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  • Precision Targets:GPS and the Militarization of U.S. Consumer Identity
  • Caren Kaplan (bio)

Here I believe one's point of reference should not be to the great model of language (langue) and signs, but to that of war and battle. The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning.

—Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power" 1

For most people in the United States, war is almost always elsewhere. Since the Civil War, declared wars have been engaged on terrains at a distance from the continental space of the nation. Until the attacks on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon in September 2001, many people in the United States perceived war to be conflicts between the standing armies of nation-states conducted at least a border—if not oceans and continents—away. Even the attacks of September 11 were localized in such a way as to feel as remote as they were immediate—watching cable news from elsewhere in the country, most U.S. residents were brought close to scenes of destruction and death by the media rather than by direct experience. Thus, in the United States, we could be said to be "consumers" of war, since our gaze is almost always fixed on representations of war that come from places perceived to be remote from the heartland.

Digital communications and transnational corporate practices are transforming the modes, locations, and perceptions of nationalized identities as well as the operations of contemporary warfare. Certainly, war is consumed worldwide by global, as well as national, audiences. Indeed, if the conflicts of the present age cannot be described as between nation-states but as between the extra- or transnational symbols of political, religious, and cultural philosophies or ideologies, drawing on national identity becomes a more challenging task. Yet, conditions specific to the United States need to be explored in relation to the network of discourses, subjects, and practices that make up our nation and its government. The United States still signifies a coherent identity, if only as the enemy or perpetrator of attacks against people outside its national borders or as the defender of borders that are perceived by many of its residents as too porous and insecure. Situating the cultural, political, and economic workings [End Page 693] of the United States within transnational conditions aids our understanding of the ways in which national identity operates as a powerful enhancement to contemporary globalization. The issue is not the difference between national and international subjects of study but the mystification of the national such that its identifications with global capital disappear from view, leaving behind patriotic articulations of security, prosperity, and freedom.

When U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and his speechwriter Malcolm Moos coined the term "military-industrial complex" in 1961, they described a moment poised between the aftermath of the world wars and the advent of the conflicts to come in which the U.S.-based armaments industries could combine their influence with those in the military and the government, who would come to gain from such an alliance. Eisenhower argued that this kind of war corporatism could tip the hallowed liberal balance between defense and social programs, leading to a war economy without end. Over the last forty years, the hybrid form of governmentality that Eisenhower delineated in his speech materialized as Congress, industry, and the military created a culture of cooperation that overcame any internal tensions to produce a normalization of what could be construed as conflict of interest, or even cronyism. As the work of James Der Derian, Tim Lenoir, Jennifer Terry, and others demonstrates so powerfully, for people in the United States war is not at all elsewhere but is, in fact, deeply imbricated in everyday life as a "military-industrial-media-entertainment network." 2

Who becomes a militarized subject through this network in the United States today? Two primary ways in which militarization operates in U.S. contemporary culture are the pervasive use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the primary model of data collection, sorting, and storage in use for over thirty years, and the practice of so-called target marketing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 693-714
Launched on MUSE
2006-10-04
Open Access
No
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