Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)
Mapping the war in the woods
Few areas across globe have escaped the pressures of militarization. Despite the many significant developments and repercussions tied to the military control of vast areas of national territories, the complex intersections between militarization and the environment have only recently attracted scholarly attention. This dissertation argues that the contemporary condition of global permanent war and ongoing state of emergency are rooted in the military control of land and other natural resources. During the mid-twentieth century buildup of North American defense forces, the practice of military land appropriation not only legitimized and expanded certain types of unilateral, emergency powers but also produced secret and legally permissive spaces in which the exercise of such extraordinary powers and related military land use practices could be more freely conducted. A major impetus driving these mid-century land use developments was the rise of unconventional weapons of mass destruction. Not only did such weapons technologies destabilize the global political order but they also brought about a multitude of disruptions at local sites. By investigating the establishment and operations of two of the world’s largest, most secretive, and longest-lasting chemical and biological weapons proving grounds—the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in western Utah and the Canadian-and U.K.-controlled Suffield Experimental Station in southeastern Alberta—this study reveals how the imperatives of permanent war have had critical influence in shaping the workings of power between local citizens, government, and the environment in western North America.At its core, this dissertation pushes back against the various assumptions and prerogatives driving the establishment of a permanent military presence in the North American West. All four chapters examine how varying elements of exceptional, emergency executive and administrative powers have shaped military land claims and practices of military land use. The study uncovers and demystifies the procedures, policies, and practices governing the establishment, operational activities, and ongoing control of North American defense lands. It provides a critical examination of the legal, material, and figurative grounds of our continuing and permanent global state of war.
This dissertation is a case study of the 1926 to 1984 High Ross Dam Controversy, one of the longest cross-border disputes between Canada and the United States. The controversy can be divided into two parts. The first, which lasted until the early 1960s, revolved around Seattle’s attempts to build the High Ross Dam and flood nearly twenty kilometres into British Columbia’s Skagit River Valley. British Columbia favoured Seattle’s plan but competing priorities repeatedly delayed the province’s agreement. The city was forced to build a lower, 540-foot version of the Ross Dam instead, to the immense frustration of Seattle officials. British Columbia eventually agreed to let Seattle raise the Ross Dam by 122.5 feet in 1967. Following the agreement, however, activists from Vancouver and Seattle, joined later by the Upper Skagit, Sauk-Suiattle, and Swinomish Tribal Communities in Washington, organized a massive environmental protest against the plan, causing a second phase of controversy that lasted into the 1980s. Canadian and U.S. diplomats and politicians finally resolved the dispute with the 1984 Skagit River Treaty. British Columbia agreed to sell Seattle power produced in other areas of the province, which, ironically, required raising a different dam on the Pend d’Oreille River in exchange for not raising the Ross Dam. I make two broad arguments about the controversy that differ from how stories of environmental conflict are usually told. First, the two types of politics that defined each era of the six-decade controversy – the politics of development and the politics of the environment – were not antithetical; rather, both were part of a larger tension between modernization and the politics of place. Politicians had to balance large-scale, universalized ideas about both dams and wilderness with sentiment tied to territorial boundaries, and often delayed or deferred making decisions about the controversy as a result. Second, representatives from various levels of government in Canada and the United States eventually solved this tension with a type of liberal environmentalist compromise that hinged on the belief that residents had a right to both cheap energy and pristine nature.
The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, with over 7,107 islands of the archipelago prone to intense and frequent earthquakes, typhoons, storm surges, tsunamis, landslides, heat waves, and volcanic eruptions. Disaster, being the convergence of both geographic risk and socioeconomic vulnerability, is said to be embedded into the socio-cultural fabric of Philippine society, with the 1951 eruption of Hibok-Hibok on Camiguin island being the first major eruption encountered by the Philippine state after it was granted independence from the United States in 1946. This was the eruption that triggered the creation of the Commission of Volcanology, a state sponsored network of seismic expertise that has since functioned as the leading authority on seismic and volcanic sensing in the country. This thesis explores the larger historical context of the eruption, by using social volcanology to examine the succeeding attempts by the Commission of Volcanology and other mid-level bureaucrats to relocate the rural population to other neighbouring islands in Visayas and Mindanao. The local population’s responses to these initiatives are revealing of urban and rural tensions surrounding Hibok-Hibok’s violent eruption in 1951. These tensions have yet to be explored in light of the island’s material history as a major producer of Abaca – an endemic crop that thrives on rich volcanic soil. It was this crop that made Camiguin an affluent rural community, where thousands of people chose to endure the risk of living by an active volcano to sustain themselves. This is a case study that explores the inherently political nature of disaster intervention, and how progressive narratives of expanding networks of expertise, such as that of the Commission of Volcanology, need to be challenged in a landscape with an enduring history of volcanic eruptions.
This thesis explores the political discourse around the increased use of illicit substances in Canada from 1961 to 1975. In particular, marijuana had been criminalized—along with opium—as a part of a broader move to penalize unwanted Asian workers. At the time, lawmakers could not anticipate that their laws would also fall on a new wave of predominantly affluent and white drug users. When judges began to find more and more middle class young people in their courtrooms, the country found itself in crisis. Using Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of habitus, social class and symbolic violence, this paper argues that affluent marijuana smokers seriously challenged the logic of Canada’s laws by occupying new psychoactive terrain, while simultaneously, establishing a new hierarchy of taste and consumption that disadvantaged other less privileged drug users.
Between October 2008 and August 2009, EnCana, North America’s largest natural gas producer was targeted by a series of bombings in northeastern British Columbia. A prevailing scholarly interpretation of this and similar incidents suggests that such attacks arise from the resentments of small landowners about the separation of surface and subsurface property rights. This thesis uses original reporting, government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, along with media reports and secondary scholarship to argue that contradictions between surface and subsurface property rights in and of themselves do not explain the bombings or the grievances local people have with the industry. Rather, deregulation of the provincial natural gas industry, beginning before, but accelerating after 2001, has led to the conditions considered unacceptable by a large number of residents in the affected area. Placing this local unrest within the emerging literature on environmental conflict, this thesis argues that industry regulators in B.C. have created legislation which favours gas extractors over other land users. This legislation, supported by industry and a provincial government dependent on petroleum revenues, is the main cause of the conflicts. EnCana’s comparative advantage in its B.C. holdings comes not from the resource itself, which is unconventional and harder to access than typical petroleum deposits, but from Canadian political stability. The desire to exploit stable deposits as fast as possible is, ironically, creating instability.