Suburban “Citadels”

In his article Disaster and Decentralization: American Cities and the Cold War, University of British Columbia geographer Matthew Farish links the white exodus from cities during the mid-20th century to fear that urban centers are more likely to be targeted by nuclear weapons. This argument comes to head when Farish describes the postwar suburbs as “peripheral, expansive and architecturally, racially and (largely) economically homogeneous. It was these suburban ‘citadels’ that infiltrated the discourse of Cold War geopolitics: they were the quintessential sites of American life, the spaces where history was being actively written. Suburbs embodied order, safety and a deeply gendered consumerism that ‘became as solid a pillar of the United States version of cold war culture as did its remasculinized military’ ”.

In these sentences, Farish acknowledges the set up of the suburbs, their importance to the Cold War and American life, as well as their ability to represent American ideals of the era. “Peripheral” is an interesting diction choice, but it speaks to their location as being still relevant but hopefully removed sufficiently from cities for protection from an aerial attack. This idea of suburbs offering protection is re-iterated through “citadels”, which is emphasized further by being put in quotation marks. Citadels are often isolated, fortified, and protected. By straddling the word between a mention of the Cold War and racial/economic homogeneity, Farish extends this metaphor to paint the suburbs as a residential area intended to be protected from nuclear attacks, communism, and those who do not conform. Additionally, the word elicits images of rich, middle-Europe nobility, thus correlating these areas to upper class, white residents. Farish continues by explaining that these characteristics of suburbs enabled them to create a sense of security; like Elaine Louise May says, home is the bastion of security in this insecure world of the Cold War. Finally, Farish concludes by likening the suburbs to the American military, in the sense that they both exemplify cold war culture. He employs a quote in this conclusion to appeal to ethos. As a whole, this quote illustrates the role of the suburb in Cold War life and in the image of White America. Through it, he balances explaining the effect of the onset of nuclear warfare on American behavior while presenting a cultural phenomenon of this time period, which was his intent throughout his paper.

It’s interesting to compare this very physical response to the onset of nuclear warfare as compared to the onset of terrorism with the 9/11 attacks. A key difference between the two, of course, is that the former was American initiated on foreign soil whereas in the latter, the US was the victim. The images of the falling twin towers provoke fear, empathy, remembrance, and sorrow. They are often positioned as to symbolize a loss of freedom, as if the US was entering in conflict with another foe (which politically, is what happened). Nevertheless, both disasters introduced fear to the American mentality. During the Cold War, it became possible for the US to be directly attacked- their geographic isolationism no longer offered sufficient protection from destructive aerial warfare. With 9/11, they were attacked. The fear both events inspired can be seen in the rush to build nuclear fall out centers or to move to suburbs, just as the 9/11 attacks elicited a war in the Middle East and greatly increased airport security. The imagery of the Twin Towers falling is particularly poignant because it represents direct American danger. Thus, it reminds the American people that despite our newfound physical vulnerability, the nation will still stand strong and triumph.


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