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Technologies of the Cold War Human: Race, Science, and U.S. Militarism in Asia and the Pacific

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Technologies of the Cold War Human examines the scientific apparatus of the U.S. Cold War military-industrial complex as a racial-meaning making project that deploys race as the raw material of liberal capitalist securitization across Asia and the Pacific. As a global formation of interlocked material and ideological conflicts binding multiple geographies and histories, the Cold War, I contend, is an episteme that defines the “human” as an abstract universalism predicated on the entwined expendability and malleability of Asian and Pacific Islander life. Analyzing central case studies of the nuclear bomb, Agent Orange, and napalm, this dissertation argues that this dialectic of the Cold War human transforms Asian and Pacific Islander human and nonhuman bodies into malleable matter to be destroyed, and remade, in service of imperial expansion.

Through literary, visual, and historical analysis, this project revises how we approach the archive of Cold War military science by situating it within longer genealogies of U.S. racial science. I approach an array of cultural texts—including works by Quan Barry, Mai Der Vang, Don Mee Choi, Octavia E. Butler, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Jane Chang Mi, Dinh Q. Le, and Ocean Vuong—as political critiques of war’s imbrication within circuits of knowledge that consolidate racial meaning. While racial science has long been associated with its epistemological work in defining racial hierarchies through biological inferiority, this dissertation argues that Cold War science trafficks in race’s utility in constructing both expendable and assimilable bodies in the consolidation of U.S. global capitalism. In a moment when fantasies of racial liberalism and decolonization across the United States, Asia, and the Pacific begin to take shape, I suggest that a reassessment of the conditions Cold War science reveals racial logics that inhere across human, ecological, and molecular scales of militarization. In doing so, this dissertation charts U.S. militarism not only through its empire of bases and battlegrounds, but through material and metaphorical laboratories of race- and war-making that proliferate across zones of occupation and war in Asia and the Pacific.

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This item is under embargo until September 8, 2024.