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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Grounds for permanent war : land appropriation, exceptional powers, and the mid-century militarization of western North American environments Davis, Brandon C.


Few areas across globe have escaped the pressures of militarization. Despite the many significant developments and repercussions tied to the military control of vast areas of national territories, the complex intersections between militarization and the environment have only recently attracted scholarly attention. This dissertation argues that the contemporary condition of global permanent war and ongoing state of emergency are rooted in the military control of land and other natural resources. During the mid-twentieth century buildup of North American defense forces, the practice of military land appropriation not only legitimized and expanded certain types of unilateral, emergency powers but also produced secret and legally permissive spaces in which the exercise of such extraordinary powers and related military land use practices could be more freely conducted. A major impetus driving these mid-century land use developments was the rise of unconventional weapons of mass destruction. Not only did such weapons technologies destabilize the global political order but they also brought about a multitude of disruptions at local sites. By investigating the establishment and operations of two of the world’s largest, most secretive, and longest-lasting chemical and biological weapons proving grounds—the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah and the Canadian-and U.K.-controlled Suffield Experimental Station in southeastern Alberta—this study reveals how the imperatives of permanent war have had critical influence in shaping the workings of power between local citizens, government, and the environment in western North America. At its core, this dissertation pushes back against the various assumptions and prerogatives driving the establishment of a permanent military presence in the North American West. All four chapters examine how varying elements of exceptional, emergency executive and administrative powers have shaped military land claims and practices of military land use. The study uncovers and demystifies the procedures, policies, and practices governing the establishment, operational activities, and ongoing control of North American defense lands. It provides a critical examination of the legal, material, and figurative grounds of our continuing and permanent global state of war.

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