Security State: Interrogating U.S. Postwar Military and Prison Structures on the Islands of Kwajalein, Guam, and Alcatraz

AHA Session 173
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Columbia Hall 8 (Washington Hilton)
Elaine Tyler May, University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Elaine Tyler May, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Session Abstract

This panel takes up the 2014 American Historical Association’s call for papers to consider those debates that have placed certain historic matters beyond contestation, by interrogating discourses of national security, which all too often take “security” as indisputable fact keeping it beyond the bounds of close scrutiny. Our collection of papers analyze the discourse of national security from the vantage point of island histories heavily structured by the military industrial complex and prison technologies in the aftermath of World War II. Taken together, these papers comparatively consider how the deployment of U.S. security discourse has obscured certain violences of U.S. military imperial expansion and prison discipline in the emergence of a security state, working to buttress the U.S. nation and empire. Focusing on island stories, these papers offer methodological interventions for thinking about the relationship between local, national and global structures of security during the Cold War. By comparing distinct geopolitical spaces and analyzing the divergent and shared logics that undergird military and prison security structures in each place, this panel takes seriously the intersection of spatial and cultural history.

                Lauren Hirshberg’s paper examines the role of Cold War national security discourse in sanctioning U.S. military imperial expansion in the Marshall Islands. She specifically interrogates how narratives of security informed life on Kwajalein Island, which the army transformed into a key missile installation during the 1960s. Erecting a dual landscape of missile technology and suburban amenities to recruit American scientists and engineers to relocate their families to Kwajalein, the army produced a portrait of insecurity and security, through which American and Marshallese workers moved during the Cold War. James Perez Viernes’ paper further explores the deployment of security discourse in legitimizing U.S. military expansion on Guam following World War II.  He specifically examines security discourse alongside Chamorro notions of reciprocity and how these interacted in ways that have both naturalized and challenged the continued U.S. military buildup on Guam. Haley Michaels Pollack’s paper expands the portrait of security discourse within island histories by bringing analysis of the military industrial complex into conversation with prison technologies. Examining connections between Cold War national security and domestic containment (domestic as the nation and the family), Haley’s paper traces the dual portrait of prison guard family security and prisoner insecurity on Alcatraz.

            Haley’s focus on prison guard life offers a lens into the intersection of security discourse and the structures of violence informing the emergence of the post-war American prison and military industrial complexes. Collectively, these papers aim to stimulate conversation on the relationship between national security discourse and disavowal of such violence.

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