D O N A L D E . P E A S E
From Virgin Land to Ground Zero
The essays gathered in Dissent from the Homeland acknowledge a major
reorganization of the regulatory fictions through which the state ex-
ercises governmental rule. This afterword constitutes an attempt to
elucidate the master fiction the Bush administration has invoked to
legitimate the ‘‘war on terrorism.’’ Each of the key words in its title
(Virgin Land and Ground Zero) refers to a governing metaphor that has
anchored U.S. publics to quite different state formations. They are
freighted with metaphorical significance and performative force. The
narrative organized around the Virgin Land metaphor associated U.S.
publics with the national security state and entailed the collective wish
to disavow the historical fact of U.S. forcible resettlement of indigenous
peoples from their homelands. The narrative accompanying Ground
Zero has linked the people traumatized by the events that took place on
September 11 with a homeland security state, which emerged with a
loss of belief in the inviolability of the native land. I attempt to sketch
the genealogy of these narrative formations and briefly examine the
political and cultural implications of the shift in dominant narratives
from a secured innocent nation to a wounded, insecure emergency
Both narratives involve the state’s proffering the exercise of govern-
mental rule elsewhere in exchange for its public agreeing to an abridg-
ment of civil liberties. The Virgin Land narrative was strengthened
when the Marshall Plan in Europe and the global rivalry with the USSR
required a model of U.S. history that would justify the exercise of gov-
ernance across the first and third worlds. The belief that it constituted
a deterrence to the putative imperialism of the Soviet Union allowed
the U.S. people to attribute responsibility for the state’s extension of its
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