The birth of HP out of the spirit of DEFCON

Heidegger’s critique of the subject was aimed at getting metaphysics out of the magic circle of the subject; for this purpose he used the term Dasein. In 1945, according to Eileen Welsome’s Plutonium Files, the medical staff at a Rochester hospital went Heidegger one better. The staff began injecting unwitting patients with plutonium in an experiment conducted in tandem with other doctors across the country, organized by the Department of War – and eventually absorbed by the Atomic Energy Commission. The staff referred to the patients as HP – Human Product.

We are all HP now, processed through 60 years of DEFCON [defense condition] culture. One of the truths of the post 9/11 period that LI holds to be self evident is that after 9/11, everything was the same – except more so. The trillion dollars of extra spending on the military has, of course, done everything except capture the 4 or 5 thousand people who attacked on 9/11 – for they now serve the vital function of being the threat on tap. Although there are always threats on tap, they volunteered. And DEFCON culture, and all of us HP, leaped to the challenge.

In LI’s last post about Bellarchy, we promised we’d be back for Bellarchy 2, like some subdeb Hollywood blockbuster. But we have been unable to piece together all the symbols that we’ve been gathering to illustrate the War State. LI is in a poetic mood, not a discursive one – we can see meanings, but we can’t directly tell you what they are. These things strike, you know. For we have one, overriding question, which is this: how did the war state create plug and play HP? The culture of acquiescence? In a story published in the WAPO about the Hanson Plutonium Plant in Richland, Washington a few years ago, there was a passage that seems so richly symbolic that we know it means something larger, something on a Delillo scale:

“Richland sprouted Atomic Bowling Lanes, an Atomic Body Shop, Atomic TV Repair, even an "Atomic Man." He was Harold McCloskey, a technician who survived a 1976 accident at Hanford that sprayed his face with the largest human dose of radiation ever recorded. He became the most thoroughly studied nuclear victim in America. Baggies of his feces and urine (labeled "Caution Radioactive") were stored for years in laboratory refrigerators and freezers across the Hanford site. After the accident, McCloskey was almost blind and his face could set off Geiger counters 50 feet away. But he was pro-Hanford until the end (he died of a heart attack in 1987). "Just forget about me being anti-nuclear, because I'm not," he said a decade after the accident. "We need nuclear energy."
Football players from Richland High wore a mushroom cloud on their helmets and called themselves the Bombers. The symbol of the atom was carved atop stone columns at the entrance to the cemetery. When liberated from federal ownership and allowed self-government in 1958, Richland's residents staged a simulated atomic explosion in a vacant lot on the edge of town. And when the Cold War began to wind down, announcement of the closure of N reactor, one of Hanford's largest, brought mournful Tri-Citians into the streets by the thousands. They held candles and sang "Kumbaya."”
Kumbaya! The HP beast slouches towards the perfect anthem, the favorite song of my Vacation Bible School days back there in Clarkston, Georgia. Someone’s dying Lord – and it is us HP, mourning the amazing structures of the Cold War, the architecture, the fallout, the atom soldiers, the preparedness, the dictionary of acronyms and phrases, the way we turned, turned, turned.
Thomas Paine wrote, in the Rights of Man:
“As war is the system of Government on the old construction, the animosity which Nations reciprocally entertain, is nothing more than what the policy of their Governments excites to keep up the spirit of the system. Each Government accuses the other of perfidy, intrigue, and ambition, as a means of heating the imagination of their respective Nations, and incensing them to hostilities. Man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of Government.”

Paine’s words have been kidnapped for many reasons – they’ve been kidnapped to justify the ‘moral interventionist’ position of perpetual war and domination by U.S. However, for LI, what is important is the idea that war is a system – a system of the state. LI feels – instinctively – that the Defcon system is connected to the present, systematic inability to deal with the problems that have emerged with the treadmill of production as it is currently maintained. That war and environmental disaster are mutually dependent. But we aren’t sure how to go from that instinct, a bias really, to an argument. In a future post, we are going to make an argument about the geneology of HP through a detour – a consideration of an article by Andrew Abbott published last year in the Social Science History journal, The Historicality of Individuals.

PS - though it has been getting zip publicity, the Defense Department's grotesque proposal to test 700 tons of high explosive to simulate the effects of a low-yield nuclear explosion named (oh, the inevitability of names) Divine Strake (a name o redolent of Rumsfeldianism that surely its mere mention sends Midge Decter, Rummy's official panagyrist, into spasms of sexual passion) has been postponed -- due, perhaps, to protests mounted by downwinders in Nevada and Utah. The proposed test would scatter soil that has been well and truly irradiated by years of nuclear testing over Southern Utah -- once again.