Policing Revolution

Here is the abstract of my 2015 PhD dissertation, titled "American Streets, Foreign Territory: How Counterinsurgent Police Waged War on Crime." I am revising the dissertation into a book, currently titled "Policing Revolution: Cold War Counterinsurgency at Home and Abroad," to be published by University of California Press in the American Crossroads series.

The 1960s saw the United States try and often fail to maintain order on an unruly globe, but these trials were successful in teaching US police new ways to maintain order at home that persist into the present. “American Streets, Foreign Territory: How Counterinsurgent Police Waged War on Crime” examines how projections of US power in the world during the 1960s reverberated at home to create a new political common sense around law and order and to reconfigure law enforcement’s institutional foundations. Drawing on declassified records, professional literature, oral histories, and memoirs, it follows the itineraries of US overseas police assistance, developed after World War II to counter threats of subversion in the Global South, and shows how the program was intertwined with a globally oriented professional milieu of law-enforcement and counterinsurgency expertise. With shared personnel, overseas police assistance provided both a model and a stimulus for the modernization of domestic law enforcement and the advent of Johnson’s War on Crime. It then turns to the resulting development of new professional training and technological innovations domestic law-enforcement leaders drew from colleagues who fought subversion overseas and adopted in the aftermath of Black freedom struggles in the 1960s. Further, it analyzes the border-crossing work of intellectuals who provided the vocabulary to conceptualize security threats and attendant development-oriented solutions, as well as shifts within their approaches, particularly around the relationship of poverty and crime. The origins, therefore, of law-and-order politics, militarized policing, and mass incarceration—signal, racially invidious features of the past four decades of American life—were global, outgrowths of the Cold War.

"American Streets, Foreign Territory” demonstrates that the actions of the US in the world have profound consequences for home populations, as answers to domestic social problems have been subject to overseas testing. A primary contribution of this research, therefore, is to show the deep entanglements of foreign and domestic spheres in major aspects of the postwar era. This research inquires into three interrelated but distinct sociohistorical phenomena. First, it shows how the rise of law-and-order politics and pre-emptive and militarized policing intersected with overseas counterinsurgency efforts. Supporters of massive federal investment in fighting crime also advocated police-led counterinsurgency and drew lessons from it concerning the identification and management of law-enforcement problems. Second, the past decade has seen great scholarly interest in evaluating the varied effects of social science on US foreign relations during the Cold War. This project contributes by analyzing how scientists’ ideas were translated into specific policies; what researchers learned from on-the-ground security personnel; and how modernization theory’s notions about progress affected domestic security policy during the 1960s, as explicit comparisons between the “Third World” and US “ghettoes” circulated. Finally, while Black freedom struggles enacted global ambitions, conservative resistance to civil rights cohered as the push for local autonomy from external control. The project demonstrates the key, activist role of law-enforcement and liberal development experts in shaping these scales of political struggle. It refuses simple dichotomies of foreign-domestic and civilian-military through a methodology that highlights their mutual interpenetration. It analyzes sources for comparisons and prescriptions exorbitant to their immediate contexts. “American Streets, Foreign Territory” traces the transnational genealogy of the political dominance of security as a criterion of US governance.


The American Studies Association awarded this dissertation "Finalist Mention" (ie, second place) for its annual Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize. I am revising the dissertation into a book, currently titled "Policing Revolution: Cold War Counterinsurgency at Home and Abroad," to be published by University of California Press in the American Crossroads series.

Upcoming Talks

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 4:00pm
Robinson Hall Lower Library, Harvard University
Sponsored by: Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History

© 2017 Stuart Schrader