Censorship: From WWI to Orwell’s 1984 and Beyond

• The British deployed censors to intercept communications between the enemy and their agents in August 1914, shortly after declaring war on Germany.
• The censors were deployed to cable stations around the world, from Hong Kong to Malta to Singapore, and over 50,000 messages per day were handled by the network of 180 censors at U.K. offices.
• George Orwell’s novel “1984” paints a picture of the world where censorship is used to rewrite history and control the population.

In the summer of 1914, the British Empire declared war on Germany, and with it a mission to cut off all of Germany’s communications with the world. The British had the world’s most sophisticated undersea telegraph cable system, and a ship, the Alert, was sent to sabotage the cables and sever Germany’s connection. At the same time, a man was deployed to the cable station at Porthcurno in Cornwall and the cables carrying traffic across the Atlantic came ashore on the beach. The job title of this man was “censor” and numerous other censors were deployed across the empire, from Hong Kong to Malta to Singapore.

Once the censors were in position, a worldwide system of intercepting communications was born, known as “censorship”. Its main aim was to prevent the communication of strategic intelligence between the enemy and their agents and to gather intelligence. The network of 180 censors at U.K. offices handled over 50,000 messages per day. By leveraging the sophisticated undersea telegraph system, the British were able to tap into enemy communications and gain an advantage in wartime.

Though it is unclear if the British were the first to use censorship during wartime, the use of censorship has continued to evolve throughout the years. In George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984”, the main character Winston Smith lives in a world where censorship is used to rewrite history and control the population. Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, and every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

Though “1984” paints an extreme picture, censorship is still a tool used by governments around the world today. From media censorship in China to internet censorship in Russia, governments are still using censorship to control the spread of information, manipulate public opinion and restrict freedom of expression. It is more important than ever to recognize the power of censorship and to protect our right to access and share information freely.