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Empire of Defense

Race and the Cultural Politics of Permanent War

Empire of Defense

Race and the Cultural Politics of Permanent War

Empire of Defense tells the story of how the United States turned war into defense. When the Truman administration dissolved the Department of War in 1947 and formed the Department of Defense, it marked not the end of conventional war but, Joseph Darda argues, the introduction of new racial criteria for who could wage it––for which countries and communities could claim self-defense.
From the formation of the DOD to the long wars of the twenty-first century, the United States rebranded war as the defense of Western liberalism from first communism, then crime, authoritarianism, and terrorism. Officials learned to frame state violence against Asians, Black and brown people, Arabs, and Muslims as the safeguarding of human rights from illiberal beliefs and behaviors. Through government documents, news media, and the writing and art of Joseph Heller, June Jordan, Trinh T. Minh-ha, I. F. Stone, and others, Darda shows how defense remade and sustained a weakened color line with new racial categories (the communist, the criminal, the authoritarian, the terrorist) that cast the state’s ideological enemies outside the human of human rights. Amid the rise of anticolonial and antiracist movements the world over, defense secured the future of war and white dominance.

264 pages | 9 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Culture Studies

History: American History, Military History

Political Science: Race and Politics


“A compelling piece of truly interdisciplinary research. . . . Darda poses an important and timely challenge: to consider how racial structures and ideologies have led the United States to a situation of permanent war. . . . Darda forces political historians to reconsider familiar events and periods, such as the creation of the national security state in the aftermath of the Second World War. . . . Darda provides a thought-provoking counterpoint to those who would ignore the importance of race. His book provides another lens through which students can consider the larger sweep of post-1945 history across its political and cultural expressions.”

Journal of American Studies

Empire of Defense is an important and original contribution to studies of US warfare, empire-building, and racial modes of governance. This well-researched and meticulously written book suggests that permanent war is not antithetical to liberal governance—it is, in fact, part and parcel of it. As Darda powerfully reveals, the empire of defense hides its own violence in plain sight. His book is a cogent and much-needed critique of the machinations of US empire and how it justifies and authorizes its violence in racial and ethical terms.”

Neda Atanasoski, author of Humanitarian Violence: The U.S. Deployment of Diversity

“In Empire of Defense, Darda shows how the idea of ‘defense’ became a logic for ongoing American war. This idea also fueled a racial ordering by defining who was, and who was not, worthy of defense. A fascinating account of the culture of war without end.”

Mary L. Dudziak, author of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Perpetual Wartime Footing
Chapter 1. How to Tell a Permanent War Story
Chapter 2. Antiwar Liberalism against Liberal War
Chapter 3. Dispatches from the Drug Wars
Chapter 4. Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome with Human Rights
Chapter 5. The Craft of Counterinsurgent Whiteness
Epilogue: Defense in the Fifth Domain


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