chapter  9
26 Pages


The Oklahoma bombing and the displacement of heartland geopolitics
ByMatthew Sparke

As the words of Gaston Bachelard remind us, and as work by international relations critics such as the political philosopher Robert Walker (1993) repeatedly underlines, the spatial dualisms of ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ are a blindingly sharp force of division in modern Western thought, ultimately governing even moral considerations of good and bad. Both Bachelard and Walker are interested primarily in the philosophical and disciplinary force of such divisions but, in the

hope of displacing an epistemology/empirics dualism in this chapter, my concerns move between such philosophical themes and their reactivation in the domains of cultural commentary and criticism. The particular domains in question are those discourses that were so evident in the commentary that followed the bomb blast that killed 168 adults and children in the US federal office building in downtown Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995. From the very first headlines about terror reaching into the heart of the heartland to the later responses concerning the need for renewed government guarantees of heartland security, these discourses were characterized by a common popular geopolitical construction of a ‘heartland’ space. While nobody may have been able to draw it on a map and while it proved nationally expandable from the rural mid-west outwards (with politicians in 1996 starting stump speeches addressing so-called heartland audiences the length and breadth of the country) it was always clear – or so it seemed – what the heartland was not. It was not the outside. It was the heart of the inside. Thus, as the three quotations collected in the epigraph above make manifest, immediate postbombing responses cast the attack as originating beyond the heartland and beyond the borders of the USA. In so doing, they divided the ‘national’ from the ‘international’ in terms of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, placing the heartland at the very centre of a now seemingly vulnerable inside (see Figure 9.1). This inside/outside discursive pattern clearly paralleled and, in some obvious cases, directly borrowed themes from other discourses that had characterized earlier commentary on the Gulf War in the USA (see Sparke, 1999). However, as a result of the hegemonic geopolitics dividing the outside from the inside in American popular culture, the two events were generally viewed as unrelated. It is this rigidly dualistic, moralistic and, as such, powerful spatialization of the political that I have entitled here heartland geopolitics. As such, I argue that it is a geopolitical graphing of the geo to which critical geopolitics can bring the same kind of critical deconstructive analysis that Gearóid Ó Tuathail (1996) has brought to analysing the formulation of the paradigmatic geopolitical heartland by Halford Mackinder.