Since World War II, the American West has become the nation’s military arsenal, proving ground, and disposal site. Through a wide-ranging discussion of recent literature produced in and about the West, Dirty Wars explores how the region’s iconic landscapes, invested with myths of national virtue, have obscured the West’s crucial role in a post–World War II age of “permanent war.”
In readings of western—particularly southwestern—literature, John Beck provides a historically informed account of how the military-industrial economy, established to protect the United States after Pearl Harbor, has instead produced western waste lands and “waste populations” as the enemies and collateral casualties of a permanent state of emergency. Beck offers new readings of writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Leslie Marmon Silko, Don DeLillo, Rebecca Solnit, Julie Otsuka, and Terry Tempest Williams. He also draws on a variety of sources in history, political theory, philosophy, environmental studies, and other fields. Throughout Dirty Wars, he identifies resonances between different experiences and representations of the West that allow us to think about internment policies, the manufacture of atomic weapons, the culture of Cold War security, border policing, and toxic pollution as part of a broader program of a sustained and invasive management of western space.