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Friday, June 7, 2013

US Security Discourse: Physical and Ontological Implications

Part 1: Genealogy of War

            The past 200 years has seen a dramatic shift in the United States, the United States’ supposed “role in the world”, and, contrary to the video game series Fallout’s motto[1], even the very nature of war itself. Over 200 years ago, a group of wealthy white aristocrats decided that they had had enough of England’s “oppression” over them and they decided to revolt and form a new nation built around the pillars of liberty, equality (for some), and for lack of a better word, isolationism. In his farewell address, George Washington is quoted as having said “[i]t is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world” (Fromkin). However, this “true policy” was not to last as demonstrated by World War I wherein the US’ role shifted from stoic observer to what some neoconservatives like to call the “benevolent hegemon” (Dolman). In addition and parallel to this shift in the US’ role in the world, there was a change in the very nature of war itself. Before the 19th century, wars were conceived “as battles between sovereigns”, but all that changed with the advent of so called “strategic bombing” commonly credited to the Italian theorist Giulio Douhet (Collier and Lakoff 4). According to Douhet, war was “no longer [a thing] fought between armies but between whole peoples. All the resources of a country…would focus on the war effort” or, as it is commonly called, “total war” (C&L 5). Thus the rise of total war saw with it the rise of a new kind of geopolitical strategy, that of threat calculation in regards to so called “critical infrastructure”.  In addition, total war’s rise created a whole new beast, the unpredictable threat. This new kind of threat, one that "did not fit within the strategic framework” of the time, necessitated a new kind of response, that is to say, a new kind of outlook on threats in general (C&L 3). Everything was perceived as a potential target, from the obvious military bases to the less obvious roads and water towers (the "critical infrastructure").  Everything was under attack and everyone was a potential combatant and thus the reign of the constant threat began.

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