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Guest Talk | 28 February, 19:00 | Jon Matlack | The Army, the Nation, Nuclear Annihilation: Constructing "Western" Identity in German-American NATO Training Exercises of the Cold War

When? Wednesday, 28 February, 19:00 CET

Where? Live online or PAN9.05, Pankhurst House, LSE

ScienceCampus doctoral researcher Jon (Jack) Matlack was the Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN)  Anthony D. Smith Visiting Fellow at LSE ideas in November 2023.

On 28 February at 19:00 CET (6 p.m. UK time), he will give a talk at LSE titled The Army, the Nation, Nuclear Annihilation: Constructing "Western" identity in German-American NATO training exercises of the Cold War. You are invited to attend the talk in person in London, or join online via Youtube or Facebook. Details of how to access the talk can be found here:

In the talk, Jon Matlack will present aspects of his doctoral research project, focusing on how joint training exercises between the German and US armies resulted in the emergence of a sense of "Western" identity rooted in imaginings of WWIII. This was entangled in Germany with the realization that it was necessary to surrender national notions of self reliance, while the US could use this to project itself as a superpower.


Beginning in the Cold War, joint training exercises between the German and US armies involved tens of thousands of soldiers, colliding in imaginative play of plausible WW3 scenarios on the open fields and farms of West Germany. Proceeding from the reports and recollections of the two officer corps, I contend that ‘Western’ identity in the military context of NATO exercises was not principally the product of Christian conviviality, shared democratic ethos (Winkler, 2007), or civilisational public rhetoric (Jackson, 2006). Rather, I call attention to precise military tactics and operational assumptions employed by both armies to construct mock war. By interrogating the underlying logic of training exercises, I argue that the army as the ‘people in arms’ (Moran and Waldron, 2003) embodied the German and American nations through their (re)enactment of World War 3. When the US Army trained in defending Germany, the American nation incrementally embraced the identity of the preponderant superpower (Bavaj and Steber, 2015). Conversely, mock war  compelled Germans, for the first time in the 20th century, to surrender national notions of self reliance. Both nations adopted the standpoint of shared security and the ‘coupling of fates’ as an essential pillar of the Atlantic pact. Through the recurring rehearsal of exercises, ‘Western’ identity emerges in this context as synthetic, ultimately channeled through lenses of German and American national identity.