than Germans were back in 1933, when Nazis torched the Reichstag within a month of Hitler becoming chancellor. Which of course is not at all to suggest that Bush and his people have actually gone out and staged the events of 11 September. It would take a mind hopelessly diseased with paranoia, indeed a screamingly anti-American nutcase, even to allow to cross her mind the possibility that that terrible day could have deliberately been engineered as a pretext to impose some endless Orwellian ‘war’ and the emergency decrees we will soon be living under, Nah, nah, perish that thought.” (Bleeding Edge, p.321)

The passage I chose to investigate comes from March Kelleher’s Weblog in what was called her “old-lefty tirade mode.” In this passage March actively discusses the events of September 11th, 2001. On the surface, most Americans quickly jumped to the conclusion that the attacks were the result of radical Islamic terrorism. And why wouldn’t they? Everybody, including President Bush, immediately took a hard stance towards terrorism and any entity that either supported it or didn’t outwardly refute it. Meanwhile, under the surface, not everyone saw eye-to-eye. The timing was curious. It was known that President Bush wanted to “finish the work of his father” and topple Bin Laden’s regime. Due to that, many conspiracy theories developed. Conspiracy theorists, free to express their views openly and anonymously on the internet, developed theories such as President Bush being the orchestrator of the attacks. They claimed that the attacks fit Bush’s agenda, and while that isn’t necessarily false, claiming that Bush secretly devised the attacks to fulfill his agenda certainly is. Pynchon, speaking his mind through March, then extinguishes the fires that are the rampant conspiracy theories. His allusions to the “twelve-steppers gleam” and “Orwellian war” add necessary background to his point of view.

The first allusion, a “twelve-stepper’s gleam,” is a reference to a specific process on a path to recovery from an addiction or compulsive behavior.[1] First published by Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve steps were a revolutionary way to cure addiction. The twelve steps, seen here [2], are mainly a process in which one entrusts God with his or her fate, rendering themselves powerless. Unfortunately, many administrators proclaiming the purity of the twelve-step process were hypocritical to their own process. What started as a program for recovery became a program in which a sufferer is rendered powerless to both God and the administrator of the twelve steps. In essence, a twelve-steppers gleam can be thought of as an administrator’s smirk while spreading propaganda.[3] This twelve step reference can also be related back to President Bush, who is a well known member of AA.

The second allusion, “Orwellian War,” is a reference to George Orwell and his philosophies. Among them, Orwell had an intense desire to oppose Fascism and promote Democratic Socialism. He wanted a sense of purity, clarity and truthfulness in government while he utterly despised the tactics of propaganda and euphemism. [5] These stances can be seen in Orwell’s novel, 1984, in which the entire plot is focused on the protagonist’s  scheme to topple the oppressive, systematic power that is Big Brother[8]. Further, Orwell was not partial to what war was becoming, i.e. never ending, and without clear goals and objectives[6]. Now, a war based solely in remote areas had the ability to affect the society of the domain waging the war. The new age war, to Orwell, was a war with no intent other than scare tactics which lead towards social and political repression in the home state, aka Big Brother[7].

Incorporating the allusions mentioned previously into the text allow us to interpret the passage in a light that supports the conclusions reached before. The second and third sentences in the passage, “We see those official close-ups on the screen. The shifty liar’s look, the twelve-stepper’s gleam in the eye.” is a clear description of President Bush’s and equally so, the media’s reaction to 9/11. All material communicated to the American public was framed in deliberate, propagandous ways. America was going to war. Bush had made up his mind. He just needed the public’s backing, which at the time was easy to achieve, due to the events of 9/11. The reference to the twelve-steppers gleam is simply an allusion to President Bush’s speeches, in which, he could be described as giddy as he finally had a legitimate reason to finish his dad’s work. That being said, President Bush’s willingness and eagerness to go to war does not mean he staged the attacks.

The second part of the passage I chose goes on to refute the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11. The second allusion, an Orwellian war, comes in the passage as Pynchon plays devil’s advocate with himself. He talks about the fact that more proof is needed to confirm the attack was a result of radical Islamic terrorists, but at the same time, the concept that President George Bush and the United States government was behind the attacks is completely heinous. Conspiracy theorists theorize that Bush orchestrated the attacks in order to start an over-seas war, which would allow him to have better control over the continental United States at the same time. This can be equated to the Orwellian, never-ending, war mentioned above. While a seemingly never-ending war did result, and control tactics were used on the American People, the thought that the war was created to establish control similar to Big Brother is too outlandish. Pynchon uses the allusion to a theoretical Orwellian war to draw attention to those outlandish claims and discredit them. America is indeed in a long war, but the war is not intended to suppress the average citizen and his or her rights.


  1. “Twelve-stepper.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
  2. Service Material From The General Service Office. THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS(12): n. pag. 4 June 12. Web.
  3. “File a Complaint.” Leaving AA. N.p., n.d. Web.
  4. “Twelve-step Program.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2015.
  5. Hitchens, Christopher. “The Importance of Being Orwell.” Vanity Fair. N.p., Aug. 2012. Web.
  6. “A Quote by George Orwell.” Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015.
  7. Wolferen, Karel. “America’s Orwellian War.” America’s Orwellian War. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015
  8. “Plot Overview.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
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3 Responses to America, Orwellian War?

  1. djs125 says:

    This was a very interesting reference Pynchon used. I wasn’t quite sure what the Orwellian war was, so your research helped clear that up for me and I could reread the excerpt with better knowledge. And when I read it the first time, I didn’t even notice the reference to the twelve step program, so that brought a whole new light for me and this excerpt. After rereading the section at the top, I understood more why Pynchon was including those references and you made that clear in your research too, saying that the war on terror, essentially, is a never ending war like the Orwellian war and that the twelve step program brought a new perspective to the discrimination of Islamics. I really understood this section a lot clearer after reading through your research and rereading the section.


  2. lostmythics says:

    I’ve never heard of the twelve-step program before (and maybe for good reasons!). Definitely the War on Terror has not been a very popular topic among Americans, especially in our time. I’ve seen many conspiracy theories the fact that the War on Terror did really seem like there was no end fueled many peoples’ paranoia. The evidence for any conspiracy theory has been spotty and I agree that many feel as though the government is exerting more control over our lives, which it may as well is. But sometimes when there’s smoke, there isn’t a fire.


  3. dfw1alskare says:

    Thank you so much for your findings on the significance of Pynchon’s references in that passage. When I had read that I remember wondering why Pynchon included those as well and reached similar conclusions you have. In addition to everything you’ve said, which I believe is well-articulated, I think it is worth emphasizing the idea that the major and most impacting effect that 9/11 had on Americans is the idea that propaganda became so powerful and controlling of its society, especially by way of the Internet. Pynchon does well in referencing Orwellian Wars, as you explain, because it touches on the lack of truthfulness of a government that utilizes tactics in propaganda (i.e. New York Times), as opposed to what is seen in the “anarchism of cyberspace, […where] dark possibilities are beginning to emerge” (Pynchon 327). I think Pynchon is very concerned with the looming effects of these propaganda through internet, even now, 10 years later, as we are facing Islamophobia in different parts of the world.


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