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If Americans had to select a single symbol of their country's military might, they would do well to choose the fighter jet—a carefully constructed instrument of destruction, simultaneously powerful and nimble, stealthy and loud. This essay begins with a hunch—that if American culture illuminates the social significance of a fighter jet, then learning a little about jet propulsion might reveal something about the political culture of the nation the fighter jet has come to symbolize. One of the key features that distinguishes a military aircraft from a commercial one is its remarkable thrust capacity, which comes from a component called an afterburner. The power boost that allows a jet to take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier without falling into the ocean, and is useful for combat situations is also very inefficient and suitable only for short-term use. If jet engines are boosted by afterburners, wartime states may be said to add political thrust to their everyday actions by applying something analogous that we might call afterknowledge: the intense scrutiny of, and collection of information about, enemies abroad and citizens at home. This essay examines what is at stake in how the state knows: how it identifies citizens, what it knows about them, and what difference that makes for democratic political culture.