A Thousand Paper Cuts: US Empire and the Bureaucratic Life of War

Anjali Nath
American Studies
UC Davis

“A Thousand Paper Cuts: U.S. Empire and the Bureaucratic Life of War” offers a cultural and visual history of transparency in America. Using the 1966 passage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a fulcrum, it historicizes the emergence of the Right-to-Know movement within the Cold War, and visually analyze censored documentary materials procured under FOIA. Anti-Communist paranoia produced new bureaucratic regimes of surveillance and, accordingly, particular aesthetics of paper secrecy. The project shows how advocates of transparency, paradoxically, espoused profoundly racialized and imperial sentiments in their movements to pass, amend, and enforce FOIA. “A Thousand Paper Cuts” takes the readers on a papered tour that begins with the congressional revolts against McCarthyism, cruises the radical anti-surveillance literature of the 1970s and arrives, finally, at redacted texts from the Guantanamo Bay prison. The story of documents – how they weave in and out of classification, which administrative apparatuses manages them, and whose eyes are cleared to see them – reveals a new texture to racialized statecraft.