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Exploring Secret Bases

In 1956, the sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote that ".for the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end. The American elite does not have any real image of peace - other than as an uneasy interlude existing precariously by balance of mutual fright. [war] is felt to be the normal and seemingly permanent condition of the United States."

An era of unprecedented secrecy and militarism took hold of the U.S. in the postwar years, concomitant with the rise of the so-called Military Industrial Complex. During this time, the state began to conduct numerous secret activities and to build secret facilities. Almost without exception, these facilities were conceived as "temporary" - only meant to last as long as a given project or activity remained in effect. But these infrastructures, social relations, and spaces endured and even reproduced themselves.

By the 1980's, it had become common for people in military and defense-industry circles to speak in cryptic phrases about a "black world" of classified activity that shadowed the U.S. military. From the postwar "emergency without foreseeable end," a whole "world was spawned. And it is still with us. At the present time, independent budget analysts estimate classified spending to be at levels equal to Cold War highs.

As part of a sustained investigation into this "black world," I have been leading expeditions to view the numerous secret military installations located in the remotest corners of the California and Nevada deserts.

Trevor Paglen