National Security State: The Sheep Didn’t Deserve This

The national security state is an institution developed during the early years of the Cold War. Originally, as Dean states, the national security state was “designed to provide the executive branch with intelligence concerning the intentions and capabilities of actual or potential enemies, and to provide the capacity to wage covert campaigns against those deemed to pose a threat to U.S. security” (611). However, as the use of national security aged, it began to become concerned with a wider range of “threats” and also came to include other sectors of government such as congress, the CIA, and as we see in “Home on the Range,” agencies such as the AEC. The practice of national security manifested itself in culture through the Red Scare that produced a wave of “collective hysteria” and paranoia in politics (Dean 612). The public’s obsession with potential governmental conspiracy grew as the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal found their way into mainstream media. Since its rise, the national security state has become an essential element of American politics and culture.

            Fox’s coverage of the Nevada Test Site and the Atomic Energy Commission during the 1950s is riddled with concealment of information and outright dishonesty by the government due to their commitment to the national security state. As the testing of nuclear weapons began in this area, farmers who were caught downwind began facing the effects of radiation. Their massive exposure to radiation left thousands of sheep and cattle dead, severely deformed, or unable to birth viable offspring. Many who lived nearby also reported an increase in illness and susceptibility of cancer that in many cases, led to death. Despite all these misfortunes pointing directly to the nearby test sight, Fox details the government’s denial time and time again. The AEC blamed malnutrition and unrelated disease for the problems and even funded college research to back their claims (11). In some cases, the officials even went so far as to call the sheepherders dumb for believing that the testing had anything to do with the situation. The government’s loyalty to national security led them to value the development of nuclear technology to protect against Soviet threat over the protection of their citizens.

            After learning about the national security state and cultures of secrecy, I believe that both of these practices are still alive today. Since 9/11, both the public and government have become consumed by the potential threat of terrorism. Dean briefly touches on the role of national security in the war on terror through the Patriot Act of 2001 (613). While the craze of post 9/11 has lessened overtime, I do believe that it is still prevalent in today’s culture. The modern equivalent of the 1950s Red Scare is the overwhelming presence of islamophobia in both government and society. There is ever present paranoia that terrorists may be living among us, and this has led to the strengthening of national secrecy. I also felt that the current coverage of current and past president’s mishandling of top-secret documents also reveals the national security state at work today. These mishandlings are painted as threats to our safety and while they are less of a cultural phenomenon than Watergate, it still fuels distrust and thoughts of conspiracy. In short, it is evident to me that the national security state has survived beyond the end of the Cold War.

One thought on “National Security State: The Sheep Didn’t Deserve This

  1. I agree with Abigail’s assessment of the readings and the video. In the post 9/11 culture of the United States there is extensive evidence to show that the “National Security State” is still rampant in the country For example, we can support the idea of the “National Security State” and build off of Abigail’s idea of Islamophobia by looking at the Guantanamo Bay detention center run by the U.S Army in Cuba. Guantanamo Bay is a great example of this security state as the United States government, for the first few years of the prison’s operation, denied its existence in the name of national security. The prison also tortured its inmates once again in the name of national security. In short I agree with Abigail in that the national security state is still present and that we can prove its existence by looking at a wealth of examples such as post 9/11 Islamophobia and the Patriot Act of 2001.


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