Chemical Heroes

Pharmacological Supersoldiers in the US Military

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 31 illustrations Published: January 2021

Author: Andrew Bickford

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, Sociology

In Chemical Heroes Andrew Bickford analyzes the US military's attempts to design performance enhancement technologies and create pharmacological "supersoldiers" capable of withstanding extreme trauma. Bickford traces the deep history of efforts to biologically fortify and extend the health and lethal power of soldiers from the Cold War era into the twenty-first century, from early adoptions of mandatory immunizations to bio-protective gear, to the development and spread of new performance enhancing drugs during the global War on Terrorism. In his examination of government efforts to alter soldiers' bodies through new technologies, Bickford invites us to contemplate what constitutes heroism when armor becomes built in, wired in, and even edited into the molecular being of an American soldier. Lurking in the background and dark recesses of all US military enhancement research, Bickford demonstrates, is the desire to preserve US military and imperial power.


“In exploring projects fantastical and frightening in their forms of intervention and enhancement, Andrew Bickford offers important insights into not only the US military's efforts to fortify the bodies and minds of its service members but also what it means to go to war on a twenty-first-century global battlefield.” — Sarah Wagner, author of What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War

“Andrew Bickford presents a mind-blowing array of technological and pharmacological innovations that promise to deliver the next stage of human warriors while raising the possibility that many of these innovations may unleash new nightmares. Drawing out the themes of utopian promises and dystopian realities, Chemical Heroes makes a significant theoretical contribution to anthropology and critical studies of the military that should be broadly read, discussed, and taught by anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and others working in peace and conflict studies.” — David H. Price, author of Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Andrew Bickford is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University, author of Fallen Elites: The Military Other in Post-Unification Germany, and coauthor of The Counter-Counterinsurgency Manual, or Notes on Demilitarizing American Society.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Terms and Abbreviations  ix
Acknowledgments  xiii
Prologue: Supersoldier Bob Writes Home  xvii
Introduction: Chemical Heroes  1
Part I. Thematic Framings
1. "Innovation at the Speed of Change": War, Anticipation, Imagination  37
2. The Superman Solution: The New Man, Superheroes, and the Supersoldier  56
3. Government (T)Issue: Military Medicine, Performance Enhancement, and the Biology of the Soldier  75
Part II. Early Imaginaries of the US Supersolder
4. "Science Will Modernize Him": The Soldier of the Futurearmy  103
5. "A Biological Armor for the Soldier": Idiophylaxis and the Self-Armoring Soldier  111
Part III. Imagining the Modern US Supersoldier
6. "The Force Is With You": An Army of One to the Future Force Warrior  147
7. Molecular Militarization: War, Drugs, and the Structures of Unfeeling  180
8. "Kill-Proofing the Soldier": Inner Armor, Environmental Threats, and the World as Battlefield  216
9. "Catastrophic Success": Back to the Futurarmy  239
10. Natural Cowards, Chemical Heroes  245
Works Cited  259
Index  285
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1135-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0972-6