The “national security state” refers to the parts of the U.S. government that were created to protect the country from both internal and external threats without the general public being aware of their operations. This includes agencies such as the CIA or other secret bureaucracies. Their job was to ensure the security of the U.S. covertly by practically any means necessary: supporting authoritarian regimes, psychological warfare, and overthrowing third world governments (Dean). This ties in with the “cultures of secrecy,” because the people that comprised these government agencies believed that in order to ensure national security, which was of the highest importance, they were justified in keeping their means of doing so a secret.
The “national security state” apparatus was necessary because of the nature of the “war” itself. A big part of the war was the arms race to see who could master nuclear technology first. This meant that the national security state prioritized their nuclear research programs over the lives of ordinary Americans, as seen with the sheepherders in rural Nevada/Utah (Fox). The government didn’t warn them of the dangers that nuclear testing near their homes posed and refused to take responsibility for the consequences. They justified their secrecy because they were doing it in the name of national security. Although the Cold War ended in 1989, the national security state does still exist in some capacity today. There are many things that the government knows that it has not, and maybe never will release to the public. Whether it is fear of spies that still motivates them, or perhaps concern for civilian safety, or more likely worries of things leaking that would be seen as a betrayal of our country founded on democracy, the government has by no means done away with the secret national security state.
While I can understand the U.S. government’s motives behind establishing a national security state, especially with the historical context, I found the dishonesty in some of their actions unnecessary and disheartening. As Dean mentioned in his essay, the very idea of the cultures of secrecy seems to be at odds with a supposedly democratic nation. I agree that there is hypocrisy in the U.S., a country whose constitution was written to support the basic civil liberties of its people, spying on its citizens and not allowing them to freely express their ideas without worry of retaliation. The narrative of the sheepherders used to frame this time in history from the perspective of an average American community did a great job of showing these warring ideas. I like how Fox used the Utah ranchers to demonstrate how even a group of people who believed in what their government was doing and supported them for fighting back against the enemies of the nation still found fault in the way the government agencies kept secrets from them (Fox). They tried to sue the government for ruining their way of making a living and for lying to them, not for doing the tests in the first place. I think this shows how the national security state’s secrets may have made sense with the political situation they were in, but it really hurt the people who it was meant to protect.
One thought on “Secret secrets are no fun”
Good post. I agree with you that being lied to by the government can feel unnecessary, but in that same respect, do you think that when the government does lie or hold back the truth, they do so because they think its best for us not to know everything? There is also a hypocrisy about it, like you mentioned. In my post I said that people tend to bend/ignore the rules when they feel desperate. Maybe doing so during the cold was okay, but what if it was happening to the same extent now?