Canada under the DEWline
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Canada under the DEWline

The Distant Early Warning line (DEWline) marks the intersection of military-technological and cultural discourses. It was both a radar system and a conceptual way-station in the fraught history of Canada's arctic, a punctuation point between the utopian socialism of F.R. Scott's "laurentian Shield, the "near-future warnings" of marshall mcluhan, and the ecological anxiety of our contemporary North. Further, the DEWline exists at the intersection of national, civilian space—it is, after all, designed for defence—and the totalities of the Cold War. As such, the DEWline is productive, challenging, and elusive. It is a measure of both weaponized information and nuclear anxiety, as well as a literal contact zone between what Rachel Woodward calls militarism's "moral order" and the cultural work of a critic like Mcluhan or a poet like Scott. It is also one way in which civilians can understand how militarism's discourses and epistemologies construct landscapes and subjects far beyond the range of its radar.


Le Réseau avancé de préalerte (Rapa) marque la jonction du discours militarotechnologique et du discours culturel. Il s'agit à la fois d'un réseau de radars et d'une charnière conceptuelle dans l'histoire chargée de l'arctique canadien, signe de ponctuation arrimant l'un à l'autre le socialisme utopique de F.R. Scott dans « Laurentian Shield », les chroniques de Marshall Mcluhan concernant le proche avenir (Dew-Line Newsletter) et l'angoisse écologique liée à notre idée du Nord contemporain. Plus encore, le Rapa se situe à l'intersection de l'espace national, civil – sa fonction, après tout, est défensive – et du caractère total de la guerre froide. De ce point de vue, le RAPA est [une notion] productive, stimulante, et fuyante. Il nous renseigne sur l'information comme arme de guerre en même temps que sur l'angoisse du nucléaire, en plus d'être une zone de contact littéral entre ce que Rachel Woodward appelle « l'ordre moral » du militarisme et les œuvres culturelles d'un critique comme Mcluhan ou d'un poète comme Scott. Pour les civils, il représente aussi un moyen de comprendre comment les discours et les épistémologies militaristes donnent forme à des paysages et des sujets qui se trouvent pourtant hors de portée de leur radar.


military geography, Canadian arctic, Cold War, marshall mcluhan, landscape, F.R. Scott, Distant Early Warning line, DEWline

Mots clés

géographie militaire, arctique canadien, guerre froide, marshall mcluhan, paysage, F.R. Scott, Réseau avancé de préalerte, Rapa, réseau DEW[End Page 112]

The Distant Early Warning Line—known poetically and popularly as the DEWline—was a string of radar stations that ran through Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland between the 60th and 70th parallels, the last of three such lines built in the early decades of the Cold War. The project began in 1954 and became operational in 1957, just as new technology—the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)—rendered it obsolete. In the era of the long-range bomber, the system could have provided a four-hour warning to civil defence systems in the southern half of the continent; with the advent of the ICBM, the window between detection and detonation narrowed to an untenable 15 minutes: enough time for a civilian to register the attack, and perhaps to duck and cover. By 1963, 22 of the 42 stations were abandoned. The line persisted, though, and the last station was shuttered only in 1993. While the DEWline once represented an occupying southern presence in the Arctic, its legacy is now primarily imaginative and environmental, including early computer networks, the mid-century appeal of geodesic domes, and a toxic stain on the High Arctic that threatens local subsistence hunting. In 2008, the federal government estimated that cleanup would cost $575 million (Government of Canada, National Defence, 2014).

The DEWline had its origins in the 1952 Summer Study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a group of engineers and soldiers assessed America's strategic vulnerabilities and warned of the likelihood of a polar attack. This potential...