When the United States launched the War on Terror in September 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the nation was facing a “new kind of evil.” This evil, he declared, would be met by an American “crusade” that was “going to take a while.” Bush suggested that he was declaring a new kind of war—one that would be waged on nefarious activities rooted in destructive beliefs rather than other nation-states. This pointed but ambiguous designation cast an entire region and religion, the Middle East and Islam, as perpetual enemies in a conflict with no foreseeable end. Since that point, the U.S. has fought its “War on Terror” over nearly two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan along with Pakistan, northern Africa, Nigeria, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, in the American imagination, the foreign figure of the terrorist threatens to infiltrate domestic spaces as well–a fear that is mobilized to justify racist and xenophobic policies at home and further U.S. war-making overseas. Far from defeating “terror,” the War on Terror has produced and proliferated new enemies and new conflicts across the globe.
According to many commentators, the War on Terror brought us into a new era, one that has changed the form and meaning of war itself. However, conflicts now associated with the war on terror have far longer and more multifaceted histories than mainstream representations can explain. Indeed, many conflicts subsumed under the contemporary “War on Terror” have emerged from contexts that precede this ostensibly new epoch. These various conflicts have origins in older systems of empire whose histories are more often than not considered irrelevant to contemporary geopolitics. Understanding these histories, we believe, disrupts and undermines the justifications for ongoing American military engagements that popular accounts of the singularity of contemporary war provide. Such prehistories of the War on Terror throw widely accepted ideas about its newly global scale into doubt by exposing the local terrains and global power imbalances from which contemporary military encounters have emerged.
Prehistories of the War on Terror: A Critical Genealogy of U.S. Military Empire will examine the histories of global sites that have now become terrains of the U.S. “War on Terror.” For this edited collection, we invite submissions that use a critical lens to historicize the U.S. “War on Terror” and interrogate contemporary American militarisms from a range of perspectives. Together, we would like to interrogate and better understand the capacious and internally contradictory ideologies that inform contemporary, endless war and explore what these ideas have offered their proponents and antagonists. We aim for this collection to consider these questions through discrete case studies, using a variety of sources and disciplinary approaches. We hope for submissions that examine a range of materials including history, literature, politics, ethnography, art, music, sociology, anthropology, economics, and philosophy. We are interested in essays that may illustrate surprising or overlooked continuities between contemporary wars and previous war logics and regimes – including the Cold War (and its hot wars), the seemingly clear-cut World Wars, wars of conquest against Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, Mexicans, and others, as well as other kinds of U.S. military engagements, such as covert military operations in Iran, Latin America, and elsewhere and longstanding and ongoing military occupations and base-building across the globe. We are also interested in essays that examine struggles against American militarism and U.S. war power. What forms of critique and action have different actors developed and engaged over time? How might we understand U.S. counterinsurgency practices — developed over centuries, not years — as responses to forms of resistance against domination, exploitation, and state violence?
We use the word “prehistory” to describe this collection because it invites productive linkages between the past and the present. In doing so, we do not suggest a clear teleology that leads from one originary historical event up through time into the present. Rather, we aim to trace critical genealogies of America’s contemporary wars. We are interested in scholarship that explores how past and current military practices as well as struggles against domination and violence are related to each other even as ideas about war shift over time. In this edited collection, we thus aim to examine how the logics of previous conflicts are constantly being renewed, reused, and refashioned in America’s ongoing wars.