John Beck, in this craftily spun and passionately argued analysis of American literature set in and around the Southwest, attempts to locate the key sites, events, and resources of an emerging postwar national security state. By making visible “the maps and mazes of power that overlay the desert West” (296) and the underhand nature of conflicts emanating from, and fought in, the region, he aims to expose the multidimensional consequences of a despoiled and excessively militarized landscape. Despite some missed opportunities and the risky overuse of one novelist, Dirty Wars is a rigorous and markedly ambitious counterhistory.

For Beck, the internment of Japanese Americans between 1941 and 1945 and the Trinity atomic test in July 1945 are the two major domestic events that shape the US postwar experience. These responses to Pearl Harbor set in motion a permanent war economy, and the book sticks...

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