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People of the Bomb

Portraits of America’s Nuclear Complex

2004
Author:

Hugh Gusterson

People of the Bomb

How the American military-industrial complex has invaded our consciousness to create consent for its programs

Integrating fifteen years of field research at weapons laboratories across the United States with discussion of movies, political speeches, media coverage of war, and the literature of defense intellectuals, Hugh Gusterson shows how the military-industrial complex has built consent for its programs and, in the process, taken the public “nuclear.”

Hugh Gusterson makes strange what we have taken for granted about living with bombs. People of the Bomb is a deeply informed consideration of what we desperately need to understand in new ways about ourselves and our political and scientific elites.

Catherine Lutz, author of Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century and Reading National Geographic

“We have had the bomb on our minds since 1945. It was first our weaponry and then our diplomacy, and now it’s our economy. How can we suppose that something so monstrously powerful would not, after forty years, compose our identity?” —E. L. Doctorow

This book tells the story of how—like it or not, know it or not—we have become “the people of the bomb.” Integrating fifteen years of field research at weapons laboratories across the United States with discussion of popular movies, political speeches, media coverage of war, and the arcane literature of defense intellectuals, Hugh Gusterson shows how the military-industrial complex has built consent for its programs and, in the process, taken the public “nuclear.”

People of the Bomb mixes empathic and vivid portraits of individual weapons scientists with hard-hitting scrutiny of defense intellectuals’s inability to foresee the end of the Cold War, government rhetoric on missile defense, official double standards about nuclear proliferation, and pork barrel politics in the nuclear weapons complex. Overall, the book assembles a disturbing picture of the ways in which the military-industrial complex has transformed our public culture and personal psychology in the half century since we entered the nuclear age.

People of the Bomb

Hugh Gusterson is associate professor of anthropology and science studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and professor of public policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the author of Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War (1996) and coeditor of Cultures of Insecurity: States, Communities, and the Production of Danger (Minnesota, 1999). Lynne Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni named him one of the most controversial intellectuals in the United States today.

People of the Bomb

In People of the Bomb, Gusterson has accomplished the remarkable feat of deploying the ideas of a very wide range of social theorists to illuminate critical issues in a text that is accessible to readers outside the card-carrying anthropological community. He succeeds in striking an appropriate balance among theory, empirical analysis, and political passion. People of the Bomb is an outstanding book in which Gusterson’s formidable anthropological imagination is on display.

American Ethnologist

A penetrating, carefully reasoned, and artfully crafted investigation of a wide range of international relations and national security issues. He succeeds admirably where others with a more narrowly academic focus have failed.

Contemporary Sociology

People of the Bomb: Portraits of America’s Nuclear Complex takes a dual approach to analyzing how the nature and presence of the nuclear bomb has penetrated to American identity and psyche. His fifteen years of field research. A hard-hitting analysis of the impact of the nuclear complex on American perspective.

Midwest Book Review

People of the Bomb is a useful and productive book for students of nuclear history. Gusterson has lighted the path.

Technology and Culture

Hugh Gusterson makes strange what we have taken for granted about living with bombs. People of the Bomb is a deeply informed consideration of what we desperately need to understand in new ways about ourselves and our political and scientific elites.

Catherine Lutz, author of Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century and Reading National Geographic

People of the Bomb

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Securityscapes

Part I. Encounters with the Other

1. Becoming a Weapons Scientist
2. Nuclear Weapons and the Other in the Western Imagination

Part II. Militarism and the Media

3. Short Circuit: Watching Television with a Nuclear Weapons Scientist
4. Hiroshima, the Gulf War, and the Disappearing Body

Part III. Ideological Frames

5. Presenting the Creation: Dean Acheson and NATO
6. Missing the End of the Cold War in Security Studies
7. Cultures as Strategic Hamlets: An Anthropologist Reads Samuel Huntington

Part IV. Nuclear Testing

8. Nuclear Weapons Testing as Scientific Ritual
9. The Virtual Nuclear Weapons Laboratory in the New World Order

Part V. Life around the Barbed Wire Fence

10. The Death of the Authors of Death: Prestige and Creativity among Nuclear Weapons Scientists
11. How Not to Construct an Incinerator

Postscript. Tall Tales and Deceptive Discourses: Nuclear Weapons in George W. Bush’s America

Notes
Bibliography
Publication History

Index