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Chasing Phantoms

Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11

Michael Barkun

Publication Year: 2011

Although a report by the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism concluded that biological or nuclear weapons were very likely to be unleashed in the years soon after 2001, what Americans actually have experienced are relatively low-tech threats. Yet even under a new administration, extraordinary domestic and international policies enacted by the U.S. government in the wake of 9/11 remain unchanged. Political scientist and former FBI consultant Michael Barkun argues that a nonrational, emotion-driven obsession with dangers that cannot be seen has played and continues to play an underrecognized role in sustaining the climate of fear that drives the U.S. war on terror.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

As I observed the extraordinary fear that gripped both the nation and its policymakers in the months after 9/11, it seemed to me that a significant aspect of terrorism and the response to it remained unexplored. For the fear that we can all still recall came not from an enemy whose forces and weapons we could see but from an adversary..

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pp. xvii-xviii

In the strange way that the present can sometimes grow out of the past, this book is the distant progeny of a volume I published more than thirtyfive years ago, Disaster and the Millennium. Although the major thrust of that work was the influence of disasters on apocalyptic social movements, toward the end of the book...

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pp. 1-18

This is a book about invisible dangers. But what do we really mean by “invisibility”? Its meaning is not self-evident. I employ the word “invisible” in a broader sense than is customary, to refer not merely to what cannot be seen but to anything that cannot be detected by the unaided senses. This extension to broader forms...

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pp. 19-36

The fear of terrorist attack— particularly by invisible perpetrators employing invisible weapons— must be read against the backdrop of the larger class of human disasters. For they constitute merely one example, albeit a particularly terrifying example, of a mass-casualty event. Disasters themselves make up a broad swath...

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THREE: MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE: Reverse Transparency and Privacy

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pp. 37-54

For reasons of both national security and political survival, decision-makers can scarcely remain passive in the face of a landscape of fear. As the strategic theorist Colin Gray observed shortly after September 11th, they must be seen to be acting even if what they do does not constitute an intelligent response.1 If the adversary is...

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pp. 55-67

It may seem perverse to connect the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with unseen dangers. The hurricane was all too visible, shown on millions of television sets in the garish colors of weather radar while it was well out to sea. The events in New Orleans itself seem remote from the domain of unseen dangers. The proximate cause of the devastation was less the hurricane...

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pp. 68-81

The landscape of fear is an inner mental landscape, constructed of sense perceptions, memories, and the images our culture provides.1 As a result, the interpretation we give to new data can be skewed by the imagery and predispositions we already possess. For example, on October 31, 1938, The War of the Worlds radio broadcast terrified millions. It was supremely a work of the imagination, the...

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pp. 82-95

One cannot think for very long about unseen dangers without confronting ideas about pollution and defilement. In the first place, biological weapons, which occupy so large a place in current thinking about terrorism, make a direct connection between unseen dangers and pathogens, which have so significantly affected Western ideas about harm caused by invisible agents. Second, much of the...

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pp. 96-118

The preceding chapters suggest that our attitudes toward terrorism and homeland security are a mixture of rational and nonrational considerations. The appearance of nonrational considerations in terrorism and homeland security policy is not as surprising as might at first seem when one considers the prominence of unseen dangers, which invite deviations from purely rational analysis. How are...

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pp. 119-139

We all tell stories about the world. When danger appears, the need for such stories grows, in order to explain why a world that once seemed safe and orderly now seems to be in jeopardy. As we saw in Chapter 4, many such stories already exist in the domain of popular culture, ready to be appropriated. But, as we shall see now, the situations in which laypersons and experts tell stories are not always...

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pp. 140-154

Few events as brief as the September 11th attacks have stimulated such broad changes in the national government. Some of these consequences were the result of decisions taken quickly, in a semi-improvisatory way, during the first days and weeks after the attacks, but they often resulted in patterns of behavior that were...


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pp. 155-166


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pp. 167-180


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pp. 181-184

E-ISBN-13: 9780807877692
E-ISBN-10: 0807877697
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834701
Print-ISBN-10: 080783470X

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 715868044
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chasing Phantoms

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Terrorism -- United States -- Prevention.
  • Civil defense -- United States.
  • Emergency management -- United States.
  • Imagery (Psychology).
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