The “White Flight” as Internal Containment

In his article, “Disaster and decentralization: American cities and the Cold War”, Matthew Farish explains the strategic actions of suburbanization and the calculative reasoning behind it. At the same time, there is an idea underlying many of his arguments:

The argument that dispersal should remain secondary to international control of atomic energy – a popular position taken by Louis Wirth and others immediately after the Second World War – faded, along with hopes for global governance, as geopolitical hostilities increased.

In other words, containment of internal forces is a greater end than containment of external forces. This is not quite Farish’s thesis, but envelopes many of his other points. As he explains through mentions of popular culture and social movements, the cities were self-segregated from the suburbs; of course, most citizens were powerless to affect the outcomes of discussions surrounding international nuclear disarmament, but what they could do was move away from the more and more “un-American” urban centers: “the American city was ‘becoming…a place for the very poor, or the very rich, or the slightly odd’”. Furthermore, in accordance with the focus on masculinity in containment culture, Farish argues that the atmosphere within societies of intellectuals was one of rationally attacking the problem of possible nuclear war, which manifested in sociopsychological studies on panic and calculated predictions of the effects of a real nuclear attack. For this group of people, containment of internal forces seemed to be the comfortable thing to do. Arms talks could not quite be rationally calculated or predicted the same way as the effects of a bomb; however, theoretically, making calculated preparations for disaster would offer the same degree of protection, and was pursued. A similar effect led to the extensive planning of suburban layouts.

Interestingly, the fall of the Twin Towers had a comparable effect on American society to that of Hiroshima. The terrorist was an even more nebulous enemy that was, understandably, much harder to attempt to contain. Yet, similarly to the post-war era, containment did occur. American citizens self-contained themselves by seeking alternate modes of transportation than by air, in the first weeks, with the TSA later taking on this role of attempting to contain any symptoms of the terrorist disease. Because the geographical demographic was very different from that at the beginning of the post-war era, there was no comparable “white flight”, but the possibility of another 9/11 was quite widely considered in designs of new buildings. However, one factor was very different – unlike in the Cold War, where little combat took place (besides side theaters such as Suez and Vietnam), President Bush sent troops into Iraq very quickly after the disaster. At the same time, it wasn’t clear that this was exactly fighting the terrorists. By conflating the “War on Terror” with the ground combat in Iraq, he too created a sort of internal containment where it was preferred to make the population feel safe, instead of attempting to define and solve the problem – the exact strategy the suburban designers in the post-war era adopted.


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