Counting Sheep

The national security state is a newfangled term for a function of government that has always existed. Part and parcel of governance is deciding just how much the public needs to know — even the best-intentioned policies of transparency must reconcile with the fact that there is simply too much information passing through government servers for every American to be familiar with. What we don’t know can most certainly still hurt us. Ask the average American (now or in 1948) what the common man of Western Europe is doing to combat Communism and how precisely he might be aided by billions in US aid and receive an answer light on specifics. Yet, the Truman doctrine and the Marshall Plan did exactly this to combat Karl Marx’s ‘specter’. There are ghosts all over the Earth, it would seem, as American military forces rarely give a second thought to invading foreign nations anywhere. It is taken as a humdrum fact now that “largely unbeknownst to the American public, at least initially, and with the complicity of a Congress unwilling to inquire very deeply into the actions of an increasingly imperial presidency, the CIA and other secret bureaucracies repeatedly intervened to overthrow (or attempted to overthrow) third world governments, conducted campaigns of sabotage and psychological warfare, attempted to assassinate foreign leaders, abetted authoritarian regimes in the murderous repression of their own people, and developed and disseminated techniques of ‘no-touch’ torture” (Dean). 

Time buries all things that aren’t intentionally preserved. The US’s testing of nuclear weapons in the American Southwest left behind evidence of its existence in the form of radiation and dead livestock, but this is not to say that the fact of their existence was obvious. It took dedicated reporting, an obstinate community, and decades more of fact finding to parse out the extent of the liberties taken by government officials. Despite obvious wrongdoing in the name of creating exceedingly large craters in the Earth, “the vast majority of unusual deaths, illnesses, and abnormalities witnessed by livestock owners across the American West during the Cold War’s arms race would remain unexplained and uncompensated, even if they were eventually connected to radiation or other forms of weapons testing” (Fox). It makes little difference whether or not a thing can be known if federal courts aren’t interested in hearing it.

Does the national security state exist today? Of course. The US military has a theoretical upper capacity of the total number of deaths it could cause, and that number can always be expanded with more outpourings of government funds and rededications to intimidating whichever country has committed a perceived slight most recently. We must simply remember that the majority of the ‘security’ spoken about in military terms is the security of bombing our own country into ever finer pieces of dust until there is no country left and we are certain that we have the capacity to level a nation. Fox’s story of the Bullochs is heartbreaking, certainly, and the economic and societal damage caused is despicable; but in this instance the death of a sheep is first and foremost a signifier of the state’s ability to kill its own citizens. Not maliciously or with pinpointed intent, per se, but rather as an acceptable margin of error in finding ever-better ways of killing other people’s citizenry.

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