From Militarism to Health: Bioterror & White Fragility in the US National Security Imaginary

Authors: Gwen DArcangelis*,
Topics: Health and Medical, Caregiving Geographies , Gender
Keywords: health, war on terror, gender, nursing
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 22
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this talk, I tackle the encroachment of the national security domain into public health during the war on terror. Specifically, I focus on the war’s turn to bioterrorism and the connections the Bush administration forged between biomedicine, health, and national security, namely, turning disease surveillance and response technologies and personnel to the task of monitoring for possible bioterror disease outbreaks, knocking down the walls between public health and law enforcement, and deploying vaccination to stoke the fear of bioterrorism. The latter came in the form of the National Smallpox Vaccination Program of 2002, an aggressive biodefense endeavor rather than a public health one. The participation of public health in biodefense had several detrimental effects—it diverted resources from more pressing health problems, reframed disease in security terms, and further exaggerated the threats on which the war was based. I discuss the war’s conflation of health and militarism, and its mobilization of gendered and raced discourse to stoke national fear of germ threats. These discourses center on caregiving, disease vulnerability, white fragility, and Islamophobia. This talk will draw on research from my newly released book, titled,: Bio-Imperialism: Disease, Terror, and the Construction of National Fragility (Rutgers U Press, 2021).

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