8. Nuclear newsletters, queer theory, and Freedom of Information with Martin Pfeiffer

8. Nuclear newsletters, queer theory, and Freedom of Information with Martin Pfeiffer

Shelly Lesher

In this episode of My Nuclear Life, host Shelly Lesher interviews Martin Pfeiffer, a Ph.D. student of anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He is best known for his twitter account, @NuclearAnthro where he shares his opinions on topics ranging from nuclear deterrents to social justice. Shelly begins the episode by providing some background information FOIA and The Open Skies Treaty.

Shelly initiates the conversation by asking Martin to clarify the meaning of nuclear anthropology and how it forwards queer theory. Martin believes the concept of the American nuclear family and its prototypical arrangements to be the product of the nuclear age. The United States was determined to promote the idea of heteronormative masculinity during the Red Scare and beyond, wanting to be perceived as a strong and resilient nation. The conversation then pivots to Sandia, which happens to be the least studied of the three nuclear weapon laboratories in the U.S. Sandia’s headquarters are located in Albuquerque and it is among the largest suppliers of income in the state of New Mexico.

Martin goes on to share a personal anecdote regarding his difficulty obtaining archived Sandia newsletters. Despite the Freedom of Information Act, which is intended to disclose non-public information to citizens upon request, he discovered just how difficult the government makes it for a person to have access to undisclosed information. Eventually he was able to access the newsletters and other DOE material which he has since published a curation of them on his website osf.io/46sfd/. It is his desire that in discovering this new information, people are able to reformulate their own ideas of power, safety, and shared humanity. 

To conclude the episode, Martin reiterates the necessity for the crises of nuclear weapons and militarization to be assessed before global warming can be properly addressed. He says these issues go hand and hand with heteronormativity, masculinity and violence in the context of national relations. While many other countries are aware of the bad things about the nuclear arsenal, it is the American population that is intently kept in the dark. Nuclear weapons have structured the shape of our society in unfathomable ways, thus nuclear anthropology is a means to a safer and more equitable world.

Marty Pfeiffer is a Ph.D. student at the University of New Mexico studying nuclear anthropology. He curates the Pfeiffer Nuclear Weapons and National Security Archive and is active on Twitter under the handle @NuclearAnthro.

Additional Resources:
Fathering the Unthinkable (The Politics of Science and Technology) by Brian Easlea - Out of Print

The Moyninan Report: The Negro Family: The Case for National Action

Special thanks: Lexie Weghorn

Production costs for this episode proved through National Science Foundation Grant PHY-1713816.