The National Security State at 70: A Roundtable on the Legacies of the National Security Act of 1947

AHA Session 221
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Thomas W. Zeiler, University of Colorado at Boulder
Gretchen A. Heefner, Northeastern University
Aaron O'Connell, National Security Council
David C. Unger, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Mary Ann Heiss, Kent State University

Session Abstract

At the conclusion of the Second World War, the United States found itself face-to-face with the only remaining military power in the world, in a relationship growing increasingly hostile, appearing to US policymakers to threaten vital national security interests. Faced with the perceived existential threat from the Soviet Union, the United States reorganized its government and society in ways that some argued was wholly at odds with American political tradition, in effect creating a garrison state, challenging cherished democratic values with a “national security mentality.” The institutions and agencies charged with carrying out this mission were established by the National Security act of 1947, which created the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Central Intelligence Agency, the nation’s first peace time intelligence gathering agency. Seventy five years after the fact it is clear that the worst garrison state fears have not be realized, yet the national security apparatus that emerged after 1947 has had profound effects on American life. The Cold War is over, yet the National Security State remains, attempting to adapt to external challenges and changes in technology that its architects never envisioned. This distinguished panel will examine ways in which the institutions created during the early Cold War affected American society and how successfully the United States balanced the dual imperatives of protecting national security and preserving civil liberties. Is the institutional structure established by the National Security Act of 1947 adequate to preserve civil liberties in age of the Internet and the global war on terror?
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