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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Strategic environments : militarism and the contours of Cold War America Farish, Matthew James


This thesis traces the relationship between militarism and geographical thought in the United States during the early Cold War. It does so by traveling across certain spaces, or environments, which preoccupied American geopolitics and American science during the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, geopolitics and science, understood during the Second World War as markedly distinct terms, came together uniquely to wage the Cold War from the position of strategy. The most intriguing and influential conjunctions were made possible by militarism, not in the deterministic sense of conditioning technologies or funding lines, but as a result of antagonistic, violent practices pervading American life. These practices reaffirmed America's status as distinctly, powerfully modern, while shoring up the burden of global responsibility that appeared to accompany this preeminence. Through militarist reasoning, the American world was turned into an object that needed securing - resulting in a profoundly insecure proliferation of danger that demanded an equal measure of global action and retreat behind new lines of defence. And in these American spaces, whether expanded or compressed, the identity of America itself was defined. From the global horizons of air power and the regional divisions of area studies to the laboratories of continental and civil defence research, the spaces of the American Cold War were material, in the sense that militarism's reach was clearly felt on innumerable human and natural landscapes, not least within the United States. Equally, however, these environments were the product of imaginative geographies, perceptual and representational techniques that inscribed borders, defined hierarchies, and framed populations governmentally. Such conceptions of space were similarly militarist, not least because they drew from the innovations of Second World War social science to reframe the outlines of a Cold War world. Militarism's methods redefined geographical thought and its spaces, prioritizing certain locations and conventions while marginalizing others. Strategic studies formed a key component of the social sciences emboldened by the successes and excesses of wartime science. As social scientists grappled with the contradictions of mid-century modernity, most retreated behind the formidable theories of their more accomplished academic relatives, and many moved into the laboratories previously associated with these same intellectual stalwarts. The result was that at every scale, geography was increasingly simulated, a habit that paralleled the abstractions concurrently promoted in the name of political decisiveness. But simulation also meant that Cold War spaces were more than the product of intangible musings; they were constructed, and in the process acquired solidity but also simplicity. It was in the fashioning of artificial environments that the fragility of strategy was revealed most fully, but also where militarism's power could be most clearly expressed. The term associated with this paradoxical condition was 'frontier', a zone of fragile, transformational activity. Enthusiastic Cold Warriors were fond of transferring this word from a geopolitical past to a scientific future. But in their present, frontiers possessed the characteristics of both.

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